Top line stays hot as Winnipeg Jets down Detroit 5-2

Can Gabriel Vilardi continue this torrid scoring pace? What will fix the Jets ailing powerplay? What is on the top of Kevin Cheveldayoff and Rick Bowness' Christmas list? 680 CJOB hockey analyst John Shannon gives his takes on the Jets heading into tonight's game.

When you lose your top goal scorer for the foreseeable future, you’re going to need someone to step up in his absence.

Enter Gabriel Vilardi, who is more than helping the Winnipeg Jets deal with the loss of Kyle Connor.

Vilardi and the Jets top line continued their strong play Wednesday night as they helped pace the Jets to a 5-2 win over the Detroit Red Wings at Canada Life Centre.

Vilardi had a goal and two assists, while his linemates Mark Scheifele and Nikolaj Ehlers also scored in the victory as the Red Wings lost their fourth in a row.

The Jets defence accounted for four points and their fourth line scored twice as the Jets took over the lead in the Central Division ahead of Colorado and Dallas.

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“It was just an all-around really solid team effort,” said Jets head coach Rick Bowness. “Our team game has been really good. And you don’t have a team game unless you have everyone contributing and everyone looking the same out there without the puck.

“All four lines tonight were going. The ‘D’ were good and listen, give LB (Laurent Brossoit) a lot of credit too because I talk a lot about timely goals. That fifth goal was timely and a lot of timely saves from LB, so that was a good solid team effort.”

Vilardi is enjoying a four-game goal streak with 10 points over that span. And he now has six goals in only 13 games, one better than the guy he was traded for, Pierre-Luc Dubois.

“Unbelievable smart player,” said Ehlers. “To be able to come back after an injury like he had that early in the season, and play the way he’s playing right now. I’ve been through it. It’s hard, but it’s really impressive. And the work that he does in the O-zone behind their net, in the corners, with his stick, his stickhandling is unbelievable.”

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The Jets have at least a point in eight of their last nine contests and they’ve gone 21 straight games allowing three goals or less.

Winnipeg is still unbeaten in regulation against Eastern Conference opponents this season, now 8-0-3 against the east.

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Ehlers scored his 11th goal of the campaign, just one shy of the 12 he scored last season. He had a two-point night against the Red Wings and is riding a four-game point streak, but still feels his game is not quite there.

“I feel like I’ve played like s–t,” Ehlers said. “Excuse my language. The last two games and the first period today and parts of the third today. So, obviously we’re scoring goals, but we also want to be better. I want to be better.”

Cole Perfetti and David Gustafsson both appeared in their 100th career NHL game.

After a fairly uneventful first 15 minutes of the game, Winnipeg opened the scoring at the 15:38 mark.

Neal Pionk’s shot from the blue line glanced off the glove of Detroit’s Jeff Petry on its way to the net, dropping the trajectory of the puck as it slid past the pad of James Reimer. The goal was initially credited to Morgan Barron as he tried to get a stick on the shot before it hit Petry but it was later given to Pionk with assists given to Axel Jonsson-Fjallby and David Gustafsson.

The Jets carried that 1-0 lead into the first intermission along with a 12-9 edge in shots on goal. Coming into the game, Winnipeg had an 8-1 record when leading after one and were 12-2-1 when scoring first.

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But it didn’t take long for the Red Wings to draw even in the second period. Detroit broke into the Winnipeg zone on a 3-on-2 before Patrick Kane slid a cross-ice pass to Olli Maatta trailing the play. His wrist shot beat Brossoit high to tie the game just 1:44 into the middle frame. It was Maatta’s first of the season with former Jet Andrew Copp also picking up a helper on the play.

Just under six minutes later, Winnipeg’s top line put them back in front. Vilardi retrieved a rebound below the goal line with Detroit’s defence collapsing down to him. That freed up Ehlers in front so Vilardi hit him with a pass before Ehlers put it past Reimer to give the Jets a 2-1 lead.

A little over three minutes after that, Dylan Samberg banked the puck off the boards to spring Jonsson-Fjallby on a breakaway. He made no mistake for his first of the season to make it 3-1.

Winnipeg’s domination of the period continued when, after a long shift in the Detroit end, Josh Morrissey found Perfetti coming off the bench. He skated toward the net, drawing the defence in his direction and freeing up Vilardi for a backdoor tap-in. That made it 4-1 as Vilardi now has goals in five of his last six.

The Jets outshot the Wings 18-7 in the second, bringing the two-period total to 30-16 in favour of Winnipeg.

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The game’s first penalty was called on Winnipeg’s Nino Niederreiter 4:48 into the final frame, putting the Jets’ maligned penalty kill to work but they did the job, thanks in part to some solid saves from Brossoit.

Detroit cut into the lead with 11:19 to go when Kane buried a rebound into an open net, making it 4-2 Winnipeg with his second of the season.

With 7:21 remaining, Morrissey took a hooking penalty, giving the Wings a solid chance to dig further into Winnipeg’s lead. Lucas Raymond had a great opportunity at the side of the net but he whistled a shot high and wide as the Jets managed to kill it off.

That proved costly for Detroit because with just under five minutes to go, the Jets put the game on ice. Ehlers won a battle along the boards below the goal line in the Wings’ end, freeing the puck to Vilardi near the crease. He found Scheifele all alone on the other side of the crease and Scheifele wired it home to make it 5-2.

Vilardi now has ten points in his last four games while Ehlers has nine and Scheifele has six.

The Jets wound up outshooting the Wings 41-28 as Brossoit picked up the win with another solid performance.

Winnipeg will host Boston Friday before getting a few days off for the Christmas break. Puck drop is just after 7 p.m.


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