By Carter Brooks
Photos by James Carey Lauder
The Winnipeg Jets kicked off their home schedule with game one of 41 Tuesday night from Bell MTS Place.
With Western Conference rival Los Angeles in town, the Jets turned to early offence and a late defensive shutdown to secure a 2-1 victory on home ice.
Those who came to see Ilya Kovalchuk got their money’s worth… in the first seven minutes. After cracking the starting lineup, onlookers got to see the big Russian race away from his blueline stance before the end of O Canada, wax up his stick at the bench, start the game on the team’s opening line, and then tally the game’s opening goal, 6:26 into the frame.
The former Atlanta Thrasher – who bolted to Russia for five seasons in the KHL – announced his return to the NHL with the Kings this offseason. Tuesday night marked his first road game in the NHL since late spring of 2013.
With just one whistle in the game’s opening seven minutes, Kovalchuk and the Kings capitalized on a great line rush up ice. Defenceman Drew Doughty led the charge over Winnipeg’s blueline before finding a streaking Kovalchuk, who perfectly redirected Doughty’s shot-pass past Connor Hellebuyck and into the Jets’ net for the early lead on the road. The goal was Kovalchuk’s first NHL tally in 1,993 days.
Los Angeles held the lead for just four minutes until a Mark Scheifele one-timer knotted the game up at ones.
Midway through the first period, Jets’ defenceman Josh Morrissey took a hit to make a play, as big Jeff Carter sent his body parallel to the ice after a well-timed pinch kept the play deep in Los Angeles’ end. Brandon Tanev collected that loose puck and fed a very hungry Mark Scheifele deep in the slot. Scheifele one-touched the puck past Jack Campbell, tying the game up at one goal apiece with nine minutes to go in the frame.
The Jets held a sizable advantage in the shot department, picking up 14 of the game’s first 18 shots on goal through 20 minutes of play.
The second period began much like the first period ended, with Winnipeg piling on the shots. The onslaught of rubber ultimately led to the Jets’ first lead of the game, coming in the form of a Kyle Connor power play marker. With defenceman Jake Muzzin in the sin bin for tripping, Connor redirected a seeing-eye Blake Wheeler cross-ice pass past Campbell for his third goal of the season.
Although continuing to blast shot after shot on the Kings’ backup netminder, Winnipeg was unable to find another tally in the second period. The Jets outdid their 14-shot first period with a 19-shot second, while Los Angeles one-upped their four first period shots with five in the second frame. Winnipeg finished the second period up 33 shots to nine with 20 minutes left to play.
After stepping up their shot game in the third period, the Kings kept themselves in the contest late in the third period, but Hellebuyck continued to slam the door on any and every offensive chance going Los Angeles’ way.
Things became interesting when Tyler Myers was charged with a high sticking penalty with three minutes to play, but the Jets held on, keeping the Kings off the board in the third, picking up the 2-1 victory in the process. Final shots were 39-17 in favour of Winnipeg Tuesday night.
Winnipeg now moves to 2-1-0 on the season and will look to continue their winning ways as they travel south to Nashville for the first meeting between the two Central Division rivals since Winnipeg’s game seven thrashing in the second round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Western Conference Semifinal. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:00 P.M. central time, and the game is available to watch on TSN3.