Friday, 4 March 2016

Of All The Ways To Lose...

Nikolaj Ehlers, after all is said and done on this campaign, will probably be able to hold his head high and say, "I had a good rookie season." Granted, it took him some time to find his sea-legs by getting defensively in playing on the third line, but the kid has recently been moved to the first line where his offensive capabilities shine. He and Mark Scheifele have found some great chemistry, and the future of the Winnipeg Jets looks fairly solid with these two leading the way. After the Andrew Ladd trade, it was expected that Ehlers would carry a larger offensive load for the Jets, and that has been happening.

However, tonight's setback against the New York Islanders came at a much larger cost for the Jets. The Jets were 30 seconds from taking two clean points off the Islanders only to see Nick Leddy tie the game before Kyle Okposo took two points in overtime. While the stung, watch the video of the winning goal. You'll see why this one hurts the Jets.
That one looked like it hurt as the puck bounced off Ehlers' face, found Okposo's stick, and he ripped home the winner. Ehlers was down for a few seconds in what appeared to be considerable pain, so this loss could hurt the Jets in more ways than just in the standings.

I'll say this: Ehlers showed incredible hustle to get back in the play after being part of the 2-on-1 into the Islanders zone. The Islanders broke the play up and he put his head down and skated back as hard as he could to catch Okposo who was part of a 2-on-1 the other way with Frans Nielsen. This is the defensive responsibility that head coach Paul Maurice wanted out of Ehlers, and he showed that the lessons being taught to him in how to play in the NHL aren't going to waste.

The fluke of catching Nielsen's shot in the face? That's something no player would have been able to control, and the fact that it left Ehlers down on the ice didn't look good. There's some hope that the visor he wears may have caught some of the impact, but from what coach Maurice said post-game it sounds as if Ehlers will come out of this scary incident with no significant battle scars.

"I think Nik's going to be fine. We'll check him tomorrow," Maurice stated without revealing anything.

Goaltender Michael Hutchinson deserved a better fate than to take a loss like he did, but his thoughts were with the young Dane as well.

"That's a frustrating loss," Hutchinson said. "To have the lead that close to the end and for them to score, and then in overtime for a goal to go in like that, it's unfortunate. Especially when you see one of our good, young players take the puck right in the face there, you never like to see that happen. It's an unfortunate thing that happened and hopefully he's OK."

If Ehlers isn't seriously hurt - and here's hoping he's not - the Jets would probably be best not to push him back with little to play for on this campaign other than stats and pride. They aren't close to making the playoffs, they're close to being in a top-three draft position, and they are playing more of their youngsters. Ehlers has proven he can play at the NHL level as shown in Dallas most recently, so having him out on the ice while possibly hurt serves no purpose whatsoever.

The Jets will play Montreal on Saturday, and it's time for another one of those good young players we've heard so much about to step up and show that it's not all talk. The overtime loss sucks tonight. Seeing Nikolaj Ehlers go down in a scary incident should have worried Jets fans much more.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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