Wheeler rolls for Winnipeg in victory over Avs
WINNIPEG — Blake Wheeler took a pass on soaking up praise after his career-high five-point performance on Friday.
The Winnipeg Jets captain scored an empty-net goal and added four assists in a 5-2 victory over the Colorado Avalanche, who have lost five straight.
Mark Scheifele, Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor and Nikolaj Ehlers also scored. Scheifele had a pair of assists.
“When you’re passing it to guys like that, it gives you a level of confidence that kind of changes how you move the puck,” Wheeler said. “If you were passing to somebody that doesn’t have a prayer of putting it in the net, it’s a little bit different than giving it to (Mark) Scheifele or (Patrik) Laine.
“No doubt those guys give me a ton of confidence to find those little seams. And like I said, they need such little space. If I can just squeeze it in there, there’s a good chance it’s going in.”
Wheeler, who had three primary assists, extended his point streak to nine games (two goals, 15 assists). His 18 assists this season are one behind Colorado’s Mikko Rantanen.
Laine and Connor each scored on the power play, giving the Jets (9-5-1) at least one power-play goal in 11 straight games to add to a franchise-record roll.
Defenceman Erik Johnson scored his first goal of the season and Tyson Jost notched his second for the Avalanche (7-6-3), who are (0-4-1) during their losing skid.
“I think leaders on this team gotta get on this now,” Johnson said. “We gotta stop the bleeding and string some wins together here.”
Connor Hellebuyck made 28 saves for the Jets. They continue a four-game homestand Sunday against New Jersey.
Jets defenceman Josh Morrissey said he and Wheeler sometimes drive to games together. He had an inkling the captain might sizzle after the team’s break following their trip to Finland.
“I just had a feeling,” said Morrissey, who picked up one assist. “He’s been really on it the last few days in practice.”
Semyon Varlamov stopped 19 shots for Colorado, which heads to Edmonton for a Sunday game against the Oilers.
“It’s always hard to start the games when you’re down like one or two goals,” Varlamov said. “But it doesn’t matter even if you’re down, like it’s only one or two goals. You know, I mean we have enough skill on this team to score like five.”
The Jets shut down Colorado’s potent top line of Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Rantanen.
“Obviously there are some elite players on that line and they’re hot right now and they’re feeling it,” Morrissey said. “I thought we did a good job of not giving them a ton of odd-man rushes.
Winnipeg led 2-0 after the first period and held that margin following the second.
Connor scored eight seconds after Avs defenceman Patrik Nemeth went to the penalty box for delay of game at 10:08 of the first. The backhand shot of a loose puck gave Connor seven goals.
Scheifele took a pass from Wheeler at the bottom of the circle and sent a one-timer past Varlamov to make it 2-0 at 13:32, matching Connor’s seven goals.
The third period had the Avs getting to within one goal a couple of times, but both teams had quick responses.
Johnson got the Avalanche of the board 2:26 into the third, but Ehlers regained the two-goal lead just over three minutes later after Wheeler threaded a pass to him at the side of the net and he flipped a backhand shot into an open side of the net. It marked Wheeler’s 400th career assist.
Winnipeg’s advantage was cut to 3-2 just 70 seconds later with Jost’s goal, but Laine scored at 10:43 to make it 4-2 and Wheeler added the empty-netter with 1:26 remaining.
From left, Kyle Connor, Patrik Laine, Blake Wheeler and Dustin Byfuglien celebrate Laine’s goal against Colorado Avalanche goaltender Semyon Varlamov during the third period of Friday’s game in Winnipeg.