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Connor Hellebuyck leads improving Jets against Flames

Dec 31, 2022; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Winnipeg Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck (37) makes a save against the Edmonton Oilers during the third period at Rogers Place. Winnipeg won 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Walter Tychnowicz-USA TODAY Sports

Connor Hellebuyck’s value to the Winnipeg Jets has been obvious for years, but they received a huge reminder the past few weeks as they head into Tuesday’s home game with the Calgary Flames on a bit of a roll.

Amidst a difficult wave of injuries, the Jets struggled through half of December but finished the month with a pair of victories, the latest a 2-1 win over the Edmonton Oilers on New Year’s Eve.

In that outing, Hellebuyck — who won the Vezina Trophy for the league’s top goalie in the 2019-20 season — sparkled while making 31 saves. The Jets were outshot 32-17, killed all five penalties and snapped the point-scoring streak of the league’s leading scorer, Connor McDavid, at 17 games.

“I don’t think we want to make it that hard for him, but it seems like when we need him the most it seems like he’s there,” Winnipeg forward Kyle Connor said. “Clutch times, he’s a clutch player.”

Connor has been clutch, too. After struggling to start the season with only two goals in 14 games, the 47-goal scorer from last season has netted 14 goals and 31 points in his last 23 games, including the game-winner in Edmonton.

“Timely goals, timely saves. That’s what the NHL is today,” Jets coach Rick Bowness said.

To top it off, the Jets can see light at the end of the tunnel regarding their injury woes. Whether any or all of them suit up for the Calgary clash remains to be seen, but they expect defenseman Nate Schmidt and forwards Nikolaj Ehlers and Cole Perfetti back in action this week.

The Flames arrive in Winnipeg on the heels of a 3-2 win on New Year’s Eve over the Vancouver Canucks that has them on a 5-1-1 run. Calgary capped a December in which it posted an 8-4-4 record through a difficult schedule and finally looks like the team expected to be a contender prior to the season.

However, it wasn’t an easy win over the Canucks.

The Flames dominated early, staked a 3-0 lead despite a plethora of scoring chances and then held on for the win. Blake Coleman scored once, but like many of his teammates, he could have netted another goal or two.

“I’m gonna go home and do a bonfire to the hockey gods and burn some stuff. One of those nights, man,” Coleman said. “It’s good that we’re getting the chances and frustrating (to not score more), but we got the win so the one was enough.”

The Flames are up to third spot in the Pacific Division.

“We’re on the right track,” Calgary center Elias Lindholm said. “Points in 12 out of 16. That’s pretty good. Still, I think there’s games where we feel we could’ve gotten more points or got the win. … It’s a step in the right direction.”

The Flames have a lighter January, with 12 games and only one back-to-back, which should help the club that plays a hard-checking, up-tempo style.

“We’re a hard team to play against when everybody’s doing it,” Coleman said. “The challenge is to not take shifts or periods off and it’s a hard way to play, it’s demanding.

“But we’ve got the guys that can do it. If we continue this path, we’re just gonna keep growing and getting better.”

–Field Level Media