Coming off a seven-day absence with eight players in COVID protocol, you could have forgiven the Winnipeg Jets if they came up short in Detroit.
Instead, the Jets’ three Michigan-born products rose to the occasion in their home state, and the young players called into action performed admirably in a 3-0 Winnipeg win over the Red Wings.
Ann Arbor’s Andrew Copp scored a pair of goals, Shelby Township’s Kyle Connor had a goal and a helper, while Commerce’s Connor Hellebuyck made 33 saves for the shutout.
“Must be something in the water here I guess,” said Connor. “We haven’t played here in awhile first off, and we spent a lot of time here, grew up here, and all three of us have idolized the Wings growing up. So, it’s a little bit of an extra pep in our step coming here and playing against the Wings, and it seemed like those two had an extra gear. It’s definitely motivating having family and friends out in the stands as well.”
Connor, who was chosen for the NHL All-Star Game earlier on Thursday, now has 20 goals on the season, and he’s reached the 20-goal plateau in each of his first five full seasons in the NHL.
It was the Jets first game in the Motor City in more than two full years, last playing at Little Caesars Arena in December of 2019.
“I think there was no secret, when we landed, they got off the plane and they got on the tarmac, and they ran,” said head coach Dave Lowry. “They were excited. We should maybe tell them more often that we’re playing games in Michigan.”
Hellebuyck was coming off one of his worst games of his career after giving up seven goals to the Colorado Avalanche. But in making his seventh straight start, Hellebuyck recorded his second shutout of the season, and the 26th of his career.
“This one is probably going to be up there in the top three,” said Hellebuyck. “It’s a different feeling coming home. You get a little more nerves, and you get a little more excited, and maybe get off your routine a little bit cause I went home and was able to spend the night in my own bed which was nice. But, being home in front of family and friends, people are going to remember this one and I am too.”
With eight players on the COVID list and two others injured, the Jets had three different players appearing in their first game with the club, and for two of them it was their NHL debut.
Defencemen Dylan Samberg and Declan Chisholm both played in their first NHL game after getting called up from the Manitoba Moose this week. And both players more than held their own in the shutout win against the Red Wings.
“I really liked the energy that the young guys brought that came into the lineup,” said Lowry. “And we challenged some of our top guys. We needed them to be our best players tonight, and they accepted the challenge.”
Samberg played nearly 18 minutes in his NHL debut, picking up an assist. Chisholm registered four shots on goal in 13:44 of ice time.
Moose leading scorer Austin Poganski played over 11 minutes in his Jets’ debut, just 24 hours after scoring a goal and adding an assist in a 2-0 win for the Moose in Milwaukee.
Rookie Cole Perfetti also held his own playing on a line with Connor and Pierre-Luc Dubois.
Jansen Harkins and Dylan DeMelo were both dressed after just getting cleared from COVID protocols.
The Jets are now 5-1-1 in their last seven road games dating back to November.
Copp got the road side on the board first, beating Alex Nedeljkovic from below the goal line. Samberg picked up an assist on the play for his first NHL point in his first NHL game.
Despite missing regulars Nikolaj Ehlers, Paul Stastny, Brendan Dillon and Logan Stanley, the Jets looked crisp, their transition game opening up all kinds of space in the first period, but they were unable to build on their lead.
Just past the midway point of the second, however, a breakthrough. With the Wings on the power play, Connor found a streaking Copp who picked the top shelf to give Winnipeg a 2-0 lead.
Detroit tried to push in the third period, but the Jets defence held strong, though with 4:29 to go, the Wings found themselves on a 5-on-3 and pulled the goalie to double up the Jets in man-power.
The Winnipeg penalty kill got the job done. After killing off the first minor penalty, Connor buried an empty netter to seal the win. The Jets killed off all five Detroit power plays on the night.
The Jets don’t play again until Tuesday night in Washington.
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