The Winnipeg Jets had a difficult showing on Monday evening. Despite a rash of new line combinations and two early power play goals off the stick of sniper Kyle Connor, the team was unable to hold its two-goal lead over fellow Scotia North Division opponent, Calgary, ultimately losing the game 4-3 in a shootout.
Now, raring for a rematch with the same Flames, Winnipeg will be needing stronger efforts from many, including that of the team’s plus/minus leader Nikolaj Ehlers (+8).
“I did not play well yesterday,” Ehlers told local media on Tuesday afternoon. “It wasn’t going for me and I think that I wasn’t really able to get into it the way I wanted to. I’ve got to be better tonight. Overall, not very good.”
Despite failing to pickup points in a second-consecutive game, Ehlers did come across as rather hard on himself after skating in a season-high 19:26, roughly two-and-a-half minutes more than his average through the team’s first eight games.
After starting the season with 11 points in his team’s first seven games, the speedy Danish winger has gone two games without putting up a goal or an assist. Not to say the well has run dry, by any means, but Ehlers does believe that his team will be able to help him “figure things out”.
“Obviously there’s been games we haven’t played a full sixty (minutes), we haven’t played exactly the way we want to,” he reflected. “And we got 48 games left, I think. And we’re not going to play 48 perfect games, we know that. But we’ve got a game tonight that we want to give ourselves a chance to win, and we know how we need to play to do that. I think that we feel pretty good. So we’re going to go out and get the two points tonight.”
Having started the season skating with Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele, Ehlers then got moved to a line with Paul Stastny and Andrew Copp. The three really clicked, with both Copp and Ehlers putting up four-point games last week. That, however, changed on Monday, with Jets head coach Paul Maurice opting for a new-look, in order to help jump-start his line of Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele and Kyle Connor.
Although not finding himself on the score sheet as of late, the crafty puck handler has continued to be the beneficiary of penalties drawn, helping his team to man advantages and power play goals on ensuing calls.
“He’s such a dynamic skater that you almost get that sense that if he gets beside a guy that he can beat him, that something special is going to happen,” coach Paul Maurice said of Ehlers. “A big chunk of what the officials are always trying to do is not take offensive plays away from people. So, he’s not drawing penalties because he’s causing problems and stirring things up and gets punched in the face and lays on the ice. He takes that puck in the hole and comes out of it with such speed.”
“His change of direction might be the real reason for it because he’ll catch defenders going one way and then the other,” Maurice continued. “It has a big impact on the game, especially last year we struggled a bit on our power play but the two years prior we ran fifth and fourth in the NHL, so we like the way our power play is looking now. If you’ve got a really strong power play, you can take advantage of those.”
Although saying that drawing penalties is not a skill that can be taught, the 24-year-old did expand on what makes it work for him.
“I’m going out there playing my game, and you know, I’m just trying to use my speed as much as I can and sometimes that gives the other team some trouble,” Ehlers said. “But like I said, I’m just going out there and playing the best I can, and sometimes there happens to be a penalty on the play. And obviously that’s great for us because we’ve got a good power play right now.”
Coach Maurice painted a clearer picture.
“There are certain things that draw penalties but those things create offence,” he said. “I’m not talking about if you get a little bit of a high stick on the chin and you throw your head back and grab your face like it got amputated. The teachable part of it is for offence, it’s not for drawing penalties. Keep your feet moving along the wall so you can get in a hole. That change of direction to a sprint is where you can catch a defender. Those are the things you work on, you teach, right from our development camp, on. But we wouldn’t pull a guy aside and say, ‘We’re gonna work on how many penalties you can draw tonight by catching the referee’s eye.’”