Jets’ special teams click in win over Canucks as Scheifele notches hat trick

Game coverage - recap

WINNIPEG — Strength down the middle has been an essential quality for these Winnipeg Jets.

Especially when you consider the number of wingers from the Top-9 sidelined these days with various ailments, you can understand why Jets head coach Rick Bowness decided to try and spread the skill around after loading up his top lines just one game earlier.

Instead of riding with Pierre-Luc Dubois between Mark Scheifele and Kyle Connor, Bowness kept Dubois and Connor together and moved Scheifele onto a unit with regular centre Adam Lowry and Karson Kuhlman.

Ultimately, that change was mostly a positive one but it was those Jets’ pivots — including the one moved to the wing — that had a massive impact on special teams in what became a 4-2 victory for the Jets over the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday night.

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Scheifele notched his second hat trick of the season and seventh of his career, Dubois scored his goal on a penalty shot and Lowry got an assist on the empty-netter and provided an important screen on another goal — and also won a whopping 71 per cent of his draws.

The Jets struck once on a five-on-four power play, once on a four-on-three power play, once on the penalty shot and then rounded out the bingo card with the empty-netter.

Scheifele was buzzing all game long, finishing with four shots on goal, eight shot attempts and a number of passes that were nearly converted by his linemates.

“His overall 200-foot game is good,” said Jets head coach Rick Bowness. “A night like tonight, he’s looking at me like he wants to be out there. He’s feeling it. And he looked at me a couple times and I said ‘Ok, you go.’

“When the player is feeling it, let them go. He was very good tonight in faceoffs. His overall game is very good.”

Dubois, who is up to 17 goals on the season, wasn’t about to reveal any secrets when asked about his strategy on his one-on-one with goalie Collin Delia.

“I can’t say. I can’t say, sorry,” said Dubois. “When I was a kid I never scored on penalty shots, breakaways or shootouts. So yeah, I haven’t had a penalty shot in the NHL, that’s for sure. Probably not in junior either.”

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The Jets were thrilled to be able to earn a victory in what was Sam Gagner’s 1,000th NHL game, which included a ceremony that featured messages from former teammates across his previous six stops.

“I didn’t know much about Gags when he got here. I never played with him but I knew a lot of guys in Columbus that did. And you know, when he signed here, the first thing they said is he’s a great guy,” said Dubois. “He’s a great teammate. He’s a great veteran, but not just because he’s played a lot of games — now 1000 — that makes him a great person. A lot of guys have been learning from him, getting to know him more and more. He’s just really fun to be around. So yeah, tonight, I’m sure, was a special moment for him.

“He’s very calm and composed. We can laugh a lot with him but he knows when to turn that switch and to be serious. Seeing those guys, it speaks to who he is as a person. We’re really lucky to have him in this dressing room.”

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Not only did the Jets snap a season-long three-game losing skid, they were able to widen the gap in the standings, moving a whopping 10 points up on the Canucks in the Western Conference standings.

Of course, the calendar has yet to flip to January but had the Jets not ended this mini-slump, the Canucks would have pulled within six points and held a game in hand — while that losing skid would have extended to four games, far from an optimal situation for a club that had only dropped consecutive games twice until this recent rough patch.

Why else is that 10-point gap noteworthy?

Well, it could enhance the chances that Canucks captain Bo Horvat is moved prior to the NHL trade deadline.

Horvat is a pending unrestricted free agent and he entered Thursday’s action tied for second in the NHL in goals with Buffalo Sabres centre Tage Thompson, behind only Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers.

What does that have to do with the Jets, you might ask?

Despite being well-situated at centre, the potential acquisition of Horvat would allow the Jets to move one of those talented pivots to the wing, should Bowness decide to reunite Scheifele with Dubois and Connor at some point during the stretch run.

Horvat plays a powerful game, is excellent on faceoffs, is comfortable in a leadership role in an intense Canadian market and is producing at an impressive rate.

Prior to the game, Canucks head coach Bruce Boudreau applauded Horvat for his ability to block out the noise that’s surrounded both him and the team all season long.

“Everybody has handled the noise pretty well. We try to shut everything out. We don’t talk about any of that stuff. We shut it out as best as possible,” said Boudreau. “I don’t know how he deals with it inside and at home with his family, but with us, it’s all about the team, it’s not about him and his contract situation.”

The intriguing part of that contract situation is that under a particular set of circumstances, Horvat could be more than a rental, depending on how things shake down during the offseason for the Jets.

They’ve got a number of players who can become UFAs during the summer of 2024 — including goalie Connor Hellebuyck, Scheifele, Dubois and Blake Wheeler — so there are going to be some decisions on the horizon for the organization.

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While trying to extend Horvat beyond several months would complicate things further, it would also provide some insurance if a couple of those core pieces either aren’t interested or can’t find common ground on an extension.

Horvat will be 28 in April, so he will be looking for top dollar (likely more than $8 million) on a long-term pact.

So in addition to the group of prospects, picks and players it might take to acquire Horvat, retaining him will take a commitment.

That’s a storyline and debate for a little bit closer to the NHL trade deadline.

For the time being, the Jets will look ahead to try and end the 2022 portion of the schedule on a high note as they face the Edmonton Oilers.

For the second time in as many games, the Jets had a scare when defenceman Josh Morrissey went down the tunnel with an injury.

Morrissey was able to return without missing a shift on Tuesday, but on Thursday, he tried to test out his left leg during a stoppage in play but was favouring his left leg and was held out of the remainder of the game.

During the post-game availability, Bowness said he expects Morrissey to receive another round of treatment and that he’s “hopeful” the Jets leading scorer will be available to play on Saturday.

Morrissey chipped in a pair of assists on Thursday and is up to six goals and 42 points in 36 games this season. 

“I know as much as you guys,” said Scheifele. “Obviously, we hope he’s good and (Morrissey) is a pretty tough guy so you just got to hope that it’s nothing serious and pray that he’s good.”

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