By Jim Bender, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — Kyle Connor scored twice and added an assist to help the Jets spoil Paul Maurice’s return to Winnipeg with a 5-2 victory over the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night.
The game marked the first time Maurice faced his former team. After coaching the Jets for parts of nine seasons, the 55-year-old left abruptly midway through last year’s campaign. He signed on as Florida’s bench boss in June.
The 13,426 fans in attendance at Canada Life Centre stood and cheered Tuesday as Maurice and his assistant Jamie Kompon — who was also his assistant coach in Winnipeg — were recognized on the big screen.
“It’s a special place for Jamie and I, isn’t it? We really appreciated it,” Maurice said. “It was good on the bench, it was good in the stands. That was very classy, as they always are.”
But he was more emotional during the national anthems
“It’s more during the national anthems — one of my favourite things is the national anthems,” Maurice said. “It’s a great building, they’ve got a great fan base here and they appreciate the game. That was probably the emotional part, and then puck dropped and away we went.”
Winnipeg was first on the board, with Mark Scheifele scoring his first of two power-play goals 13:20 into the first period.
Scheifele, who registered the 150th career multi-point game, enjoyed the triumph over his former coach.
“I’m not going to lie, that was a good win in my books,” he said. “I’m pretty happy with that one.
“At the end of the day, we’ve moved on. We’re a different team this year than we were last year. It’s been exciting for a lot of us. … I think it’s been awesome for me, it’s been awesome for a lot of us. We’re being pushed and we’re being challenged to reach our full potential. That does a lot for our team.”
Adam Lowry scored the Jets’ fifth goal into an empty net. Pierre-Luc Dubois chipped in with three assists.
Zac Dalpe and Carter Verhaeghe replied for Florida (12-10-4).
Connor Hellebuyck stopped 39-of-41 shots for Winnipeg (16-7-1).
Spencer Knight made 12 saves on 15 shots before being replaced by Sergei Bobrovsky early in the second. Bobrovsky stopped 14-of-15 shots.
“I thought we just came in with the right mentality,” Connor said. “We knew what we needed to do. The start of the last game (down 2-0) wasn’t it. It was on us to come out and I thought we responded really well.”
The left-winger has been on a heater recently, putting up 11 points (five goals, six assists) in his last seven appearances. The key has been shooting the puck, Connor said.
“I think for me, the thought process is skating first, just get my feet moving,” he said. “I think that’s one of my greatest assets. My speed and create a lot of chaos off of that. Draw a lot of defenders to me, and more of a focus on getting the puck to the net. And I’ll see the play if it’s there.”
Dalpe, a recent call-up, pulled the Panthers to within 4-2 at the 9:02 mark of the third period. He beat Hellebuyck after a nifty passing play from fellow call-ups Chris Tierney and Matt Kiersted.
“It feels good to score in this league,” Dalpe said. “We obviously didn’t get the result we wanted for Mo (Maurice), but there were a lot of good things for sure.
“Obviously we want to play well for him, too, in his old rink. Who knows, but I thought we played well. Obviously, we didn’t get the result, but pretty positive.”
When the Panthers did get their chances, Hellebuyck stood his ground, especially in the second period when Florida outshot the Jets 25-8.
“He’s a big man, covers awful lot of net and even the ones that get away from him, he’s so strong in that crease, he’ll make a whole bunch of saves, just by his size alone,” Maurice said. “He’s a good one.”
NOTES: The Jets are now 10-3-0 at home this season. … Florida coach Paul Maurice said earlier Tuesday he would likely have removed the C from Blake Wheeler’s jersey eventually had he stayed in Winnipeg because players in their mid-thirties tend to lose touch with the younger players … Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck played his 400th NHL career game … The contest was the last of a five-game road trip by the Panthers … The Panthers called up forward Chris Tierney from the AHL’s Charlotte Checkers to replace Patric Hornqvist (upper body), who has been placed on injured reserve. They also recalled Dalpe and defenceman Matt Kiersted from Charlotte.
Jets: Will play the first of a two-game road trip in St. Louis against the Blues on Thursday.
Panthers: Will return home to host the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday.