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Winnipeg Jets Team News: Hellebuyck, Laine, Wheeler, Connor, The Team’s Grind Culture

The Winnipeg Jets are embracing the grind. What’s happening with the team, and what’s making it so successful recently?

As much as the Winnipeg Jets have struggled – especially with the team’s defense – the team is hanging in there. In fact, during the team’s last eight games, the Jets have picked up points in seven of them. Most recently the team won two difficult road games in Florida (the Florida Panthers and the Tampa Bay Lightning) by 4-3 scores.

Now with a record of 12-8-1, the team is sitting third in the Central Division. As the team gets ready to face the Nashville Predators on Tuesday and the Dallas Stars on Thursday, here’s the news that is emerging from the team.

Related: Winnipeg Jets Team News: Little, Hellebuyck, Beaulieu, Suess & Luoto

Item One: Connor Hellebuyck Beats the Streaking Tampa Bay Lightning

Prior to meeting the Jets, the Tampa Bay Lightning had won its last three starts. But that steak was to stop against when the Lightning faced Connor Hellebuyck and the Jets. Entering the game, Hellebuyck had a 2-1-1 record (with a 1.96 GAA and .932 save percentage) in his last four games. Hellebuyck saved 31 of 34 shots in a 4-3 win against the Lightning on Saturday. The Lightning made it close in the third period, scoring twice. However, Hellebuyck held the fort when his team needed him to. He’s now won three of his last four games.

In fact, the four goals Hellebuyck allowed in the 4-0 loss to the Colorado Avalanche was the first time in November (five starts) that Hellebuyck has allowed more than two goals in a game. He allowed three in the win in Florida and three against the Lightning in his next two starts, but he’s been playing well and giving his teammates a chance to win every game. And, for the most part, they have.

Item Two: Patrik Laine Leads the Jets with 14 Assists

Known more as a goal scorer and not a passer, 6-foot-5 Finn Patrik Laine is in the midst of a goal-scoring drought. However, out of the blue, he’s suddenly become an assist-machine with 14 assists during this season.

The 21-year-old Laine is almost at a point-a-game pace with 18 total points (four goals) in 19 games. Interestingly, that assist total is already halfway toward his previous highest number of assists in one season, which was during his 2016-17 rookie season when he scored 36 goals and added 28 assists (64 points) in 73 games. The Jets have to hope Laine’s hooting percentage rebounds (his career percentage is 15.1) because, if it does, he could have a career season.

Item Three: Blake Wheeler Playing Center in Absence of Bryan Little

Since Bryan Little was injured, Blake Wheeler has been playing center instead of his usual right-wing position. That change, although necessary, hasn’t helped Wheeler’s scoring this season. However, Wheeler did have two assists in the win against the Lightning and he also scored a power-play assist in Friday’s 4-1 win over the Vancouver Canucks. Wheeler now has 12 points in 21 games this season. His streak of six straight 20-goal seasons could end if he stays at center.

Item Four: Kyle Connor Scores the Game-Winning Goal Against the Lightning

Kyle Connor helped his team get a much-needed win against the Lightning when he scored a goal and an assist. As noted in the heading, Connor’s goal was the game-winner. Connor has two straight 30-goal seasons; but, similar to Wheeler, he’s currently off that pace. He has 16 points (only seven goals and nine assists) in 21 games. In addition, Connor hasn’t had two goals twice in a game yet this season.

Related: Is It Dustin Byfuglien vs. The Winnipeg Jets Now?

What’s Next with the Winnipeg Jets?

In an interview after the Lightning game, Wheeler called the season a grind but lauded the Jet’s ability to grind it out successfully.

As he noted, “The silver lining, through some of that grind through the first part of the season, is we were still winning games and we were still in it. We could have easily been pretty far behind the eight-ball. I think, more than anything, it gives our team that base of what the NHL is — it’s a grind. Every night is a grind. Obviously, we’ve had some offensive success over the past couple of years, that part of the game has come easy to use. But the team that grinds it out the best wins.” (from BILLECK: ‘Scrappy’ Jets gaining an identity at season’s quarter-mark, Scott Billeck, The Winnipeg Sun, 11/17/19)

Well spoken. Some teams (for example, the Toronto Maple Leafs) are being ground down by the grind. Somehow, however, the Jets have embraced the grind and have built a team culture that is helping them become successful. That should bode them well for the season.

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