The Winnipeg Jets lost 4-0 to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday night, but the greatest toll from the defeat wasn’t made public until Saturday with the Jets announcing forward Nikolaj Ehlers will be out for at least the next few weeks with an upper-body injury.
Ehlers suffered the injury in the first period, on the first shift of the game following a clean hit from Penguins captain Sidney Crosby. He was in visible discomfort following the collision, but was able to test it out another shift before exiting the game for good.
Jets head coach Paul Maurice, who was named Saturday as the Central Division team’s coach for the all-star game, delivered the news after practice, predicting Ehlers would be unavailable until at least early to mid-February. Ehlers, who has 15 goals and 12 assists for 27 points in 40 games, was playing on the top line with Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele. At practice, it was Kyle Connor in place of Ehlers, with Jack Roslovic moving from the fourth line to replace Connor on the second line with Bryan Little and Patrik Laine.
'I'll try to pick a nice suit and stand in the right spot'— Paul Maurice on being an all-star coach
For Roslovic, it’s a chance to do what others his age were able to achieve, including Connor, who took advantage of an injury to Mathieu Perreault last season and blossomed into a top-six forward.
"I don’t know how long Nikky is going to be out for, so I’m going to try and stay there as long as I can and make the most of it," Roslovic said. "Try to help the line out and bring my speed to the game and try to make something happen."
Roslovic has played mostly on the fourth line this year, registering two goals and six assists in 39 games. There is some familiarity with Little, though, including times during the Jets’ playoff run last season when the two played with Perreault before being knocked out of the Western Conference final against the Vegas Golden Knights.
"He’s one of those guys that the organization is being patient with, letting him develop the right way. It’s worked for a lot of guys in this dressing room, and I think he’s going to be another product of it," Little said. "Seems like every day he’s improving and getting more confident. When he’s playing well, he’s fun to watch out there. He’s one of those guys that’s going to keep getting better and more confident."
For Laine, the loss of Ehlers means he’ll being moving to his off-wing, on the left side where he plays on the Jets No. 1 power-play unit. He said it’s been more than two years since he regularly played left wing, but as a right-handed shooter, Laine added it provides more options in the offensive zone.
"I feel like I can create more space for myself, more from that left side. From the right side, I just kind of have the option to shoot it or just kind of try to toe-drag it so I feel like I’ve got more options from the left side," Laine said. "It’s going to take time to get used to it again."
After a mostly healthy first half for the Jets, they’ve been dealt a considerable blow over the past week. Dustin Byfuglien, Winnipeg’s highest-paid defenceman, is out until at least late January with a lower-body ailment.
Byfuglien suffered what is suspected to be a left ankle injury late in a 3-1 home loss to the Minnesota Wild on Dec. 29. He was seen wearing a walking boot on his left leg following the Jets’ skills competition on Wednesday.
Winnipeg, which led the Central Division with a record of 25-13-2 heading into Saturday’s games, has lost three of its last four games. The Jets will look to get back on track today at home against the Dallas Stars, who have won four of their last five games since their CEO called out forwards Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn — the team’s two premier players.
What’s been the Jets’ biggest concern of late has been the lack of goals scored, with Winnipeg scoring one goal or fewer in five of its last seven games. That concern has not yet percolated to the coaching staff, with Maurice also downplaying the loss of two marquee players.
"Everybody’s going through it. Every team is going to lose key guys. Buff is out and Nikky is out, and we may look a little different because of it, but it doesn’t change," said Maurice, who also downplayed his role as all-star coach.
"I’ll try to pick a nice suit and stand in the right spot," he said.
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.
Updated on Monday, January 7, 2019 at 10:41 AM CST: fixes typo