It had been a long time since the Winnipeg Jets last won a hockey game. Fresh off of a five-game losing streak and the All-Star break sandwiched in the middle of it, Nikolaj Ehlers said “Yeah, it’s been a while, we were trying to figure out who had the jackets, and that just shows you how long it’s been.”
The Jets powered through on this night and defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins by a score of 2-1, as Connor Hellebuyck stood tall denying 35 of 36 shots thrown his way.
Jets’ Top Line of Connor-Scheifele-Ehlers Dominated Offensively
The Jets came into this game suffering a major offensive slump, and at morning skate on Saturday, they switched up their lines in hopes of an offensive spark. They only scored two goals on this night, but the newly formed top line of Ehlers, Mark Scheifele, and Kyle Connor, carried the team offensively and looked dangerous from start to finish.
When asked about his line’s play, Ehlers said “I think we skated, all three can skate and when we use that we make it hard for the defence to step up on us. That creates time and space for us to make the plays we know we can make… Overall I think we played really well but again there’s things we can clean up as a line, so it was exciting.”
It’s safe to say that playing Ehlers in a top-line role has directly contributed to more offensive success for the Jets this season. Despite Connor missing over five weeks with an injury, Ehlers slid up to the top line and helped the Jets to a franchise-record eight-game winning streak in the process. Ehlers in a top-line role has repeatedly wielded positive results for Winnipeg’s forward core, and given his play of late, he shouldn’t be losing that role anytime soon.
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As a result of this move, the second line consisted of Cole Perfetti, Sean Monahan, and Gabriel Vilardi. As three of the slower players in the Jets forward core, they had a few shifts of sustained pressure keeping the puck down low, and they appeared to work well off of one another. I’d expect Rick Bowness and the Jets coaching staff to roll with this top-six configuration for a few games now, despite the fact they only scored two goals tonight. Both Bowness and Ehlers noted the Jets’ ability to generate chances tonight, and they felt they could’ve won that game by a lot more than they did.
Nino Niederreiter Snapped 15-Game Goal Scoring Drought
The Jets’ third line of Adam Lowry, Nino Niederreiter, and Mason Appleton hasn’t scored at the unsustainable pace that it scored at to begin the season, but as of late, it was evident that they were generating a good chunk of chances but unable to finish them off. In Niederreiter’s case, it had been 15 straight games without a goal, a drought in which he snapped on this night.
On getting back to ‘his office’ to score the Jets’ second goal and his 13th of the season, Nino Niederreiter responded by saying “Yeah, I’m trying to get there as much as I can, I mean it’s not easy to get there, so once you’re there pucks are getting delivered there so it’s a matter of time, so I’m glad I found one tonight.”
Niederreiter has repeatedly been a streaky scorer throughout his career, and this season is no different. He started the year incredibly hot, had multiple two-goal games in the month of Dec, and if he starts getting hot again throughout the month of Feb, the Jets could get a secondary-scoring punch that they have desperately lacked over the past couple of weeks.
Bowness and Niederreiter both mentioned the third line’s ability to generate chances in the loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday, Feb 8, and they carried their strong play over into this game as Niederreiter netted the game-winner.
When the Jets Struggled, Connor Hellebuyck Stepped Up
Hellebuyck’s brilliance continued on this night, stopping 35 of 36 shots and providing the Jets with yet another quality start. Both Bowness and Ehlers voiced their displeasure with the teams’ effort in the second period in the post-game, with Bowness even calling it “frustrating.”
Despite the Jets being thoroughly outplayed in 20 minutes of this game, their Vezina-calibre goaltender was up to the task as he usually is, with Ehlers even praising him post-game and saying this was just one of the hundreds of times he’s praised him because
he’s so consistent.
Now that the Jets have gotten a win back into their system, they’ll need to build off of that on Feb 14 against the San Jose Sharks. If they are unable to win that game by a comfortable margin, a lot of concerns could resurface in the wake of a disappointing home loss. Winnipeg currently sits in third place in the central division behind the Dallas Stars and Colorado Avalanche, with games in hand on both.