Connor knows what he has to do

High-scoring forward looking to fill the net as Jets face elimination against Golden Knights


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LAS VEGAS — There are few things Kyle Connor loves more than scoring goals.

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LAS VEGAS — There are few things Kyle Connor loves more than scoring goals.

The Winnipeg Jets forward is pretty darn good at it, too. He has scored at least 30 goals in nearly all of his six seasons in the NHL, including a career-high 47 goals last season. The only year he didn’t reach the mark came in the shortened, 56-game campaign in 2021 owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in 26 goals.

In fact, since joining the NHL full-time in the 2017-18 season, only six players have more goals than Connor’s 207, including Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin (264), Toronto’s Auston Matthews (259), Edmonton’s Connor McDavid (257), Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl (256), Boston’s David Pastrnak (242) and Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon (209).

Lucas Peltier / The Associated Press

Jets’ sniper Kyle Connor takes a shot on Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Laurent Brossoit in Game 2 of their first-round playoff series in Las Vegas.

“Winning is the most important thing but it’s definitely great if you can combine the two,” Connor told the Free Press following practice Wednesday. “If you look at Game 3, with the crowd at home and we’re going into overtime, it’s every kid’s dream of scoring an overtime winner. Everyone in this locker room loves to score goals and takes pride in it. For me, it’s definitely up there.”

Connor opened the scoring for the Jets in Game 3, notching his second of the first-round, best-of-seven series against the Vegas Golden Knights midway through the first period. He wouldn’t be able to find the back of the net the rest of the way, however, with Vegas forward Michael Amadio eventually sealing the win 3:40 into the second overtime period.

While it’s not on Connor that the Jets lost, because he’s such a prolific scorer, fairly or not, he’s relied upon more than most to produce in the game’s most important moments. Though the 26-year-old has two goals and three points over four games in the series — production that would flatter most on the roster — the Jets will need more from their top sniper if they plan to extend the series beyond Game 5 Thursday, as they trail the Golden Knights 3-1 and are on the brink of elimination.

It’s even more important that Connor find his scoring touch with Mark Scheifele now sidelined with a suspected right-arm/shoulder injury and Nikolaj Ehlers having yet to play in the series as he works his way back from an undisclosed upper-body injury he suffered in the second-last game in the regular season.

“It does, in a sense, that their guys can key in more on myself and other guys. So, it makes it easier for them,” Connor said. “There can be a little added pressure, but at the same time it’s nothing new that we haven’t seen before and also something you’re used to.”

Against Vegas, it’s been somewhat feast or famine for Connor. When he’s on, the Jets have a good shot of winning and when he’s not, particularly with how banged up they currently are, it’s a much bigger hill to climb.

In Game 1 – a convincing 5-1 win for the Jets — Connor scored once and was a plus-2, while in the aforementioned Game 3, he added an assist to go along with the goal and was also a plus-2. In the two other games the Jets lost, Connor had zero points and was a minus-3.

Fred Greenslade / THE CANADIAN PRESS files

Nikolaj Ehlers’ return to the Jets lineup would add speed and offence at a time when they need it the most.

“Kyle is a great player and you have to find ways to produce. That’s what elite players do in the playoffs. He’s no different than any other elite player in the league,” Jets head coach Rick Bowness said. “When you get in the playoffs… in particular our series, we’re playing the best team in the Western Conference every game. It’s not like you’re going to go play the first and then play the 12th place team, it’s a good team every night. And they’re first place in the conference for a reason and it’s up to our players to find a way to be successful against them.” Bowness wasn’t about to criticize one of his best players, which only makes sense given how high the stakes are right now. There have been times this season when Bowness has called out his top players, making clear his desire for them to be better, and while he never uses names, Connor is definitely in that group.

Bowness isn’t necessarily looking for Connor to do more, he just wishes the chances he is generating resulted in more goals. Connor has a team-high 24 shots in the series and his 38 shot attempts is the sixth most in the entire Stanley Cup playoffs.

“He’s getting his looks. Just keep skating. He’s got elite speed, elite hands. Keep using them,” said Bowness. “If he keeps getting the opportunities he gets, you got to believe it’s going to go in the net for him. We really don’t want him to change anything because if he’s not getting those chances, we’d have a conversation, ‘OK, this is why you’re not getting those chances.’ Eventually, you have to have confidence in him that he will produce.”

His teammates have the same confidence in him. They see him on a daily basis, get a first-hand look of how hard Connor is working and how badly he wants to help the team.

“First and foremost, there’s a big want. He wants to score goals. He wants to be the guy taking that shot in the big moment of the game,” Jets defenceman Brenden Dillon told the Free Press. “On the power play, five-on-five, he wants the puck in his hands, especially offensively. He’s scoring goals in practice, which is where it all begins. For a lot of us, when we see him shoot, we look at each other and go, ‘Geeze, how did he get that off? How did he find that spot?’ He’s definitely hungry.”

Like a lot of goal scorers, Connor isn’t immune to being a bit streaky at times. He scored in the first game of the regular season and then scored just once over the next 13 games. He went another stretch, between Feb. 22 and March 21, in which he had just one goal in 15 games.

Then there are stretches where seemingly everything goes in for the Michigan native, including scoring nine goals in 11 games between Nov. 17 and Dec. 8 and another nine goals in 12 games between Dec. 31 and Jan. 22.


The Manitoba Moose are in a precarious position entering the 2023 American Hockey League playoffs.

Finding that level of consistency is the goal for every top scorer in the NHL. During the playoffs, it can be the difference of winning and moving on or losing and going home.

“It’s about being dynamic, in the sense that you can score in a lot of different ways. Everybody comes into the league with a patented way they like to score and teams are so good at adjusting,” Connor said. “Some of these defenders are world class and so you got to be able to adjust on the fly, score in multiple different ways and also having the team and structure that embraces that and gives you confidence to go out there and play your game.”

Twitter: @jeffkhamilton

Jeff Hamilton

Jeff Hamilton
Multimedia producer

After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.

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