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Jets’ Scheifele, Ehlers quiet sky-is-falling narrative with epic offensive outburst

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WINNIPEG — Mark Scheifele and Nikolaj Ehlers found themselves in a serious offensive funk, that much was clear.

They’d been used together, then split back up onto separate lines as the Winnipeg Jets continued a search for something that might provide a spark.

But at a time where goals had suddenly become extremely hard to come by — nine in total during the previous seven games, for those of you scoring at home — it was Scheifele and Ehlers who ignited an offensive outburst of epic proportions in a wild game that became an 8-4 victory over the New Jersey Devils on Friday night.

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For a Jets team that had dropped six of the past seven games and had gone from a Central Division leader to below the playoff line in a matter of weeks, this goal-scoring explosion was a welcome sign.

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Scheifele, who had been limited to just one assist over his previous five games and had only two goals in 16 games for the season, recorded his fourth career hat trick and chipped in an assist to pace the offensive attack.

Earlier in the day, Scheifele had been grilled about his slump and he calmly said it was just part of the game.

It was something he’d gone through before and he knew if he kept working at his game and doing the right things, his fortunes would eventually turn around.

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That power of positive thinking and internal belief brought a variety pack of goals which was something to behold — with each of them showcasing a different skill.

The first was all about his soft hands in tight, as Scheifele took a pass from Neal Pionk in the slot and made a move that was filled with finesse, a quick strike deke that was buried on the backhand to open the scoring.

The second goal was all about explosiveness, as Scheifele picked up the puck in his own zone late in the second period.

Sensing that time was about to expire, Scheifele saw an opportunity to catch his opponents off guard and his ability to accelerate through the neutral zone forced Devils defenceman Jonas Siegenthaler on his heels.

Instead of rushing to get his shot off, Scheifele’s slight cut to the middle created a lane and he rifled a quick wrister off through the skates of Sigenthaler that caught Jonathan Bernier by surprise with just 5.9 seconds to go.

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The power-play marker helped improve the Jets’ 2-for-36 run with the man-advantage and also chased Bernier — who allowed six goals on 32 shots before giving way to Mackenzie Blackwood to start the third period.

Scheifele wasn’t done there, providing an exclamation point just prior to the midway point of the third period, taking a perfect pass from Blake Wheeler (who finished with three assists as he gets set to play in his 1,000th NHL game on Sunday) for a one-timer after Kyle Connor executed a smart zone entry with speed to get the play started.

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Scheifele wasn’t the only one providing highlight-reel moments in this game.

Ehlers was back doing what he does best, showing off his explosive speed and shot on a line with Pierre-Luc Dubois and Andrew Copp.

Ehlers and Dubois were frequent linemates last season, but the chemistry wasn’t immediately evident, though the circumstances are also vastly different this time around.

Dubois found Ehlers for a pair of goals on Friday, including a one-timer that basically came from behind him.

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Ehlers casually described the play, noting he’d been working on something similar during the morning skate with Connor.

“I mean, I know where the net is but I didn’t look at the net once, just trying to surprise the goalie and I did and obviously very happy about it,” said Ehlers.

That’s when Scheifele interrupted to ensure those in the press room and those listening at home understood the degree of difficulty of the play in question.

“He’s being modest, it was a very skilled play,” said Scheifele, whose appreciation of the play was evident in the tone of his voice. “It’s like (looking) over the shoulder catching a football, you’ve got to time it perfectly. It was pretty sweet.”

Much like Scheifele, Ehlers needed this kind of a performance.

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He’d gone five games without recording a single point and many of his scoring chances were coming from the perimeter.

Although he’s one of the players who can score from distance, Ehlers needed to get back to playing a speed game and work at getting to the harder areas on the interior.

That’s precisely what he did in this game.

“That’s an involved Nikolaj Ehlers. He’s in the game,” said Jets head coach Paul Maurice. “He’s on the inside of the game, not fading out for that, not pulling up, not trying to do something high on that entry. So confidence is everything. And if you go as a line and you score two goals, then you feel good and you’re excited about the next night.”

Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman talk to a lot of people around the hockey world, and then they tell listeners all about what they’ve heard and what they think about it.

With three days between games — and coming off a disappointing 1-0 loss to the Arizona Coyotes — the Jets spent ample time in the film room looking at ways to generate more dangerous offensive chances.

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To see that work translate into eight goals was an encouraging sign, but it was merely a step — not a celebration of fully putting the offensive challenges in the past.

The Devils had some issues with puck management and defensive-zone coverage, but they also made life miserable on the Jets for a stretch, especially when they turned a 3-0 deficit after 7:39 of the game into a 4-3 lead before the second period was 80 seconds old.

“It should have never gotten to that. I think after the 3-0 (goal), we stopped playing and gave them time and space to make their plays,” said Ehlers. “They are a young and skilled team and they’re going to make those plays. That’s something that we got to, as a team, look at and not let happen again.”

Just when it looked like the roof might cave in on the Jets, they found a way to settle things back down.

By the time the final buzzer had sounded, it was the Jets that scored the final five goals of the game to improve to 11-8-4 on the season.

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Instead of dealing with a sky-is-falling narrative that was seemingly building toward a crescendo, the Jets instead quieted some of the outside noise and generated some good feelings heading into Sunday’s marquee matchup against the red-hot Toronto Maple Leafs.

Sure, there were some self-inflicted wounds to clean up, but this was an important step forward.

With only two wins over the past eight games, nobody is doing cartwheels or jumping for joy.

But when frustration is mounting and a team is searching for answers, any win is a welcome one — especially when two offensive drivers who had been a little too quiet of late were out there leading the charge.





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