Riding a three game win streak and one of the best records of the early season in the Eastern Conference, the Blue Jackets came to Winnipeg looking to take on a Jets team that was on a three game streak of their own, mostly thanks to the stellar performance of Connor Hellebuyck, who took over the net after Steve Mason suffered an epic meltdown on Opening Night.
It seemed that coach Paul Maurice wanted to give Mason a chance to prove himself against the club that drafted him, and Torts responded in kind by giving Joonas Korpisalo the start for Columbus.
That decision worked out well for one team, and it wasn’t Winnipeg.
In fairness, despite Mason looking a bit shaky in the early going, he put up decent effort in the first period to keep the Jackets off the scoreboard. Korpisalo had a few heart attack moments himself, but generally seemed the steadier hand on the rudder through 20 minutes, and as the teams went to the locker room with a scoreless tie, neither team could ask for more from their goalies.
Probably right about the time the Jets fans around Manitoba were starting to say “Mason looks OK tonight,” Cam Atkinson would get sprung for a rush by Alexander Wennberg and buried his shot, opening the scoring in the first 32 seconds of the period.
Over ten minutes would pass before the next goal, but not for lack of trying by the Jackets, who forced Mason to make several saves and seemed to dominate the ice for long stretches. That would belong to the Captain, Nick Foligno, who danced his way through the Winnipeg defense in a rather Rick Nash-like fashion before tucking the puck behind Mason’s leg for the 2-0 lead.
Kyle Connor would score quickly for Winnipeg to answer and cut the lead, but the Jackets responded quickly, with Jack Johnson pinching in to find a wide open shooting lane, and hammering it home.
With the two goal lead restored, you might have expected the Jackets to slow down, or the Jets to respond.
Lukas Sedlak would take advantage of the puck squirting free of a board battle in the Winnipeg zone, grabbing it and going in at a sharp angle before depositing the puck in the back of the net for the 4-1 lead, a score that would hold through the end of the frame.
The Jackets would have chances to extend the lead on the power play, but the special teams didn’t find their footing. The score would be unchanged until just past the midway point of the period when Seth Jones and Zach Werenski broke out of their own zone, with Jones leading the charge into the Winnipeg zone before passing off to his partner, who delivered a beautiful snipe past Mason to make it 5-1.
A final power play opportunity in the dying minutes of regulation would turn sour for the Jackets when Joel Armia scored shorthanded to cut the lead to a mere three goal margin, but it was hard to feel too upset once that score went final.
Final Score: Jackets 5 - Jets 2
Stars of the Game:
- 3rd Star: Pierre-Luc Dubois - PLD didn’t score tonight, but he most certainly helped create several scoring opportunities, in particular the Sedlak goal, and continues to make a big impact on the ice.
- 2nd Star: Zach Werenski - What sophomore slump?
- 1st Star: Joonas Korpisalo - After giving up five to Chicago, Korpi made some clutch saves before the Jackets got the offense going in the second, and kept up a strong performance to help protect the lead his teammates established. A great rebound performance.
- Always Be Shooting - 36 shots tonight on the Winnipeg net, and even if a good portion in the first period were not in the danger areas, they fixed that problem quick.
- Speed Kills - Puns aside, the Jets are a fast team, and there were a number of back and forth races across the ice tonight, but the Jackets worked hard to get the better of that, and guys like Milano, Cam, Dubois, Panarin, Werenski, and Jones were a big part of that. You could see the rolling offense from all four lines wearing the Winnipeg defense down as the game went on, and it was great to see this team win big using their strengths.
- Room To Grow - Seriously, this team still isn’t playing their best hockey. Plenty of missed chances, bad passes, and bouncing pucks tonight. The power play, bluntly, sucks. They dominated this game, and we still haven’t seen the Jackets meeting their full potential. Good god.
The team will fly home tomorrow, and we’ll see the Metropolitan division leading Blue Jackets take on the Atlantic leading Lightning on Thursday night at Nationwide Arena.
Looks like that game might be pretty fun.