Jets column: Ehlers hot, January cold, and other notes before the all-star break
Winnipeg defeats Arizona Coyotes 5-2 at MTS Centre to close out January
The Winnipeg Jets closed out the month of January with a 5-2 win over the Arizona Coyotes at MTS Centre Tuesday night and with that, the all-star break is upon us.
It couldn't come soon enough for the Jets.
The all-star break will last for one week. After what January had to offer (Winnipeg put up a 5-6-1 record), it will be nice to get away for a bit.
So with no hockey until February, let's empty the notebook:
1. One of the more intriguing storylines out of Tuesday's win was the play of Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler and Nikolaj Ehlers.
The line was build for speed and it showed in the first period. All three players were buzzing in various moments of action. Ehlers registered his first career hat trick and Wheeler had three assists, as both players enjoyed the return of Scheifele to the lineup.
Scheifele missed seven games with a lower-body injury (he missed three games at the end of December, as well).
Of note: heading into Tuesday, the Jets had scored a total of four goals in their last four games.
Special mention goes to Ehlers, who scored seven goals and chipped in three assists in January — his most productive month of the season. Isn't it amazing what an offensively gifted player can do when put alongside other skilled forwards?
2. Dustin Byfuglien is headed to Nashville for the all-star game, and he treated the Coyotes matchup like a warm-up for the 3-on-3 action he'll be skating in on Sunday.
It was a two-goal night for the big defenceman, both occurring in rather unorthodox fashion.
The first one came in the second period from centre ice, when he motioned like he was going to slap the puck in along the glass but instead put a shot on the Arizona net. That fooled netminder Louis Domingue, who started to go behind his net in anticipation of the puck being there.
Byfuglien made a smart play; Domingue, not so much.
His second of the night, a breakaway tally that sent a charge through the home crowd, came with his club killing off a 5-on-3 disadvantage. How rare is that? It was the first time an NHL team scored down two men since the 2012 season.
Byfuglien, who is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent this summer, enters the all-star break with 13 goals and 28 points.
One suspects his price tag is going up.
3. Big picture, January was not kind to local hockey concern and because of that, the high hopes of climbing back into the playoff picture thanks to a favourable schedule did not materialize.
If you've been following along, you know the situation is dire.
Winnipeg (22-24-3) is last in the Central Division, standing eight points behind the playoff line in the Western Conference with a handful of clubs in between.
There are 33 games left. The margin for error is slim and the prospects for a miracle are also quite svelte.
4. It should be noted that Arizona played its second game in as many nights, having picked up a 2-1 shootout win in Minnesota on Monday.
Not to take anything away from the Jets, but the visitors looked like a team that already had two road points in the bank and was on the verge of an extended break.
Tuesday marked the final time the Jets will have the benefit of playing a team on the second night of a back-to-back this season.
That's too bad — Winnipeg compiled a 6-2-0 record in those matchups. Every advantage helps.
5. Finally, a quick thought about the goaltending situation.
Connor Hellebuyck made his 10th consecutive start Tuesday. Once again, he put up a convincing argument that he should be the guy moving forward.
The rookie is 12-9-1 with a 2.10 goals against average and a even more impressive .927 save percentage. Really, is there any debate at this point?
Well, there might be. Ondrej Pavelec has resumed skating and one would suspect he will be close to returning when the NHL picks up the schedule next week.
With Hellebuyck looking more and more like he's ready for prime time, though, it might be time to turn the page on the veteran netminder. Many agree with this course of action.
The issue: recent history.
For reasons only known to the club, the Jets have been loyal to Pavelec through the first four seasons in Winnipeg. It's not just Pavelec, either. The organization has a tough time moving on from under-performing players.
It should be Hellebuyck's net now — "should" being the key word there.
Who knows which way the Jets will go?