By Judy Owen, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — Blake Wheeler thought it was time to quit passing and his decision paid off.
Wheeler scored the game-winner late in the second period as the Winnipeg Jets handed the Arizona Coyotes their ninth straight loss with a 2-1 victory on Sunday.
After Wheeler’s linemates, Cole Perfetti and Mark Scheifele, passed the puck around in the Arizona zone, Scheifele finally sent it to Wheeler and his shot beat goalie Karel Vejmelka at 16:45.
“I was just tired and wanted to get off the ice,” Wheeler admitted. “I was hoping one of them would score. It’s one of those, kind of funny, puck’s on your stick, empty net, you just want to get rid of it. Yeah, it worked out.”
Pierre-Luc Dubois had the other goal for the Jets (29-14-1), who have won their past three games and are 8-1-0 in their last nine.
Winnipeg’s 59 points also puts the team in first place in the Western Conference, two points ahead of the Dallas Stars.
Jets head coach Rick Bowness said the spot they’re in is “meaningful.”
“Maybe you know what we’ve been through with the travel and the injuries and the sickness and everything, and for us to be sitting there — and listen, there’s a lot of hard work ahead of us and there’s a long road to go, we know that — but it’s a credit to their resilience that we’re sitting here where we are today,” Bowness said.
Connor Hellebuyck made 20 saves for Winnipeg in front of 13,949 fans at Canada Life Centre, where the Jets have won five consecutive games.
Clayton Keller scored for the Coyotes (13-25-5), who were coming off a 2-1 loss to Minnesota on Saturday.
Vejmelka stopped 22 shots for Arizona, which last lost nine straight in regulation in October/November 2021. The Coyotes also have a 13-game winless streak on the road (0-11-2).
“I don’t know what to say anymore,” Coyotes head coach Andre Tourigny said. “We worked really hard. I’m really proud of the guys. It’s back-to-back. Winnipeg is a really, really good team. I think we hold our own, we battle hard.”
Keller said he’s staying positive despite his team’s rough ride.
“It’s an honour and a privilege to play in the NHL, the best league in the world,” Keller said. “Every day is an opportunity, every day is fun being in this league.
“Even on the tough days, you’re one of the best players in the world and just to compete every single night, it’s nice. Tonight at least we had a good effort. It was a quick turnaround and I thought we battled hard.”
The Coyotes went on a four-minute power play at 11:16 of the opening period after Jets forward Kevin Stenlund was dinged with a high-sticking double minor against Keller, who was sporting a swollen lip and medical tape on his chin after the game.
Shots on goal at the start of the man advantage was 9-1 for Winnipeg and ended with the Coyotes firing three more pucks at Hellebuyck.
Winnipeg went on its first power play with 23 seconds left in the first and capitalized on it 37 seconds into the middle frame after Dubois tipped in a Josh Morrissey shot for his 20th goal of the season.
On only their fifth shot of the game, Keller tied it at 11:02 of the second with a tight-angled shot that beat Hellebuyck.
Wheeler’s tiebreaking goal came from the circle with 3:15 left in the second.
Arizona defenceman Josh Brown hit the post early in the third period, quickly followed by Dubois also clanging a puck off the iron during a Winnipeg power play.
Hellebuyck also stymied Nick Schmaltz on a close-in shot with two minutes remaining.
HE’S NO. 2
Scheifele’s assist on Wheeler’s goal was a notable one. Scheifele now has 616 points with the Jets, moving him past Ilya Kovalchuk for second place in Jets/Thrashers franchise history for points. Wheeler holds the record with 787 points.
Winnipeg became the third NHL team with at least three 20-goal scorers, including Dubois, Kyle Connor and Scheifele. Edmonton (four players) and Toronto (three) are the other two clubs.
BACK WITH A VENGEANCE
Jets winger Nikolaj Ehlers is on a tear after missing 36 games following surgery for a sports hernia.
Since returning to action on Jan. 6, the speedy Dane has nine points in six games (three goals, six assists), including extending his point streak to five games with an assist on Dubois’ goal.
Jets: Begin a season-high five-game road trip in Montreal against the Canadiens on Tuesday.
Coyotes: Host the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday.