Connor Hellebuyck is an elite goaltender. His 44-11-9 record, 2.36 goals-against average (GAA) and .924 save percentage (SV%) are massive reasons for the Winnipeg Jets’ success this year. His case for capturing the Vezina is a compelling one, as his team simply wouldn’t be where they are without him.
However, he hasn’t had much success this season against one certain squad — which happens to be the one the Jets find themselves facing in the second round.
Hellebuyck’s Nightmares Against Nashville
Hellebuyck’s had some problems when playing the Nashville Predators. His numbers against the league’s top team aren’t exactly a dream.
In five games and four starts against the Predators in 2017-18, his GAA was 3.91 — the worst figure versus any team he faced more than once. He gave up a total of 19 goals in those five games. He also posted a SV% of .882, well below his sparkling overall number.
On Nov. 20, in the two teams’ first matchup of the season, Hellebuyck allowed five goals on 29 shots in a 5-3 loss, including two that slid along the ice and through his five-hole.
On Feb. 27, he had arguably his worst start of the season in a 6-5 loss. He looked bad and was torched for six goals on 26 shots, including three straight in the third as the Jets squandered a 5-3 lead.
A rare off night for goalie Connor Hellebuyck as the Jets fall to the Predators 6-5. He didn’t look very good on at least 4 of the goals scored by Nashville. But he’s been the Jets best player in most of the games this season. He’ll bounce back.
— Joe Pascucci (@Pascucci015) February 28, 2018
After that game, Hellebuyck didn’t talk to reporters. When he did speak two days later, he refused to discuss the game.
“I do mind going back to it. I don’t want to bring it up,” Helleybuyck said in the interview. “There’s no need — it’s in the past. There are 82 games and I’m focusing on the next one. We’ve had a good run, so far, and we want to continue it.”
Hellebuyck Shaky Even in Wins
Even in his two wins against the Predators, Hellebuyck wasn’t his usual brick-wall self. On Dec. 19, he made 30 saves in a 6-4 win. However, the win was more thanks to Brandon Tanev’s unlikely late-game goal than Hellebuyck’s performance: he gave up a sharp-angle stinker and a softie he should have been able to squeeze but didn’t that trickled through him and just over the goal line.
On Mar. 25, when the Jets punched their ticket to the playoffs with a 5-4 shootout victory, Hellebuyck allowed a couple he would probably have liked to stop, including one with less than a second left in the first period. Overall, though, he was decent, saving 32 and not allowing a shootout goal.
Hellebuyck Bounce-Back Ability — and He Knows It
Even with his suspect numbers against the team the Jets will soon face for four or more, fans shouldn’t be too concerned. Hellebuyck has uncommon levels of mettle, maturity, and confidence.
Connor Hellebuyck performance immediately after allowing 5+ goals in the previous game this season:
Save %: .955
Shutouts: 2 pic.twitter.com/ORcrXOesPG
— Wiser Fans (@WiserFan) April 18, 2018
He’s a hard worker who doesn’t wallow in a bad performance or let a bad night snowball into a free fall. After allowing five goals or more in a game, he has — without exception — rebounded with a great performance. His ability to do that is one of the things that makes him so valuable.
His bounce-back ability was never more apparent than it was in Round 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. After a rough 6-2 loss in Game 3, Hellebuyck didn’t panic, but instead turned his net into Fort Knox, posting back-to-back shutouts. Paul Maurice praised his goalie for the trait after his Game 4 shutout.
“You knew, five to 10 minutes into that game, he was right and feeling good,” Maurice said after Game 4. “It’s really good for our hockey team to see that from him. To see that he can come back and rebound – those kind of confidence builders in the playoffs are critical.”
Hellebuyck Needs to Look Forward, Not Back
Hellebuyck is emerging at just the right time and needs to keep his momentum going. He needs to put his regular-season struggles against the Predators in the rearview and focus on doing what he did in Round 1 and the vast majority of the regular season. His team will need him at his best in what’s bound to be a dogfight between two of the NHL’s very best.
“I’m going to have to look to the future and remember this,” Hellebuyck said to Darrin Bauming after the series-clinching Game 5. “That this was a big building stone and a step in my career. That I can do this, and if things falter, I have a good foundation to fall back on.”
If big No. 37 can push aside his struggles against the Predators — which by all indicators he can — the Jets will have a good foundation to build on for a Round 2 victory.