Saturday, 23 March 2019

Most Complete Game Of The Year

We had talked about this on The Hockey Show this week when Friend of the Show Bryan Sveinson sat in with us and he suggested that the Jets, for as much winning they were doing, were trending in most advanced stats in the wrong direction. Neither Beans nor myself disagreed with this notion, and I went as far as suggesting that the Jets were winning in spite of the stats - something that should worry them when it comes to how they'll fare in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Tonight, a solid test was laid out in front of them as the second-place-in-the-Central Nashville Predators rolled into town, and Winnipeg needed to make a statement against a team who will likely be a second-round foe if both advance to that stage.

After a scoreless first period where it seemed these two Western Conference heavyweight contestants traded knockout blows only to be denied by the goaltending of Nashville's Pekka Rinne and Winnipeg's Connor Hellebuyck, the Predators looked like they opened the scoring when a shot from the point was deflected past Hellebuyck minutes into the second period. After a review, however, the goal was waved off as it was ruled that Calle Jarnkrok deflected it in with a high stick.

And then Kyle Connor opened the floodgates with a gorgeous goal.
Connor absolutely undresses PK Subban two minutes after the disallowed goal before going backhand past a sprawling Rinne, and the Jets went up 1-0. To see Connor gain the speed he needed to catch Subban flat-footed before deking around him like he was a pylon on the ice is why Connor will get paid this summer. When the kid is on his game, he's a game-changer, and he wasn't done there.

Ten minutes later, Andrew Copp banked a shot in off Rinne after whiffing on an initial rebound to put Winnipeg up 2-0 as the Jets controlled the middle frame from start to finish in an overly-dominant period. And just to add a little more salt to the wound, Kevin Hayes found room between the post and Rinne on a rather innocent shot with less than five minutes to play as the Jets looked like Western Conference contenders throughout the middle period in staking themselves to a 3-0 lead.

This game likely could have been a lot worse when one considers how well Pekka Rinne played on some of the better setups by the Jets, but it was the bank-in goal and the one that squeezed through him that he likely should have had. But this game, through 40 minutes, would have been a trouncing had it not been for Rinne. He simply needed some help on this night, but that help never came as the Predators looked outgunned and outmatched.

Connor's second goal of the game came as a result of two Predators running into one another in the neutral zone. That allowed Kevin Hayes to pick up the loose puck as he and Connor came in on the 2-on-1, and Hayes saucered a gorgeous feed to Connor who went to the backhand and beat Rinne in close to make it a 4-0 game with 4:38 to play.

I have no issue saying I took some heat in suggesting on UMFM and CBC radio in Winnipeg a month ago about how Patrik Laine's goal-scoring slump would end with him doing other things well like distributing the puck. Yes, Laine's a goal-scorer first, but his skill set can make him a dangerous threat in all facets of the game if he simply dipped into it every once in a while. With nine seconds left in this game, Laine showed that he's an exceptional passer in setting up Connor once again.
Kyle Connor's first hat trick of his career puts him at 32 goals for the season - the second time he's hit the 30-goal mark in his career - and Winnipeg picked up a well-deserved 5-0 win after what has to be considered their most complete game of the season for 60 minutes.

"Biggest game of the year up to this point and they're just better than us. It's disappointing," Nashville captain Roman Josi said following the game. Understatement of the year award will likely go to Josi as the Predators had a chance to make things very interesting with two weeks to go had they won. Instead, they'll have to play nearly perfect hockey for the next couple of weeks while hoping Winnipeg falters in some way if Nashville has any chance at first-place in the Central Division. Combine that with St. Louis defeating the Tampa Bay Lighting tonight, and Nashville could end up in third-place as St. Louis is now just two points behind the Predators!

With the win, Jets head coach Paul Maurice passed Dick Irvin for seventh-most wins all-time as a head coach as he picked up his 693rd career win, and the Jets officially clinched a playoff spot with the victory tonight. If there was ever a time to come out and dominate your Central Division arch-rivals, tonight was the night and the Jets did that in a rather emphatic way.

Who's ready for the playoffs?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

No comments: