Squeezing stick tighter won’t alleviate Ehler’s goal drought


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ST. PAUL, Minn. — Nikolaj Ehlers doesn't take a botched scoring chance lightly.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 16/04/2018 (1697 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Nikolaj Ehlers doesn’t take a botched scoring chance lightly.

The swift-skating Winnipeg Jets winger admits there’s a replay button deep in his brain that automatically forces him to relive the times when he’s bearing down on an NHL goaltender and the puck stays out.

And right now the scene of his glorious opportunity to even Game 3 of the Jets and Minnesota Wild’s playoff series is running on a continuous loop.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Winnipeg Jets' Nikolaj Ehlers against the Minnesota Wild. Ehlers says he replays missed scoring opportunities over and over in his mind.

“For me, yeah… that play,” Ehlers, flashing a grin, said Monday after Winnipeg’s optional skate at Xcel Energy Centre.

He’s focused on a chance in tight on Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk with his club trailing 3-2 in the second period. He took a great pass from Kyle Connor and unleashed a shot that Dubnyk slid across to stop.

The 22-year-old product of Denmark made the veteran puckstopper’s job look easy, firing the puck squarely into his pads.

Ehlers, who scored 29 goals during the regular season — his third in the NHL — hinted it wasn’t one of his more creative efforts. That’s what prompted him to refrain from taking a day off the ice Monday and, instead, take a half-hour twirl with about half his teammates and rip some rubber.

“I work on the things that didn’t work last game. I’m not going to stand here and tell you what. But yeah, 100 per cent, I think about it,” he said. “You always think about other options after. You’re always smarter after the fact, after you do the thing on the ice. But that’s why we’ve got video. You look at those things, you try and find other ways to do things simpler, quicker.

“Sometimes they go in, sometimes they don’t. You just try to find a way to make sure they go in more often.”

Right now, Ehlers is having some trouble finding the back of the net. He scored just twice in Winnipeg’s final 13 regular-season games and hasn’t beaten Dubnyk through three games of the first-round Western Conference playoff series.

The former first-round pick (ninth overall, 2014), who scored 86 goals in two seasons with the Halifax Mooseheads of the Quebec major junior league, went through a similar funk earlier this season. He went eight games without scoring before ripping a pair of goals against the Buffalo Sabres on Jan. 9 and then his stick went quiet for eight more before he scored Feb. 3 against the Colorado Avalanche.

Do the dry spells cause him fits, or do they ignite a fire in his belly?

“In this league, you can’t get frustrated. My first year (2015-16) I got frustrated, it didn’t help me and it didn’t help the team,” said Ehlers, who potted 15 goals during his rookie campaign. “You can play a great game and not get on the scoresheet but the guys win and you’re still happy. You can play a bad game and score three. So, you try to go out and play the game as best as you can, and sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

“But if you get frustrated, that’s when you start holding your stick extra tight and try those little extra things. For me right now, I’m just going out there and playing the game I know that I can.”

Jets head coach Paul Maurice said young goal scorers such as Ehlers, 44-goal trigger-man Patrik Laine and rookie Kyle Connor, who supplied 31 goals this season, understand their responsibilites go beyond just lighting the lamp.

“That’s a conversation that happens the day they come into this league because they come out of junior or college hockey and early on they’re usually not scoring. We’ve had a nice crop of kids come in and they’ve been able to find and learn their game and produce at the same time. That’s unusual,” Maurice said.

“But that’s something they have to learn right from Day 1… there’s so much more to the game other than just finishing. You get paid an awful lot if you can finish but you still need to do the other things to stay in the league.”


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).


Updated on Monday, April 16, 2018 7:11 PM CDT: updates headline

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