Jets get point in 5th straight game with 4-3 win over Sabres
WINNIPEG, Manitoba (AP) — Bryan Little is pretty impressed by what Blake Wheeler is doing these days for the Winnipeg Jets.
Wheeler moved to center from right wing Dec. 27 when Mark Scheifele was injured. In four full games since then, the Winnipeg captain has five goals.
“It’s not easy to make that transition,” said Little, who centers the team’s second line. “Not many people can do it and he makes it look really easy.
“When I watch him out there as a center, it looks like his natural position. It’s nice to have that kind of flexibility on your team.”
Wheeler and Jacob Trouba each had a goal and an assist as the Jets extended their point streak to five games with a 4-3 victory over the Buffalo Sabres on Friday night.
Wheeler has a point in five straight games, with five goals and three assists during that span.
The Jets are 4-0-1 in their last five and 24-11-7 overall, good for first place in the Central Division — one point ahead of idle St. Louis.
When Scheifele sustained an upper-body injury, the prognosis was he’d miss six to eight weeks.
“I’ve told you all along, it’s not about points for me,” Wheeler said. “It’s finding a way to help our team win.
“Obviously, when Scheifele went down I wanted to step up and make an impact, but I’m not alone in that. I think everyone did that. Team has been playing good, puck has been finding me. I think it’s just coincidence.”
But Wheeler does like the move so far.
“A little more freedom,” he said. “I like being off the wall. I like getting the puck in the middle. Game is a little bit different in there. I’ve enjoyed it.”
Winnipeg defenseman Dustin Byfuglien raised his arms in celebration and looked up to the rafters after scoring his first goal of the season in his 30th game. It was his second game back after missing 10 with a lower-body injury.
Little scored his eighth for the Jets, who are 15-3-1 at home. Connor Hellebuyck made 26 saves and improved to 22-4-6.
Buffalo defenseman Marco Scandella fired in his first goal of the season in his 41st game. Scott Wilson scored his first in his 29th game and forward Johan Larsson got his second in his 41st outing. Jason Pominville and Evan Rodrigues each had two assists.
Winnipeg was 2 for 4 on the power play, while the Sabres went 0 for 5.
Buffalo’s penalty kill was tied for 13th in the NHL heading into the game, but its power play ranked 30th.
“It’s frustrating,” forward Ryan O’Reilly said. ”(The Jets) have a good power play and I thought we were prepared for them. We’ve got to stay out of the box. When someone’s that good, you can’t give their best players the opportunities because they’ll make us pay, and they did.”
Chad Johnson stopped 25 shots for the Sabres (10-22-9), who lost 6-2 the night before in Minnesota. Johnson relieved Robin Lehner in that game.
“I don’t like the result, but I felt good about where my positioning was,” Johnson said. “It was just hard to find pucks. They were getting it to the point and getting it through quickly and getting shots through quickly. It was really hard. Some big bodies. They know where to be in front there.”
The Jets led 2-1 after the first period and 3-2 after two.
Byfuglien scored on the power play with a drive from the point at 9:27. Wheeler and Patrik Laine assisted. Laine has six assists, but no goals, in his last four games since moving up to the top line with Wheeler and Kyle Connor.
Scandella’s point shot glanced off Jets forward Andrew Copp’s glove and went past Hellebuyck at 11:40, just three seconds after a Winnipeg penalty had expired.
Trouba ripped a slap shot past Johnson on his blocker side at 15:26.
Wheeler scored with the man advantage at 6:06, his 14th of the season, but Larsson cut Winnipeg’s lead to 3-2 off a rebound with just more than two minutes left in the second. The teams were tied 19-all in shots after 40 minutes.
Little scored off a rebound 25 seconds into the third period, but Wilson made it 4-3 with a high shot over Hellebuyck’s glove at 12:17.
NOTES: Winnipeg’s previous win against the Sabres came at home on Dec. 16, 2014. That was followed by four straight losses to Buffalo.
Sabres: At the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday afternoon.
Jets: Host the San Jose Sharks on Sunday afternoon.
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