Fly is buzzing again
Ehlers quickly finding his form
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Scoring his first goal of the season in Game No. 40 isn’t how Nikolaj Ehlers drew it up, of course. But nothing about the 2022-23 campaign has gone according to plan for the highly-skilled Winnipeg Jets winger.
Playing for just the second time since a sports hernia shelved him for 36 games, the guy known as “Fly” looked a lot more comfortable on Sunday afternoon than he did in his return on Friday night.
“Last game was definitely a tough one. I think everybody could see that,” said Ehlers. “So I did everything I could to make my legs and my body feel better for this game today. And I felt pretty good.”
The 26-year-old Dane added two assists for good measure, looking awfully comfortable on a new-look top line with Kyle Connor (three goals) and Pierre-Luc Dubois (four assists).
“They are two guys that are pretty easy to play with. I told them I might need some help in the first couple games. And they did a good job with that,” said Ehlers. “We read off each other as much as possible. I think that’s what makes this line a good line. And then as soon as we have a chance to get the puck, defensively or offensively, we’re going all out. So try to use our speed as much as possible.”
When the season began, Mark Scheifele was actually between Ehlers and Connor, while Dubois was centering a second line with Blake Wheeler and Cole Perfetti. Unfortunately, that lasted all of two games, with Ehlers getting hurt in Dallas. Bowness didn’t even get to see him up-close, as the veteran bench boss was shelved with COVID.
“He can fly,” Bowness said Sunday. “These were the first two games I coached him because I didn’t coach in those first couple of games at the start of the year, I wasn’t behind the bench. So, it’s me getting used to him too.”
Bowness opted not to go back to how he began the year once Ehlers was healthy because he wants to keep Dubois and Connor together.
“Before Cole (Perfetti) and (Blake Wheeler) went down (with recent injuries), that Scheifele line was really good with Wheels and Cole. The Scheifele line was playing really well before (Ehlers) came back. That was 1A and 1B, they were both playing really well,” said Bowness.
On Connor’s first goal of the night, Ehlers somehow found him with a pass he admitted was more on instinct than anything else.
“I wouldn’t say that I see him, but I know where he was going to be. And I just tried to throw it in his area, because I knew he’d be coming down off that right side because they were looking at me and it would be open,” said Ehlers.
A sure sign of trust and chemistry?
“Yeah. We haven’t played much together, but we have played together. Even when you don’t play together you see what the other lines do. It’s those reads you kind of look for and remember,” said Ehlers.
Connor said a fully healthy Ehlers, once he’s back up to speed, can be lethal. And he saw plenty of signs in that direction on Sunday.
“A lot better reads, I would say, for him. He kept it simple and didn’t second-guess anything,” said Connor. “He’s getting the puck, he’s skating, he knows what he’s doing with the puck and he’s putting it into the net, or he’s making a play. A lot of times, you see him holding onto the puck in the zone. That goal he scored, he comes around the net, holds onto the puck, just buys the extra time for himself. He was a lot stronger with his reads tonight and I’m sure his legs felt a lot better too.”
Ehlers is now up to six points (one goal, five assists) in his four games this year. Along with Connor’s speed and scoring ability, and Dubois’ impressive two-way game, this line has the potential to be one of the best in the NHL.
“He’s been unbelievable. He’s a big body that can skate incredibly fast. And the way he protects the puck and opens up space for his linemates, it’s pretty impressive,” Ehlers said of Dubois. “We knew that he had that in him. He showed it last year as well. But this year he’s taken a huge step and that’s exciting for us.”
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.