Friday, 22 February 2019

Best Friends Are We!

It was a big night against the Vegas Golden Knights as the Winnipeg jets rolled into town, and this less about avenging the loss in the Western Conference Final last season as much as it was redemption after a wholly brutal effort against the Colorado Avalanche earlier in the week. Where things went off the rails there can't be pinpointed to one exact thing; rather, the Jets were simply awful on a number of fronts that night. Tonight, though, the return of one player and the juggling of a few lines seems to have been the panacea that the team needed as they entered Sin City.

The return of Nikolaj Ehlers paid dividends immediately for the Jets as he put the visitors on the board just 56 seconds in while bringing his usual Tasmanian Devil-like energy, and that goal seemed to set the stage for the Jets on this night as Kyle Connor made it 2-0 just 32 seconds after the Ehlers goal. The Jets looked like an entirely different team than what we've been seeing over the last few weeks with the newly-formed line of Kyle Connor-Bryan Little-Nikolaj Ehlers restoring a little mojo to the second line.

Vegas, however, found some life off a Pierre-Edouard Bellemare goal in the first period before Shea Theodore tied the the game in the second period as the home side started to look like they were actually interested in playing this game. That is, until the final minute of the period when the Jets found themselves on the power-play and Patrik Laine finally rediscovered the back of the net.
The guy who was stoned nearly every time by Fleury in last season's playoffs gets out of his personal 16-game funk by hammering a shot past Fleury after doing some excellent work to seek out passing lanes for the cross-ice pass. Laine's smile after that goal might be the sweetest of his career, and it put the Jets up 3-2 before Adam Lowry broke out of his own goal-scoring drought with 3.7 seconds remaining as the Jets went into the second intermission with the two-goal lead.

After Jonathan Marchessault scored eight seconds into the third period, a 5-on-3 power-play for the Jets saw #29 load up the cannon once again.
Laine's second goal of the game pushed the score to 5-3, and Andrew Copp made it a 6-3 victory with an empty-netter as the Jets began to look more like themselves from earlier in the yea than they had over the last six weeks.

If you said the Jets still have significant flaws, I wouldn't disagree with you. The defensive corps need one more quality defender added to the mix to give them a top-four that can go toe-to-toe with any other team. If you suggest that they should upgrade that centerman role on the second line where Bryan Little currently plays, you likely won't get much of an argument from me either.

But could the answer to this team's offensive and possession woes have been Nikolaj Ehlers all along? Ehlers carries the puck so well, and his controlled zone entries make the Jets better. Pairing him with another water bug across from him in Kyle Connor gives that second line so much speed up and down the wings that I'm not sure there's a team that can match it. By moving Connor down to the second line and Laine up to the first line, they also give Laine some elite playmakers to work with, and he needs a setup man or men when it comes to scoring goals with that awesome shot of his.

It's only one game, so no one is getting a Stanley Cup parade route ready for Portage and Main just yet. Getting Dustin Byfuglien back in the lineup from his injury makes the Jets better, and they're likely a Stanley Cup threat once more. There are still flaws with this lineup as the team approaches the trade deadline that will force Kevin Cheveldayoff to make some tough choices regarding his team, but seeing how Nikolaj Ehlers re-energized the second line and opened up Laine to play with Scheifele and Wheeler brings something that was missing for so very long to this Jets lineup.

If they can thrive with this new lineup, the West may not yet be decided. All Patrik Laine needed, it seems, was a little help from his best friend on the team.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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