“It was a lot of back and forth,” he said of the narrow loss Thursday evening. “Bucky played a hell of a game. He was absolutely unreal again tonight. But yeah, it sucks right now.”
The now 25-year-old, sixth-year Winnipeg Jets forward continues to lead his team in goals (13) while finding himself nestled in nicely alongside fellow sniper Kyle Connor and newcomer Pierre-Luc Dubois.
Finding the scoresheet on all three Jets’ tallies, Ehlers scored the team’s first two goals, before setting up the game-tying goal in dishing the puck to Paul Stastny with Connor Hellebuyck on the bench for the extra attacker late in the game.
Despite the three-point performance, the speedy winger had his attention elsewhere following the loss, even when asked to talk about the goals he scored.
“No, they were both great passes and I just tried to get the puck to the net as quickly as possible,” Ehlers started. “But you know, I was out there for all goals against, so I’ve got to take a look at that game; that doesn’t feel good. And that’s something that I’ve gotta change.”
Finishing the night with two goals, three points, and a 100 percent shooting rate in 17:14 of ice time, Ehlers was right that he did have a -1 beside his name. Despite the small setback, the six-foot, 175-pound forward does continue to lead his team in the plus/minus department, with a +10 mark overall.
“Our line was great offensively. We got chances, we scored on them,” he added. “But defensively we weren’t strong enough; we were on the ice for all three of those goals and that sucks. So I don’t know, we got a point going against Toronto, that’s not bad. So we are going to take a look at that game, but then we are going to move forward and be ready for the next one even though this is not fun.”
Taking things rather hard after a set of two games in which his team picks up three out of a possible four points may seem like a little much, but for Jets head coach Paul Maurice, it shows the sign of maturation.
“Nikolaj, that’s growth, right?” Maurice said of Ehlers’ post-game comments. “That’s major growth for a young player. He scores two, on the ice for a bunch, and that’s what he takes home with him. He didn’t like the way that went. That’s a good thing. He’s not in a bad mental state. He’s putting pucks in the net but at the same time he knows that he was on the ice when they were so that doesn’t make him very happy.”
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Despite the rough characterization and difficult takeaways on Thursday, Ehlers’ game wasn’t nearly as bad as he made it out to be, at least according to his coach.
“No, I don’t think he was,” Maurice said. “We’re not going to individualize blame on those goals, so he’s on the ice and that’s the way he takes that. He takes it as a line. Nikolaj really this year, we saw it in the bubble where he took a step forward for us. You look at his play tonight in terms of his compete and his battle and being hard on pucks and obviously the skill that comes out on those two goals that he scored. But this guy’s playing some great, great hockey for us. That’s the maturity there. He wants the win more than the stats. That’s a great thing.”
Luckily for Nikolaj Ehlers and Co. Winnipeg will get another shot at the high-flying Maple Leafs on Saturday evening in the third and final matchup of the three-game mini-series. Puck drop is set for 6:00 PM central time from Scotiabank Arena.