Surging Jets hope to fly past Flames
Since relocating from Atlanta in 2011, the Winnipeg Jets were never considered a dangerous team. That is until this season.
The streaking Jets seek their 10th win in 11 games on Thursday night when they host the Calgary Flames.
Winnipeg (50-20-10) continued its surge on Tuesday with a 5-4 overtime win against the Montreal Canadiens to cap a four-game road trip. With two games remaining, the Jets trail the Central Division-leading Nashville Predators by three points.
“(The win) puts us in a position to keep fighting for first place in our division,” said Winnipeg backup goaltender Steve Mason, who made 36 saves against the Canadiens.
Rookie Kyle Connor ended it with a historic marker. Selected 17th overall in the 2015 NHL Draft, Connor is the second rookie in club history with 30 goals, joining Patrik Laine, who scored 36 last season.
“Great for a first-year player,” Jets coach Paul Maurice said of Connor, who leads all rookies in goals. “He’s developed really strongly this year.”
Since March 15, Connor is Winnipeg’s top scorer with 13 points (seven goals, six assists) in 10 games. Laine collected four points, including three goals, over the same stretch.
Despite his slump, Laine has 44 goals, and trails only Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals (46 goals) for the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy. Laine has one tally in four career games against Calgary.
If Connor Hellebuyck (42-11-9, 2.40 goals-against average, six shutouts) starts for Winnipeg, he will be looking to tie the record for most wins in a season by a goaltender born in the United States. Tom Barrasso won 43 games in 1992-93 for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Amid all the personal accomplishments and potential milestones, seeing the club reach 50 wins means more to Maurice, who has reached 50 victories for the first time as a coach.
“That means you’re a consistent hockey team. To get that many wins over the course (of a season), you can’t have a lot of lulls,” he said.
The Jets are looking for their fourth win in five home games against the Flames.
Winnipeg split two matchups in Calgary this season. After opening the campaign with a 6-3 defeat on Oct. 7, the Jets rebounded with a 2-1 shootout victory on Jan. 20.
Calgary (36-34-10) is trying to avoid its ninth loss in 10 games after falling 4-1 to the Arizona Coyotes on Tuesday.
Mike Smith, who sat while rookie Jon Gilles got start in goal, is looking forward to facing the Jets.
“They’re a good team this year, so I think it’s a challenge for our team to kind of go out on a good note going into the summer,” said Smith, who is 0-3-2 with a 3.43 goals-against average in his career at Bell MTS Place.
The Flames have the best road record among non-playoff teams at 20-14-6.
Calgary could get defenseman Travis Hamonic back after he missed two games with an upper-body injury. A decision will be made Thursday.
“No one wants to be sitting around, doesn’t matter how long it is. You want to get back in and compete, that’s kind of what we’re wired to do so,” Hamonic told the Flames’ official website on Wednesday.
Calgary wraps up its season Saturday at home against the Pacific Division champion Vegas Golden Knights.