No Mark Scheifele, no Blake Wheeler, no problem for the Winnipeg Jets in their home opener Thursday night.
With two-thirds of their top line in COVID protocol, others were forced to step up and did so in a 5-1 win over the Anaheim Ducks, the first win for Winnipeg in the young season.
Without two of their main weapons, the new look top line featured Kyle Connor, Pierre-Luc Dubois, and Evgeny Svechnikov. And the trio certainly didn’t disappoint. Connor scored twice and the line combined for six points, including three goals in their first victory.
“I thought we did some good things, but I think we can improve on it,” said Dubois. “We can play a full 60 minutes. Our line or whatever line it is going forward, I think we can sustain 60 minutes of being dangerous offensively, being good defensively.
“Whenever you get a win after three losses, it feels good.”
Dubois has scored a goal in each of the last three straight games. Andrew Copp is also on a three-game goal scoring streak after notching another marker against the Ducks, while Josh Morrissey scored the other goal for Winnipeg.
Connor finished the night with three points and the Jets have now had four different looks on their top line in just the first four games of the season.
“I don’t think my game tends to change too much,” said Connor. “You bring what you bring to the table, play the best you can, and systematically we’re all running the same system. So, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t have success. You put three good players out there and the chemistry comes a little over time.”
After surrendering at least four goals in each of the first three games, Connor Hellebuyck was much sharper against the Ducks, making 38 saves as the Jets were outshot 39-27.
“It gets us going in the right direction,” Hellebuyck said. “It shows what we need to do to win games in this league. A great performance by everyone tonight, and we need to continue to build on it.”
The Jets have now won four straight home openers.
“I thought our third was our best period in terms of the pace of our game anyway,” said head coach Paul Maurice. “I really like the fact that Connor (Hellebuyck) – I don’t want him to see that many pucks every night, but he was sharp, and on it, and his rebound control was really good tonight.”
In front of a nearly full house at Canada Life Centre, the night got off to a rocky start for the home side. Paul Stastny was called for hooking just 77 seconds in and Troy Terry made them pay, the eighth power play goal allowed on the season for the Jets.
But less than two minutes later, Dubois finished off a beautiful passing sequence, tucking his third of the season past John Gibson to tie the game.
Early in the second, the Jets would strike again. A great slap-pass from Nate Schmidt found Andrew Copp on the doorstep for his third goal of the campaign, giving the Jets a lead they would not relinquish.
The trend of scoring early in periods continued in the third. Late in a power play, Morrissey rifled his second of the season past Gibson to give Winnipeg a 3-1 lead.
Connor’s fourth of the season into an empty net helped seal the deal before he beat Gibson with 74 seconds left for his fifth, after which a number of confused fans (who hadn’t been at an NHL game in a long time) threw hats on the ice, somehow thinking Connor had a hat-trick.
“Wasn’t sure, checked the card to make sure I hadn’t missed something,” said Maurice. “But we appreciate the enthusiasm.”
“I’ve never seen that before,” said Connor. “I don’t know, the rumour was that it was free hat night and they didn’t like them, so they were just throwing them over.”
Gibson made 22 saves in the loss.
The announced attendance for the first full capacity home game since March 9, 2020 was 13,886. That is around 1,400 under the normal capacity of 15,321.
The Jets are back in action Saturday night at home against the Nashville Predators. Pregame show begins at 4 p.m. on Power 97 with the puck dropping shortly after 6 p.m.