03/10/2023

Blowers Racing

Spearheading Sports Quality

Dubois answers own challenge, Connor breaks slump as Jets beat Canadiens

Dubois answers own challenge, Connor breaks slump as Jets beat Canadiens

WINNIPEG — This had nothing to do with trying to impress a future employer or anything of that nature.

This was Pierre-Luc Dubois delivering the type of performance he wants to become a calling card for his career.

Nothing more, nothing less.

Earlier in the day, the Winnipeg Jets centre was talking about the last game in Las Vegas, noting it was one of the worst games he felt he had ever played.

Dubois has made a habit of being accountable, in both good times and bad, so after he pointed the finger squarely at himself for a subpar effort, it sent a signal that he was going to be noticeable the next time he got onto the ice in a game.

And make no mistake, Dubois had his fingerprints all over this game, from the power play goal he ripped past Samuel Montembeault to erase a 1-0 deficit in the first period to the primary assist he earned during the second period after his shot on goal was banged home on the doorstep by Blake Wheeler to either of the two penalties he was able to draw in the contest.

Dubois was here, he was there and he was everywhere.

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“Sometimes you forget he’s so young,” said Wheeler. “You look at him and think he’s in his mid-thirties. He’s just a big man and he’s such a presence out there. Sometimes for us big guys you kind of lose sight of the advantage you have. When he’s playing a heavy game like that he’s just incredibly dynamic and really tough to play against and a lot of fun to play with.”

After Dubois chose to sign a one-year qualifying offer this off-season, there has been plenty of speculation about his future.

Since the Jets were unable to lock him up for the longer term, it brought an urgency for both the player and the organization, knowing full well that Dubois has the ability to become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2024 if he doesn’t sign a new deal before then.

But Dubois said on countless occasions that he will focus on the present and tackle the contents of the next deal at the appropriate time while working to take the next step as a player.

Don’t look now, but Dubois is off to an impactful start, sitting second on the team in goals (four) behind Mark Scheifele (six) and tied for second on the team in points (eight) with Wheeler, one behind Josh Morrissey.

Of course, points are only part of the equation for Dubois, whose imposing physical presence can be a game-changer to go along with his production.

“I loved his game. I should have given him more minutes,” said Jets head coach Rick Bowness. “He’s a force out there when he’s going like that. I love the way he takes the puck into the zone, and hangs onto it, and buys time. He’s big and strong enough to protect the puck. He had an outstanding game.”

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The only goal Dubois didn’t have a hand in was the overtime winner from Kyle Connor, which came at 1:44 of the three-on-three session as he snapped an eight-game goalless drought, finishing off a beautiful sequence with Scheifele and Morrissey.

“Yeah, we needed that guy to score. He has had incredible opportunities every game, he’s just so dynamic and creates so much out there for us,” said Wheeler. “For guys like him when it rains it pours. Hopefully it’s the start of something big for him.”

It was the 35th game-winning goal for Connor in 394 games as a member of the Jets and you could tell by the jubilation in his celebration that finding the back of the net was a big relief for the sniper who had been held to one empty-netter in the previous nine games.

Throughout the slump, Connor said all the right things and he backed up his words with actions, constantly pushing forward while going to the hard areas, knowing the dam would eventually burst.

“I think I tried him high-glove like seven times today, so I changed it up there,” said Connor, who beat Montembeault to the middle part of the glove side. “Sometimes it comes in bunches. So I’m just going to keep playing, keep trying to improve and get better every game. Hopefully I can get on a little stretch here.”

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On Thursday night, Connor could have easily notched a hat trick when you consider the quality of the scoring chances he produced, leading to game-high six shots on goal and 12 shot attempts while playing just under 24 minutes to lead his time in ice time.

“Again, the chances are Grade A’s,” said Bowness. “There are times you want the right guy to get the puck at the right time, in the right spot, and it was coming to him a lot tonight. It was one of those, it wasn’t going in, and he couldn’t pick a better time to score.

“It was a goal scorer’s goal — off the far post and in. That’s perseverance. Just stay with it.”

The Wheeler goal held up after Canadiens bench boss Martin St. Louis used an unsuccessful coach’s challenge for goalie interference.

While Wheeler definitely made contact with Montembeault inside the blue paint after the initial shot by Dubois, former Jets blue-liner Johnny Kovacevic also made contact with Wheeler on the play as the two battled for the loose puck.

“The guy is allowed to go in to get the puck,” said Bowness. “I know it’s a close call. If there is a loose puck there, you want your forwards crashing the net. We talked about that before, getting greasy goals and getting in there. When you do that you run the risk of getting a goalie interference (call). We were confident that was a good goal.”

Wheeler was also confident the goal was going to count.

“Yeah, the puck was lying behind the goalie, I’ve got to be able to go get it, so I didn’t feel like I was in his way of making the save,” said Wheeler, who is up to three goals and eight points in 10 games. “After watching it too, it looked like I was pushed in, the contact was because I was pushed in so I felt pretty good about it.”

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After a week of hearing about the importance of having a better start and making life easier on goalie Connor Hellebuyck by lowering both the volume and quality of shots he was facing, the Jets played a structured game and were able to overcome a pair of one-goal deficits to collect at least a point for a fifth consecutive game (4-0-1).

That should give them something to build on as they welcome the Chicago Blackhawks to town on Saturday as they continue this three-game homestand.

“Yeah, (Hellebuyck) needed it. And that’s more like our team,” said Bowness. “We don’t want to be giving up 40 shots a night and (Thursday’s game) was a better example of how we want to play.”

Now the challenge for the Jets is finding a way to play that way a bit more consistently.

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