Jets star Mark Scheifele elevating his game on the big stage
25-year-old leads league in post-season goals with 8
Jacob Trouba has watched Mark Scheifele's progression to becoming a star forward more closely than others.
The Winnipeg Jets teammates began their full-time NHL careers in 2013-14, when Trouba was a budding defenceman and Scheifele a big, skilled centre who thrived on studying the intricacies of the game.
That's why Trouba isn't surprised Scheifele has been on fire in the playoffs, posting eight goals that put him atop that category heading into Monday's games. Pittsburgh's Jake Guentzel and Sidney Crosby and Washington's Alex Ovechkin each had seven.
"I think everybody in that room knows what [Scheifele is] capable of," Trouba said Monday after some of the Jets were available following their 5-4 double-overtime Game 2 loss to the Predators in Nashville on Sunday night.
"I don't think it's any surprise to anyone. He's shown that over the past how many years that that's how he can play. He's a big-time player and he's got a lot of skill."
The Jets flew into Winnipeg at 2 a.m. CT Monday morning after splitting the first two games of their second-round series with the Predators in Nashville. The best-of-seven set between the league's top two clubs continues Tuesday and Thursday at Bell MTS Place, where Winnipeg has won 12 straight.
Elevating his game
Scheifele scored a pair of goals in each of the games at Nashville. The Kitchener, Ont., native also added an assist Sunday. Combined with his points in Winnipeg's five-game, first-round series victory over Minnesota, the 25-year-old has 10 points in seven games.
His post-season spark follows up a regular season that included two different upper-body injuries, the first one taking him out of commission for almost six weeks. Scheifele missed a total 22 games, but still racked up 60 points in 60 games.
"He's very into recovery and that kind of stuff so I don't think I'm surprised by how he's done and how well he's recovered," Trouba said. "It's just a testament. I think everybody knows how much he loves hockey and that's part of what makes him up."
Scheifele anchors a line with rookie left-winger Kyle Connor and captain Blake Wheeler.
"It seems like the bigger the stage, the more he elevates his game," Connor said of Scheifele, who has seven goals in his past four games. "He really comes to play."
Watching that gives him a boost, as well as his teammates.
Each team had their chances
"Yeah, for sure," Connor said. "I think it just kind of comes when we all push each other. Not even as a line, just as a team. Everybody wants to elevate their game and be the best."
Only a few Jets took part in Monday's optional skate, including injured players such as defenceman Dmitry Kulikov and forwards Joel Armia and Mathieu Perreault.
Scheifele didn't meet with reporters, but after Sunday's loss he was frank in his analysis of the game that ended when Predators Kevin Fiala scored at 5:37 of the second extra period.
"We had our chances, they had their chances. That's the way it happens in overtime," Scheifele said post-game. "It's definitely a sucky way to be on the bad side of it, but it's over."
He said he's learning things in his second career playoff series. In the 2015 post-season, the Jets were swept in their first-round series against Anaheim. Scheifele had one assist.
Gift for scoring goals
"You've got to go to the dirty areas," he said. "[Wheeler] made an unbelievable pass on that tying [goal]. It's fun playing with those guys. It's too bad we didn't get the win."
Jets head coach Paul Maurice said Scheifele views himself as a playmaker, but he's got the gift for scoring goals.
"I think if Mark got selfish in his game, and I'm not encouraging him to do it, but I think he's a 30- to 50-goal scorer," Maurice said. "He's got that kind of shot.
"We totally leave him alone in terms of his decisions with what he does on the offensive side of the puck, but he seems to have shifted now in some of the situations to be a shooter, too."
Winnipeg's "whiteout" crowd inside the rink, and thousands more at an expanded street party, could watch more tight matches. While the Jets went 32-7-2 at home in the regular season, the Predators' road record was 25-9-7.