The Winnipeg Jets gave their fans an early gift in their final home game before Christmas, dumping the Ottawa Senators 5-1 Tuesday night.
Kyle Connor scored twice, and David Rittich, who started in net in place of an ill Connor Hellebuyck, made 35 saves.
But head coach Rick Bowness says it wasn’t his team’s best effort.
“We got away with things tonight that we will not get away with Thursday and Friday (games against Boston and Washington),” Bowness said. “We made the most of our opportunities, we got some big saves when we needed them and at times we played very smart, and at times very loose.”
Rittich says he was told Monday he may get another start on Tuesday and says he was ready.
“It’s nice to get a second straight start and get a win,” Rittich said.
It didn’t take long for the Jets to get on the board thanks to an unlikely source.
After David Gustafsson won a battle in the corner, he found Kevin Stenlund in front of Ottawa’s net. Cam Talbot turned aside the first chance but Stenlund batted the rebound out of the air and into the net for his first as a Jet just 1:58 into the game.
Exactly five minutes later, Winnipeg’s top assists man decided to pad his goals total.
Josh Morrissey collected the puck at the point, spun to dodge a Senator defender and then skated into the slot and wired a wrister past a screened Talbot to make it 2-0.
But Ottawa would not go quietly into the night…at least, not at first.
With Neal Pionk in the box, the Senators power play went to work as Drake Batherson blasted his eighth power play goal of the season past David Rittich, who was starting in place of an ill Connor Hellebuyck.
Ottawa continued to pour on the pressure for the bulk of the opening frame, at one point outshooting the Jets 16-6 but all that positive momentum was undone in the final minute.
With a delayed penalty pending against Ottawa, the Jets took their time regrouping in their own end and pushed ahead with an extra man on the ice. The puck was cycled around to Sam Gagner, whose snapshot from near the boards found its way past Talbot with just 12.8 seconds left in the first.
That seemed to sap all the mojo from the Sens, who surrendered another goal early in the second.
Just 62 seconds into the period, Morrissey made a fantastic cross-ice slap-pass to Kyle Connor, who wired his 14th into a wide open net. With the assist, Morrissey set a new career high in points with 38 in his 32nd game of the season, eclipsing the 37 points he had in 79 games last season.
Ottawa had no real pushback after the goal as they registered just one shot on goal in the first 12 minutes of the period.
Connor made it 5-1 at 14:23 of the 2nd when Pierre-Luc Dubois skated the puck behind the Ottawa net and found Connor alone in the slot for his second of the night.
Morrissey says the team had a little more energy than Sunday, when their fatigued club lost in Seattle.
“I thought we responded well tonight. I don’t know if it was necessarily a Picasso tonight, but we found a way to win. It’s not always going to be pretty, it’s not always going to be a pretty game. For us to get the two points was big.”
The rest of the game was extremely uneventful as the Jets cruised to their 21st win of the season to pull within a point of Dallas for first place in the Central.
Rittich made 35 saves in the win while Talbot stopped 20 shots in defeat.
Winnipeg now hits the road to face Boston Thursday and Washington Friday before the short Christmas break. Pregame shows for both begin at 4 p.m. on 680 CJOB, with the puck dropping shortly after 6 p.m.
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