WIEBE’S GAME REPORT: Brossoit shines again as Jets grind out win over Red Wings

WIEBE’S GAME REPORT: Brossoit shines again as Jets grind out win over Red Wings

Nothing seems to faze Laurent Brossoit, not even another lengthy layoff.

With the Winnipeg Jets playing on consecutive days for the sixth time this season, the reliable backup goalie came up with another solid effort.

Playing for the first time since Dec. 22, when he earned his first NHL shutout with a 40-save performance against the Vancouver Canucks, Brossoit turned aside 33 of 35 shots to propel the Jets to a 4-2 victory over the Detroit Red Wings on Friday at Bell MTS Place.

After watching Connor Hellebuyck make seven consecutive starts coming out of the Christmas break, Brossoit showed no signs of rust and the Jets got him some early offensive support, building a 3-0 lead.

It was the type of effort the Jets have come to expect when Brossoit’s number is called.

“Yeah, he’s been unbelievable. It’s so nice, when he’s in net, to have that confidence in him to make big saves when we need him to and he did that tonight,” said Jets centre Bryan Little, who provided the game-winning goal at 4:51 of the second period. “He made some great saves, saved a breakaway at a key moment in the game. He’s done that for us all season. He’s playing great.”

Brossoit has made 10 starts and made 11 appearances through 44 games this season, but there’s a good chance he’ll finish somewhere around 20 starts — which should help keep starter Connor Hellebucyk fresh for the stretch run and the playoffs.

Winnipeg Jets’ Ben Chiarot (7) congratulates goaltender Laurent Brossoit (30) for the win against Detroit Red Wings in NHL action in Winnipeg on Friday.

“So for a reasonably young goaltender in the NHL in terms of experience, he’s figured the most important thing out. If you’re not playing a lot of games, or you’re not playing big minutes, you’ve got to make sure you’re pushing yourself as hard as you possibly can in practice,” said Jets head coach Paul Maurice. “And you can’t let the demons of how many starts am I getting or how much ice time am I getting affect how you push yourself in practice. So he’s been, quietly, a good leader for our group. He practices really, really hard so when he gets into that game it’s just a continuation of what he’s doing. I think he’s been just an outstanding acquisition for our team.”

Maurice has said repeatedly that his primary concern is to keep Hellebuyck in a rhythm, but having faith in the backup is critical in finding blocks in the schedule to get his starter some rest.

“He’s going to get more starts based on play but also based on schedule and it will be easy to do,” said Maurice. “We’ve got a couple of really good goalies.”

Jets winger Brandon Tanev scored his 10th goal of the campaign just 13 seconds into the contest, converting a pass from Adam Lowry after Mathieu Perreault helped create a turnover on the forecheck.

“Yeah, you can’t get much quicker than that,” said Little. “That’s always nice to start the hockey game like that, to get a quick goal and get everyone in the game early like that. It was pretty key for us.”

Winnipeg Jets’ Brandon Tanev (13) scores 13 seconds into the first period on Detroit Red Wings goaltender Jonathan Bernier (45) as Filip Hronek (17) defends in NHL action in Winnipeg on Friday.

Jets captain Blake Wheeler extended the lead with two seconds left in the first period as his backdoor pass attempt to Ben Chiarot was knocked into the net by Red Wings forward Thomas Vanek.

Little scored with the two teams playing four-on-four as his shot changed direction off Red Wings defenceman Mike Green.

The Red Wings weren’t about to go quietly though.

Luke Glendening scored a short-handed marker in the second period and rookie defenceman Dennis Cholowski added a power-play marker at 6:50 of the third period, making it a one-goal game.

Winnipeg Jets captain Black Wheeler acknowledges the crowd after being saluted for playing in his 500th career National Hockey League game as the Jets take on the Detroit Red Wings at BellMTS Place on Friday. BROOK JONES/Selkirk Journal/Postmedia Network

Brossoit made his most important save of the game at 8:40 of the third period, stoning Andreas Athanasiou with his left pad.

“I wasn’t thinking much; didn’t have a lot of time to think,” said Brossoit. “Just came in and I kind of shaded to one side, gave him one side and then we went five-hole and it kind of caught me off guard and I was just lucky to get a knee on it.

“If a guy has a clear tendency then we’ll do a little bit of a scouting report but I don’t want to over-anticipate.”

Kyle Connor (with his 16th goal of the season) rounded out the scoring with an empty-netter with 59.5 seconds to go in the third period, capping off a three-point game.

Winnipeg Jets’ Kyle Connor (81) celebrates his empty net goal against the Detroit Red Wings with Adam Lowry (17), Mathieu Perreault (85) and Bryan Little (18) during third period NHL action in Winnipeg on Friday.

“It was kind of a gutsy performance,” said Jets defenceman Josh Morrissey, who had five blocked shots in the contest. “Probably not one for the entire 60 minutes that you’d use as your template at the start of the year. But, back-to-back in the NHL, obviously they didn’t play (Thursday) night, they were coming in here fresh. They’re a fast team and I though we did a pretty good job of just kind of grinding through the game.

“We knew that there was going to be times where they’d get some long zone time, I guess, and some pressure on us for some points, especially in that second period. I thought we did a reasonable job of handling it, and got some big saves from (Brossoit) when we needed it. Any win in the NHL, we’ll take it.”

The Jets, who improved to 28-14-2, face the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday.

THE 500 CLUB

Little’s goal was the 500th point of his 12-year NHL career in his 798th NHL game, which prompted the centre to take a brief stroll down memory lane.

“Went by fast,” said Little. “Trying to think of the years over my career and up to this point and it seemed like it flew by. Hopefully, there’s many more (points) to come.”

Little was quick to recall his first NHL point, which came in his first NHL debut — a goal against Washington Capitals goalie Brent Johnson on Oct. 5 of 2007.

Winnipeg Jets’ Josh Morrissey (44), Bryan Little (18) and Sami Niku (83) celebrate Little’s goal against the Detroit Red Wings during second period NHL action in Winnipeg on Friday.

“It was kind of flukey, like my goal tonight,” said Little. “It was my first game and I just kind of threw it out in front from behind the net and it banked off the goalie. I think it went off about five things before it went in. Pretty similar.”
Maurice was asked about the contributions Little continues to make.

“I’d say over the last two or three years Bryan does whatever job we ask. He’s been playing with young players, he’s been a good example and a good mentor. He’s another one of those guys tonight, he competed right from the start to the finish. And he does that every night. He’s not underappreciated by the people here but I think because his numbers maybe aren’t quite as high as they were a couple of years ago when he was playing with Blake Wheeler that you think his play has dropped off. But the fact is it hasn’t. He’s a better player now than he’s ever been.”

THE ENVELOPES PLEASE

With all NHL teams just past the midway point of the schedule, there’s been plenty of buzz circulating around which players might have a leg up in terms of the year-end league awards.

There are plenty of deserving candidates in all of the categories, but for the sake of debate (and in some cases, argument), here are my choices for the major trophies (based on where things stood at Game 41).

Here we go:

Hart Trophy

Tampa Bay Lightning winger Nikita Kucherov gets the nod and not just for being the leading scorer on the best team in the NHL.

In the discussion:

Gifted winger Johnny Gaudreau has the Calgary Flames atop the Pacific Division and he’s the heartbeat of the offensive attack, while Connor McDavid has been in on more than 50% of the goals the Edmonton Oilers have scored so his importance to his hockey club can’t be questioned.

McDavid was also a dominant force last season, but slipped on many MVP lists because of how the Oilers underachieved and missed the playoffs.

Despite a coaching change and some tough stretches, the Oilers remain in the hunt for a playoff spot in the West and that will obviously bolster McDavid’s candidacy.

For the second year in a row, Avalanche centre Nathan MacKinnon is anchoring one of the most productive lines in the NHL.

Yes, there could be some vote splitting, given how Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog are playing, but MacKinnon is the guy driving the bus.

Norris Trophy

Flames captain Mark Giordano has a slight edge in the two-horse race with Morgan Reilly of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Giordano might be 35, but he’s playing some of the best hockey of his career at both ends of the ice.

Reilly has the edge in goals, is a sound two-way defenceman and he could easily be the guy with his name engraved on the trophy when all is said and done.

But at this moment, Giordano is the front-runner for me.

Kris Letang of the Penguins also warrants consideration.

Vezina Trophy

Nobody is running away with this category, but Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators has my vote so far.

Some folks weren’t sure Rinne would even hold on to his starting job this season after he was pulled early in Game 7 of the Western Conference playoffs against the Jets.

Not only did Rinne keep his job, he’s playing at an elite level and is in contention for back-to-back Vezina trophies if he has a strong second half.

John Gibson of the Anaheim Ducks is the biggest reason his team remains in the playoff race, while Rittich’s rock-solid play can’t be overlooked.

Marc-Andre Fleury of the Golden Knights has been a workhorse and is one of the biggest reasons Vegas is among the elite teams in the West — leading the league in wins and shutouts but his save percentage is a tad low to be the front-runner right now.

Selke Trophy

Penguins captain Sidney Crosby is known more for his offensive talent, but his two-way game is highly underrated.

Crosby continues to produce at a high level, while doing a solid job in facing top-end competition on a nightly basis.
It’s time he starts getting recognized for his defensive ability.

Despite missing 15 games due to injury, you can be sure Boston Bruins centre Patrice Bergeron is sure to be involved in the conversation before all is said and done.

Calder Trophy

This one is a runaway, with Vancouver Canucks forward Elias Pettersson at the head of the class.

He has dealt with a pair of injuries, but has 22 goals and 42 points in 38 games and Pettersson has done a fantastic job moving to centre from the wing.

Jack Adams Trophy

One of my biggest pet peeves when it comes to this award is that voters often hand it out based on a team that wasn’t expected to do much.

It’s okay to take that into consideration, but it’s not fair to penalize teams at the top of the standings either.

That’s why I’ve chosen Tampa Bay Lightning bench boss Jon Cooper for this award, narrowly over Bill Peters of the Flames.

The Lightning were in single-digit regulation losses at the midway point — and were forced to play without Andrei Vasilevskiy for an extend period.

Yes, the Lightning have an incredibly talented team, but keeping a talented cast of characters happy with ice time and playing at an elite level is no easy task and Cooper deserves some of the credit for the Lightning delivering a point streak of 16 games (which included an eight-game winning streak).

As for Peters, he’s immediately left his mark in his first season with the Flames.

Despite having to replace starting goalie Mike Smith with David Rittich, Peters has got this group to buy-in and they believe they can remain in the race for top spot with the Vegas Golden Knights and San Jose Sharks.

Other candidates include Dauphin product Barry Trotz (New York Islanders) and Jets head coach Paul Maurice, who had his team atop the Western Conference through 41 games.

FIVE THINGS WE LEARNED

Just get the job done

Jets backup goalie Laurent Brossoit made his 10th start of the season and his lone regulation loss came in a relief performance. Extended time between starts doesn’t seem to bother him, nor does a high-volume workload. Brossoit’s nine wins eclipsed the total posted by Jets backups last season (eight).

The 500 club

Jets centre Bryan Little provided what proved to be the game-winning goal, scoring on a four-on-four situation. His shot changed direction off Red Wings defenceman Mike Green for what was his 500th NHL point. It was also the 29th game-winning goal in 798 NHL games.

Connor heating up

Jets left-winger Kyle Connor scored an empty-net goal and added two primary assists for a three-point night. Since going 10 games without recording a point, Connor has three goals and six points during the past four games.

Stepping in

Jets defenceman Sami Niku drew in for Tyler Myers (lower body, day-to-day) and was used mostly on the third pairing with Joe Morrow. Niku, who suited up for the Jets for the first time since Dec. 4, took 14 shifts for 12:51 of ice time, finishing with three blocked shots. Niku lost control of the puck on the play that led to a breakaway for Wings speedster Andreas Athanasiou but he was bailed out by Brossoit.

The scare

Jets forward Mathieu Perreault was taken into the boards from behind by Wings forward and St. Andrews product Darren Helm during the first period. Perreault turned at the last second, but the hit was on the numbers. It was not a dirty play by Helm, but it probably should have been penalized. Perreault went down the tunnel for further evaluation but only missed a few shifts and was able to finish the contest.

Winnipeg Jets’ Mathieu Perreault (85) and Detroit Red Wings’ Mike Green (25) collide during first period NHL action in Winnipeg on Friday.

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