WINNIPEG, Manitoba (AP) — Blake Wheeler thought it was time to quit passing and his decision paid off.
Wheeler’s goal in the second period proved to be the winner as the Winnipeg Jets beat Arizona 2-1 on Sunday night and dealt the Coyotes their ninth straight loss.
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 said. “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 also scored for the Jets, who have won three straight and improved to 8-1-0 in their last nine. Connor Hellebuyck made 20 saves for Winnipeg, which has won five straight home games.
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.
Clayton Keller scored for the Coyotes, who were coming off a 2-1 loss to Minnesota on Saturday night. 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 honor 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.”
There was no scoring in the first period, when the Jets outshot the Coyotes 12-4.
Winnipeg went on its first power play with 23 seconds left in the first and capitalized on it 37 seconds into the second period after Dubois tipped in a shot by Josh Morrissey for his 20th goal of the season.
On Arizona’s their fifth shot of the game, Keller tied it at 11:02 of the second with a tight-angled shot that beat Hellebuyck.
Wheeler gave his team the 2-1 lead with a shot from the circle at 16:45 after a passing sequence with Cole Perfetti and Mark Scheifele.
Arizona defenseman 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.
Scheifele’s assist on Wheeler’s goal was notable. Scheifele has 616 points with the Jets, moving 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.
Coyotes: Host Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday.
Jets: At Montreal on Tuesday in the opener of a five-game trip.
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