It’s opening night.
Game 1 of each season is always special. Thirty-one teams have a blank sheet of ice in front of them. Endless possibilities.
But what is possible for the Winnipeg Jets this season? That hinges on Connor Hellebuyck.
Hockey is not a one-man game, but for the Jets to be a playoff team in the North Division, Hellebuyck must have another Vezina-caliber season.
There isn’t a team in the NHL that has leaned on its goaltender as much as the Jets have on Hellebuyck in the past three seasons.
In that time, he leads the league in games played with 188. For context, only four other goalies in the NHL have played 170 games during that stretch, and no one else is over 180.
He leads all goalies in minutes played (10,938). Just two goalies are within 800 minutes of him, and nobody is within 500 minutes.
Hellebuyck also leads in shots faced (5,895). There is only one goalie within 500 shots.
The good news for the Jets is that Hellebuyck loves it. He lives for it. The pressure, the need to be great every night — and I would rank him as one of the fiercest competitors in the league.
Thursday night is the tender’s first test of the new season. It’s Hellebuyck’s opening night.
For the Jets’ sake, let’s hope it’s a rave review — or else the season will likely be a flop.
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