Also-ran G Hellebuyck starts again for Jets vs. Canucks
VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Connor Hellebuyck is supposed to be a backup goaltender, but he is not playing like one.
Hellebuyck will make his second straight start Thursday as the Winnipeg Jets (1-2-0) visit the Vancouver Canucks (1-0-1) at Rogers Arena.
"It means a lot, but I've gotta be ready," Hellebuyck said of his second start after Wednesday's practice. "I've gotta bring my A game."
Jets management did not feel that Hellebuyck brought his A game often enough last season as the starter, so the club signed 10-year veteran Steve Mason as a free agent July 1.
But Mason, who played for the Philadelphia Flyers last season, allowed three goals on the first 10 shots he faced as a Jet in their season opener at home against Toronto -- and was yanked early in the third period after giving up five in all.
Hellebuyck earned the start against Vancouver start after backstopping the Jets to a 5-2 win over the offensively explosive Oilers in Edmonton on Monday. But he is not putting too much stock in his 37-save effort against Connor McDavid and company.
"It's just one game," Hellebuyck said. "I see this as another chance for me to just go out there and continue showing what I can do, bringing my best and helping the team succeed."
Big things have been expected of the Jets in recent seasons, but they have missed the playoffs in three of the past four years. The goaltender position will come under heavy scrutiny this season tries to live up to expectations.
After the Jets signed Mason, Hellebuyck, a 24-year-old Commerce, Mich., native, embarked on an intense offseason conditioning program. Although Hellebuyck declined to get into specifics about his program, he indicated that improvements in his biomechanics have helped him move quicker and feel better about his game.
"Just every day in practice, I feel like myself again," said Hellebuyck, who went 26-19-4 last season. "I feel good and I feel confident. I can actually go out and play. I have the right foundation and I just need to continue working hard at it."
Jets coach Paul Maurice said Hellebuyck has earned another start.
"I really liked his game (in Edmonton)," Maurice said. "It was good to get a win."
Maurice downplayed his decision to sit Mason out again.
"It's early in the season," Maurice said. "We got off to a rocky start as a team (against Toronto), and we had a really good performance the other night. So I'm going with the same lineup -- that's all."
Top defenseman Dustin Byfuglien will miss his second straight game with an undisclosed lower-body injury. Maurice said Byfuglien, who is with the team, is listed as day-to-day.
While the Jets goaltending might have questions, there is no doubt about their offensive firepower. The Canucks will attempt to hold the likes of Mark Scheifele, Nikolaj Ehlers, Blake Wheeler and Patrick Laine, among others, in check.
Ehlers had eight shots against the Oilers while producing four points. Scheifele and Wheeler had three points apiece.
"We know they have some highly skilled players, guys who can shoot the puck, guys who can play," Canucks defenseman Chris Tanev said. "We will have to stay out of the (penalty) box against them. They have a good power play."
As they pay close attention to defense, the Canucks will try to produce more offense. They have only managed one power-play goal on 11 extra-man chances thus far.
"It's just (a matter of) execution, I feel," Canucks captain Henrik Sedin said. "Somehow it feels good. We can create off the rush. It's just that last play needs to be made."
It remains to be seen how many games Henrik and his twin brother Daniel, two former NHL scoring champions, get to make during man-advantage opportunities and five-on-five.
Without making much of an announcement on the subject, new coach Travis Green has started limiting their ice time in an apparent attempt to keep the 36-year-olds fresh over the long haul.
"I think that's what you're going to see this season," Henrik said. "There's going to be different guys on the power play, different guys playing more minutes, guys in and out of the lineup. If you buy in, there isn't going to be a problem.
"There are going to be lots of stories. Maybe that's good for you guys, but that's the way it is. We knew this was the way it was going to be."
In past seasons, the Sedins have received the majority of playing time on most nights. But several other players received more minutes against the Senators.
"It's a different feeling for us, but we know what's going to happen," Henrik said. "We're going to get some power play time and we need to step up five-on-five."
Updated October 11, 2017