The Winnipeg Jets returned to action Sunday night from the National Hockey League’s Christmas break with a home game against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Former River Hawk netminder Connor Hellebuyck saw action in his ninth career NHL game and stared down one of the most potent offenses in the league.
The Penguins fired 30 shots at Hellebuyck and the rookie turned all of them aside, including four shots each off the sticks of Phil Kessel, Patrick Hornqvist, and Sidney Crosby, on his way to his first career shutout.
The victory improved Hellebuyck’s record to 6-3-0. He owns a goals against average of 2.13 and a .926 save percentage.
After the game, Hellebuyck was all smiles when he faced the media.
“Every team is good in this league and I’m just really excited I finally got this milestone,” said the 22-year-old Hellebuyck.
The native of Commerce, Michigan went on to explain that he sets high expectations for himself on a nightly basis.
“I think I go into every game expecting a shutout and then go with whatever happens in the game,” Hellebuyck said. “I definitely have been wanting this milestone to come because it, essentially, means I played a perfect game and tonight with the help of Tyler Myers (who blocked a shot with seconds remaining in the game), I finally achieved it.”
Myers was one, who was happy to see Hellebuyck register his first shutout.
“It was good to see him get his first shutout and good to see a young guy like that, who has been playing well for us, get rewarded,” said Myers, a seven-year veteran NHL defenseman.
Jets forward, Blake Wheeler, agreed with Myers.
“He was awesome,” Wheeler said. “He controlled rebounds. He made the big save when we needed him to and that’s the goalies’ job. When things go wrong out there, they’re supposed to save our butts and he did a really good job of that tonight so, we don’t get this (win) without him.”
Jets coach Paul Maurice praised his puck stopper and pointed out why Hellebuyck has been successful in the NHL.
“He’s been waiting for it (shutout) for weeks,” the Winnipeg bench boss said. “He seems to have a real solid foundation to his game. He stops the puck.”
And speaking of the puck from his momentous evening…
“I have the puck,” Hellebuyck said. “It’s going to get framed along with the first win (puck), too.”
Follow Shawn Hutcheon on Twitter at @ShawnHutcheon
Reprinted with permission of The Lowell Sun.