Young snipers get groove back

Ehlers, Connor, Laine bust mini-slumps to dull Sabres

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BUFFALO — The young, dynamic skill of the Winnipeg Jets continues to propel the club to new heights — even though a couple of the snipers had been misfiring as of late.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 09/01/2018 (1782 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

BUFFALO — The young, dynamic skill of the Winnipeg Jets continues to propel the club to new heights — even though a couple of the snipers had been misfiring as of late.

Case in point was a 7-4 triumph over a struggling but plucky Buffalo Sabres squad Tuesday night.

Danish speedster Nikolaj Ehlers, who turns 22 on Valentine’s Day, snapped his 18th and 19th goals of the season on a couple of mirror-image, top-shelf jobs, snapping an eight-game scoring drought in the process.

Jeffrey T. Barnes / The Associated Press Buffalo Sabres forward Evander Kane (9) passes the puck during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Winnipeg Jets, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018, in Buffalo, N.Y.

Just a month past his 21st birthday, Kyle Connor, who started the year in the AHL but has cemented himself on the Jets’ top line, scored his 14th and 15th on a pair of pretty snipes, while Patrik Laine, 19, opened the scoring with his 19th — the 100th point of his career in just his 117th NHL contest — to halt a seven-game goalless streak.

Laine and Ehlers, pretty much joined at the hip off the ice, share the team goal-scoring lead.

Connor, who snapped a three-game pointless skid, is now second in NHL rookie goal scoring behind only the Vancouver Canucks’ Brock Boeser (22)

Winnipeg (26-11-7) has won three straight and is 6-0-1 in its last seven contests, while Buffalo (10-24-9) suffered its fourth straight defeat and has two wins in its last dozen games (2-7-3).

The Jets remain atop the Central Division, three points up on the Nashville Predators (25-11-6) and four ahead of the St. Louis Blues (26-17-3).

Little-used goalie Steve Mason was inserted as the last line of defence for the Jets and won just his third game of the season. The veteran netminder, starting for the first time since a loss to the New York Islanders Dec. 23, finished with 30 saves at KeyBank Center.

Jeffrey T. Barnes / The Associated Press Winnipeg Jets Tyler Myers (57) Nikolaj Ehlers (27) and Joel Armia (40) celebrate a goal during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018, in Buffalo, N.Y.

Dustin Byfuglien netted his second goal of the season and Joel Armia added his seventh into an empty net for the Jets, who led 2-1 and 5-2 at the breaks.

But Jets head coach Paul Maurice was raving about the squad’s high-profile youngsters in his post-game chat with reporters.

“The two guys with 19 (goals), score more goals than their ages. A lot of good young skill on that ice surface, some great shooters,” he said. “Both those guys and (Connor) at 15 (goals) in his first year (NHL season) before the all-star break… some real fine skill there.

“Nik Ehlers’ hockey game, he hasn’t scored in the last couple but his game has been just outstanding. I’m glad he got rewarded because we need him to keep playing the way he’s playing. He’s been great at both ends.”

Ehlers was going in top gear all night long and had the hard wrister dialled in. He cut Sabres starting goalie Robin Lehner’s night short early in the second period on a seeing-eye shot to the top corner just 1:26 into the middle frame to beef up the Jets’ lead to 3-1.

Jeffrey T. Barnes / The Associated Press Winnipeg Jets forward Patrik Laine (29) celebrates his goal with teammates during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Buffalo Sabres, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018, in Buffalo, N.Y.

He then ripped a similar shot past Lehner’s replacement, Chad Johnson, at 15:42 of the second with Buffalo’s Jordan Nolan in the box serving a double-minor for roughing.

Indeed, the goals are a whole lot nicer when they’re generated as part of a winning formula, Ehlers said.

“It’s obviously a great feeling to score and help the team win. I think we played a good game (but) the last period not great but it feels good to score again,” said Ehlers, who last scored Dec. 19 in a win over Nashville when he potted a pair.

Winnipeg continues a three-game road trip Friday in Chicago and then heads to St. Paul, Minn., for a Saturday night battle with the Wild. The Jets’ league-mandated five-day break begins Sunday.

Meanwhile, the battle for goal-scoring supremacy in Winnipeg rages on.

Jeffrey T. Barnes / The Associated Press Winnipeg Jets forward Kyle Connor (81) puts the puck past Buffalo Sabres goalie Chad Johnson (31) during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018, in Buffalo, N.Y.

“We knew how many games we had without a goal,” said Laine. “When we started to talk about it, both got goals. Maybe we should talk like that often.”

Concerning, however, was the Jets’ third-period sag with a 6-2 lead, allowing the hosts to pull closer on goals by Jason Pominville and Jack Eichel, with his second of the game and 17th of the year. Ryan O’Reilly had the other Sabres tally, his 11th of the season.

“They forecheck hard. You give them time and space, they have skilled players who can make plays,” said captain Blake Wheeler.

“After the game was 6-2, I didn’t like our game at all. There’s always something to get better at.”

Mason finally got some goal production from his teammates. He hadn’t started since the host Islanders beat Winnipeg 5-2 on Dec. 23. Before that, the Jets were shut out 2-0 with him between the pipes Dec. 16.

Jeffrey T. Barnes / The Associated Press Winnipeg Jets goalie Steve Mason (35) makes a save during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Buffalo Sabres, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018, in Buffalo, N.Y.

“It was nice to get the goal support. That made it easy for me to settle back into a rhythm,” said Mason, who is 3-6-1 in 10 starts.

“After not playing a whole lot, it’s kind of tough to find your groove but when you have that kind of goal support it allows you to be a little more calm back there and work your way back into the game.

“Even though there were four goals scored, I felt pretty strong back there. I just tried to come in and finally get a win. It’s been a while, so it’s nice to be part of a victory from the ice.”

Both of Byfuglien’s goals this season have come against Buffalo. His first of the year — in his 30th game — came Friday at home.

Healthy scratches for the Jets were defenceman Ben Chiarot and winger Brendan Lemieux.

Jeffrey T. Barnes / The Associated Press Buffalo Sabres defenseman Zach Bogosian (47) trips Winnipeg Jets forward Marko Dano (56) during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018, in Buffalo, N.Y.

jason.bell@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPJasonBell

Jason Bell

Jason Bell
Sports editor

Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).

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Updated on Tuesday, January 9, 2018 11:08 PM CST: Adds quotes.

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