|Jets aim to soar vs. Ducks|
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The surging Winnipeg Jets continue a four-game road trip against the Anaheim Ducks on Friday afternoon at Honda Center.
Winnipeg (13-5-3) is keeping pace with the leaders in the Central Division with a 7-2-1 record in its last 10 games, including a 2-1 victory over the Los Angeles Kings on Wednesday night at Staples Center.
With expected contributions from Mark Scheifele (11 goals, 14 assists), Blake Wheeler (five goals, 25 points) and Patrik Laine, the Jets are tied for seventh in goals scored. But their performance at the defensive end of the ice is as much a factor for their strong start.
The Jets enter the game ranked sixth in goals allowed primarily due to the emergence of Connor Hellebuyck, who was ticketed to be the backup goaltender to Steve Mason, the free agent netminder who signed a two-year, $8.2 million contract last summer.
But the underperforming play of Mason in the Jets' first two games opened the door for Hellebuyck. In his third season in Winnipeg, he has registered a 11-2-2 record in 15 starts and is ranked in the top ten in goals against average (2.45) and save percentage (.925).
Shuttled into the backup role, Mason has responded with wins in consecutive appearances, including a 38-save performance in the Los Angeles victory.
Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice credits the veteran Mason for not being discouraged after the losing the starter's job, noting that the team's overall play was a contributing factor. Maurice knows that teams rarely succeed without a competent backup netminder.
"I don't think we gave him any help. He tried to play that game in our first two games of the year, but it didn't happen for him," Maurice said. "Since then, he's just been really good. We need that now with our schedule.
"This month is our toughest month of the year. We're on the road a lot, on and off the airplane. We need both of our goalies to play well."
The Jets came up big on the penalty kill after the Kings' Tyler Toffoli sliced Winnipeg's lead to one early in the third period in Wednesday's win. The unit kept the Kings off the board after penalties to Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler, and Mason closed the door down the stretch.
"That was important," winger Nikolaj Ehlers said. "It was a tough game today. We know how they play and we had to be ready for that. We came out with a plan and we succeeded at it. They had a bunch of chances and we took too many penalties.
"We were able to do pretty well on the penalty kill, we got the puck out and we got the two points."
Hellebuyck is scheduled to face a Ducks team that is concluding a stretch of seven of eight home games, going 3-2-1 before Friday's match.
Anaheim (10-8-3) has played with arguably the most depleted rosters in the league through the first quarter of the season. Center Ryan Kesler and Patrick Eaves have not played a game and captain Ryan Getzlaf missed his 10th game of the season on Wednesday with a facial fracture that could sideline him until January.
Despite these significant injuries, Ducks coach Randy Carlyle has kept the team around .500 on the strength of strong goaltending by the trio of John Gibson, Ryan Miller and Reto Berra.
The goaltending has needed to be strong because of the trickle-down effect of the injuries at the defensive end of the ice. The Ducks have surrendered a league high 36.7 shots per game and have been outshot by 6.8 attempts.
In their 4-2 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights on Wednesday, the Ducks blew a 2-0 second-period lead and surrendered 49 shots on goal to the expansion team, the fourth consecutive game they yield at least 40 shots to the opposition.
The concern is that the goaltending cannot be expected to bail them out every night as it has done with the team's first 21 games.
"We're going to have to look at the tape," defenseman Josh Manson said. "It's been happening here a few times as of late. We've been saying we've been relying too much on our goaltending. We have to look at it to see what's going on and start playing some better defense because it's not good enough."
Winger Andrew Cogliano said the Ducks' early lead was not a true indication of their level of play.
"Something needs to be figured out," Cogliano said. "The 2-0 lead wasn't really a true tale of the game. We just got lucky. The score should've been a lot more if we didn't have Gibson in there. We shouldn't kid ourselves. We weren't even close."
Carlyle's message to his team after the loss was short and to the point -- that a lot more work needs to be done in their own zone.
"We've got a lot of work ahead of us right now," Carlyle said. "We'll re-attack and reset and try to get this group ready tomorrow with some video and some work on the ice.
"We have Winnipeg on Friday afternoon and in a heavy part of our schedule. We know -- and we believe -- this team could play a lot better brand of hockey than what was played here tonight. That was my message."