Dynamic duo click on and off ice

Ehlers and Laine terrifying opposition with their natural chemistry

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It’s a question neither Patrik Laine, nor Nikolaj Ehlers have a clear answer for: how are two players as offensively gifted and equally creative with the puck as they are, able to coexist on the same line? And in doing so, develop the kind of chemistry they have with one another?

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/12/2016 (2173 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It’s a question neither Patrik Laine, nor Nikolaj Ehlers have a clear answer for: how are two players as offensively gifted and equally creative with the puck as they are, able to coexist on the same line? And in doing so, develop the kind of chemistry they have with one another?

“That’s a hard one. I’m not so sure,” said Laine following a 4-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche where the two combined for three goals and five points. “We just have the chemistry. I don’t know how, but it just feels like we can find each other from the ice and know where we’re going. It’s nice to play with him.”

“That’s a good question,” added Ehlers, who scored twice, recording his sixth and seventh goals of the year. “We’re really good friends on and off the ice. Of course you’re good friends with everybody, but when you start the season together you build some chemistry and we’ve just been able to keep building on that.”

Nikolaj Ehlers celebrates the first of his two third-period goals against the Colorado Avalanche. Patrik Laine and Mark Scheifele drew assists on the goal.

As Ehlers alluded to, it’s not that Laine, the Jets highly coveted rookie who was selected second overall this year, and Ehlers, another first-round draft pick for Winnipeg — ninth overall in 2014 — playing in his second season with the Jets, haven’t been given ample time to gel with one another. The two wingers first united near the beginning of the regular season, but have been separated on a number of occasions by head coach Paul Maurice when the team was in need of a spark. After two games playing on separate lines, they were once again united against Colorado.

What’s most astonishing is the the fact they both play a similar style of game — one that includes holding onto the puck, and making shifty, high-risk plays — that seemingly contradicts any kind of success together.

“That’s just a part of building chemistry: knowing what the other guys are going to do, where they’re going to do it, how they’re going to do it, when, all that — and we read each other real well and it’s worked out,” said Ehlers. “We’ve still got some things that we need to work on, but I feel like we’re building really well.”

Maurice, who has seen his fair share of skilled players over his time, having coached 19 seasons in the NHL and more than 1,300 games, had an interesting take after Sunday’s match as to why the duo has clicked so well.

“I think they both are shooters to start with and they both have a real direct idea… so their games are easy to understand,” said Maurice. “If somebody’s in a shooting area they’re going to shoot the puck and they’re both real smart guys.”

When it comes to coaching two young and dynamic players, it’s a task much different than usual and one that, in most cases, involves little coaching at all, he said.

‘We’re really good friends on and off the ice… when you start the season together you build some chemistry, and we’ve just been able to keep building on that’– Nikolaj Ehlers

“Because you want it to happen naturally. You don’t want to tell them when to shoot, you don’t want to tell them when to make plays other than as a group when they’re looking for plays that aren’t there and they aren’t doing the basics of driving the pucks deep and making sure somebody at least is driving to the net,” Maurice said. 

“We want them learning the NHL offensive game in their own minds because they’re special offensive players. You could coach that, but you end up sometimes confusing a player, or worse, having them process more than they need to. It’s only when we see a theme of things where we think their offence is being shunted a little bit because they haven’t recognized the NHL game is different.”

Maurice was also careful to give credit to centreman Mark Scheifele, a calming influence on the line and a player who has also seen success with both Laine and Ehlers this year. Scheifele finished Sunday’s game with two assists, including a slick, cross-ice pass to Laine the Finnish phenom hammered home to give the Jets a 1-0 lead in the second period.

“Mark does a nice job, when he shows speed like that through the middle it’s tough to defend against that,” said the Jets’ coach.

Given how much Maurice has shuffled lines this year, it’s hard to tell how long Laine and Ehlers will remain together. But if one thing is for sure, they like what they’ve been able to achieve so far together.

“I think everybody would like to play always with the same players if it’s going well, but you have to think what’s best for the team, and I think Paul is doing a great job in that,” said Laine, who leads the Jets with 18 goals. “You have to play with the guys who are on the same line, it doesn’t matter who they are you just have to find some chemistry and play well.”

photos by Trevor Hagan / The Canadian Press Patrik Laine (left), Nikolaj Ehlers (centre) and Mark Scheifele celebrate Ehlers’ empty-net goal against Colorado in the dying moments of Sunday afternoon’s game.

jeff.hamilton@freepress.mb.catwitter: @jeffkhamilton

 

Jeff Hamilton

Jeff Hamilton
Multimedia producer

After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.

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