Winnipeg Jets score early and often to cruise past Chicago

There was once a time when a visit by the Chicago Blackhawks to Winnipeg would be a big litmus test for the Jets.

Those days are over.

This year’s Jets squad took advantage of a downtrodden Hawks team in a 5-1 win Friday night, improving to 6-2-2 on the season to sit just one point behind the division leading St. Louis Blues.

Kyle Connor and Nikolaj Ehlers both had a goal and a helper as the Jets extended their point streak to eight games, just one shy of the franchise record.

“We play a better game when it’s not a track meet,” said head coach Paul Maurice. “I’m not going to take much out of this game. They had some people out of their lineup, whatever. We never allowed that game to get into a track meet for me.

“We were pretty good responsible defensively straight through. I thought we came off our offensive game for a stretch there, half of the first, first half of the second, but I thought our defensive game was right on straight through.”

The Jets are now off to their best start through ten games since relocating from Atlanta.

“I think it’s almost being at home,” Maurice said. “Going out to the west coast twice in three weeks – that’s a tough start.”

The Jets are a perfect 4-0 on home ice at the Canada Life Centre and have seven of a possible eight points in games against Central Division opponents this season.

Andrew Copp continued his hot start with three more assists. He’s averaging more than a point per game with five goals and seven assists in the first 10 games.

“I feel confident in my game,” said Copp. “Confident I’m helping the team every night whether its on the scoresheet or not on the scoresheet. And just kinda want to continue that.”

With Connor Hellebuyck still under the weather, Eric Comrie started for the second straight game, and the third time in the last four contests. He wasn’t very busy stopping 17 of the 18 shots thrown his way. He was perfect through 40 minutes, but fell 19 minutes short of his first career NHL shutout.

“It’d be kinda cool to get my first NHL shutout,” Comrie said. “It’s kinda something I’m looking forward to, but no, I’d be crazy to say it’s not going through my mind. Of course it’s going through your mind, but I’m just trying to focus on the moment.”

READ MORE: Winnipeg Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck misses practice: ‘He wasn’t feeling good’

After going 21 months between NHL starts, Comrie’s now appeared in three games in just eight days, and there’s a chance he starts again on Saturday after the Jets held the Hawks to just four shots in the final frame.

“I’m going to consider it,” Maurice said. “Pretty strongly, especially because at his most fatigued for a goalie, which is the third period, we didn’t tax him then.”

Pierre-Luc Dubois had a number of quality scoring chances, but was kept off the scoresheet, ending his eight-game point streak.

READ MORE: ANALYSIS: 7 observations from the Jets’ 7-game point streak

Paul Stastny got the party started just 47 seconds into the game when he snuck behind the Chicago defence, took a great feed from Copp and tucked it five-hole on Marc-Andre Fleury.

Less than two minutes later, Neal Pionk would make it 2-0 on the power play, sniping one past a screened Fleury.

But after that hot start, the Jets fell into a bit of a lull. Chicago wound up outshooting the Jets in the period but Comrie held his ground.

Chicago thought they had scored in the first minute of the second period but the goal was overturned after the Jets challenged for offside.

The score stayed at 2-0 until Dominic Toninato scored his first regular season goal as a Jet with just over six minutes left in the second. Much like Stastny earlier in the game, he snuck past the Chicago defence, took a great pass from Copp and patiently outwaited Fleury to tuck it into a yawning net.

Less than two minutes later, Connor collected a loose puck in the neutral zone, sped into the Blackhawks end, and whipped a wrist shot past Fleury for his 8th goal of the season.

Early in the third, the visitors finally got on the board. With Winnipeg on the power play, the puck took a favourable bounce behind the Jets net and right to MacKenzie Entwistle who beat Comrie to make it 4-1.

Ehlers would get in on the fun later in the period, walking into the Chicago zone and beating Fleury five-hole from distance. Ehlers then let out a big yell and jumped into the boards, which would seem an oddly intense celebration given the score until you remember his family was in the building to watch him play in person for the first time since pre-COVID times.

Comrie improved to 3-0 this season. Fleury made 28 saves to fall to 1-7 as Chicago continues to spiral with a 1-9-2 record.

This is also part of the first back-to-back of the season for the Jets, who host the New York Islanders Saturday night.

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