In their first meeting with the Winnipeg Jets, the visiting Columbus Blue Jackets will be tasked with trying to solve goaltender Connor Hellebuyck -- a job that might not be so easy on Friday night in Manitoba.
The 29-year-old Hellebuyck has won three straight starts -- two on the road -- and with each outing, the native of Commerce, Mich., has gotten better and better.
He and his Jets teammates went to Dallas and beat the Central Division-leading Stars 5-4 in overtime on Black Friday, getting the overtime winner on defenseman Josh Morrissey's breakaway goal. They followed that up Sunday with a 7-2 beatdown at the Chicago Blackhawks.
In those two wins, Hellebuyck stopped 60 of 66 shots on goal, but he saved his best performance for Winnipeg's 5-0 win over the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday to start a four-game homestand. The netminder stuffed all 40 shots by the defending Stanley Cup champions.
That showing in his third shutout of the season ran Hellebuyck's record to 11-5-1 with a 2.29 goals-against average and .931 save percentage -- the latter ranking third in the NHL among qualifying goalies.
The goalie said his team's attention to detail led the way to two points.
"I thought we played a really good game. The details were right," Hellebuyck said of his fourth 40-save game this campaign and 31st career shutout. "I think we improved throughout the game and we really stuck to our game and we were patient. So, I mean, a lot of the things we wanted to do, we did."
Against Colorado, Jets captain Blake Wheeler notched his fourth career hat trick. It was his first since hitting the net four times -- scoring a natural hat trick in the third period -- at Columbus on March 3, 2019.
The two clubs made news as trade partners on Jan. 23, 2021, after rumors surfaced that disgruntled center Pierre-Luc Dubois wanted to leave Columbus and then-coach John Tortorella.
The Blue Jackets obliged, sending Dubois and a 2022 third-round draft pick to Winnipeg for star right winger Patrik Laine and center Jack Roslovic, a Columbus native.
This season has been an injury-plagued one for Laine, the 24-year-old sharpshooter.
Due to two stints on injured reserve, Laine has participated in just eight games (two goals, two assists) for the last-place Blue Jackets. Currently nursing an ankle injury, Laine hasn't played since Nov. 12 but traveled with the team on its trek to Manitoba.
He said that even though Friday's game will be where he started his career and played for five seasons, that isn't the biggest issue right now.
"It doesn't matter where it is, who we're playing against, I just want to play," said Laine, who scored 140 goals in 306 games for Winnipeg. "Just hopping on the bike and watching other guys play out there, it sucks."
Of his injured ankle, Laine said, "Overall, it's doing pretty good."
Sitting in second place by just one point behind Dallas in the Central, but with two games in hand, the Jets have won nine times in their past 12 games (9-3-0) and three straight overall.
Columbus is 1-3-1 in its past five matches. The Blue Jackets fell 3-2 in a shootout to Vegas on Monday.
To make matters worse, the club trails the seventh-place Philadelphia Flyers -- who recently meandered through a 10-game winless streak (0-7-3) under first-year coach Tortorella -- by five points in the Metro.
--Field Level Media