Wheeler set to assist Jets against Devils
WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- If there was a trophy for most assists in a season, Blake Wheeler would be one of the early favorites to hoist it at the end of the season.
That performance gave Wheeler 18 assists in 15 games, the second-highest assist total in the league behind Colorado's Mikko Rantanen, who had 19. Wheeler led the NHL in assists last season with 68 and has more than any other player since the start of the 2015-16 season.
Wheeler hopes to continue his leading ways when the Jets host the New Jersey Devils on Sunday night.
The Devils come to town on the heels of a 6-1 shellacking from the Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday and have lost five of their last six, being outscored 29-15 in the process. Winnipeg is the last stop on a season-high seven-game road trip.
At the same time as Wheeler is catching fire, sniper Patrik Laine appears to have regained his scoring touch for the Jets. He notched his fifth goal in three games on Friday to take the team lead with eight. He has just three goals in his first 12 games.
Defenseman Josh Morrissey, who had one assist against Colorado, had an idea Wheeler was ready for a big night after sharing a ride to the rink with him.
"You could tell he was ready to go. He's a big guy that has so much skill and competes so hard," he said. "Blake took it to another level. He's a guy that drives our bus every single day in practice, in the gym and basically in every aspect of being a professional hockey player. He's the guy that we follow."
The Devils will need better goaltending if they want to compete with the Jets. Goalie Keith Kincaid stopped a number of excellent scoring opportunities by the Leafs but gave up one floater to Morgan Rielly while being screened by three of his teammates.
In the previous game, a 7-3 loss against the Ottawa Senators, veteran Corey Schneider was pulled after giving up four goals on 22 shots.
"We'll be fine in the end," Kincaid said. "This will just make us stronger. We have to build as a team. It's not going to be easy. Everybody has to be together and work hard."
Coach John Hynes was particularly frustrated with his team's breakout against the Leafs.
"We have to play better. On four out of the six goals, we had the puck on our tape coming out of the zone, so our puck execution needs to be better. We'll have to do that better against Winnipeg," he said.
The Rocket Richard Trophy, named in honor of the Montreal Canadiens legend who led the league in goal scoring five times in the 1940s and 1950s, has been awarded since 1999 to the league's top goal scorer.
The player with the most total points is given the Art Ross Trophy, named in honor of a former player and executive. A trophy to the top playmaker could be named after Wayne Gretzky, who retired in 1999 with 1,963 assists. He has more assists than any other player has total points.