LAS VEGAS, Nevada - One day ago, Nikolaj Ehlers was still on the outside looking in when it came to the Winnipeg Jets line-up.
Fast-forward less than 24 hours and a lot has changed.
Ehlers will return tonight as the Jets take on the Vegas Golden Knights.
"I talked myself into the line-up," he said with a grin. "I want to play. I want to be back. I feel 100 per cent. I feel good to go. We talked and it worked out."
Video: PREGAME | Nikolaj Ehlers
Initially, Jets head coach Paul Maurice had planned to sit Ehlers out one more game, have him practice tomorrow in Arizona, then see if the 23-year-old forward could return against the Coyotes on Sunday.
But one conversation changed everything.
"I opened the door for him. I said 'if you come back in the morning and you're feeling 100 per cent, you're ready to go,'" said Maurice, adding Ehlers has been asking to get back to game action for a week already. "He was shooting the lights out today. He's at 100 per cent and he's ready to go."
The Jets (36-20-4) held an optional skate this morning at T-Mobile Arena after yesterday's full practice. With four skaters (Ben Chiarot, Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers, and Adam Lowry) not taking part, the team didn't do line rushes.
That means warm-up will be the first indication of what the Jets line-up will look like with Ehlers back in the fold for the first time since Jan. 4.
Video: PREGAME | Josh Morrissey
Regardless of the line combinations, the Jets want to be a better team than they were two nights ago when they opened the three-game road trip with a 7-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche.
"We'll try to come out with the right mindset," said captain Blake Wheeler. "We've had some adversity, things have been tough for us, so there is a lot of excitement to try and get it back on track."
Yesterday, the Jets spoke of committing to being responsible defensively. Andrew Copp said it was a priority for the team coming out of training camp, but that it has slipped of late.
In the month of February, the Jets have allowed 35 goals - a number certainly inflated by the seven Colorado scored on Wednesday night.
Still, that number is the fifth-highest in the NHL this month. Josh Morrissey is looking forward to seeing how the Jets respond tonight.
"Everybody cares a lot and everyone wants to try and do more. A lot of times it's just understanding what we need to do within our team structure," said Morrissey. "The only way we're going to climb out of the little slump we're in is as a team.
"Preparing yourself mentally to play, understanding we need to have our compete level up. That's mostly between the ears I think. We had a great day yesterday… a great morning skate today, great meeting. We're prepared to play this game tonight."
Video: PREGAME | Blake Wheeler
Tonight is the second game of a four-game home stand for the Golden Knights (32-25-5). Like the Jets, Vegas has also hit a bit of a bump in the road at this point of the season. They're 3-6-1 in their last 10 games, including a 3-2 shootout loss to the Boston Bruins on Wednesday night.
The Jets won the first of three meetings with Vegas by a score of 4-1 back at Bell MTS Place on Jan. 15.
Maurice feels Vegas is the exact type of team the Jets need to go up against right now. The importance is to not play cautious.
"Play with energy and not with the fear of not making a mistake because you're trying to win a game so bad. This team can counter off that real quick. They'll be real aggressive," said Maurice. "These are two real desperate teams. I think you're going to get a real grinder in here tonight, which is exactly what we need."
For Ehlers, any opponent will do. The 20 games he's been out are more than the amount he's missed in the last three seasons combined.
"I've been working out for seven weeks now. I've been skating for three, I think," Ehlers said. "My legs feel good, my body feels great, my head feels great. It's just a matter of keeping it simple. Use my legs as much as I can and get the speed into my game again."
Connor Hellebuyck starts in goal for the Jets while Marc-Andre Fleury will counter for the Golden Knights, with puck drop set for 9 pm CT.
-- Mitchell Clinton, WinnipegJets.com
The Winnipeg Jets visit the Vegas Golden Knights tomorrow in the first of two games between the two sides at T-Mobile Arena this season...The Jets started their three-game road trip with a 7-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday night...The Jets conclude the road trip on Sunday against the Arizona Coyotes.
Winnipeg is 15-13-0 on the road this season, but are 3-5-0 in their past eight road games and haven't won consecutive road games in 2019...The Jets went 23-11 on the road in 2018...Winnipeg hasn't lost three consecutive road games in regulation since Dec. 10-20/16...The Jets have played 28 road games this season, which is tied for the fewest in the NHL, but are in a stretch of seven of nine games away from Bell MTS Place...Blake Wheeler leads the Jets in scoring on the road this season with 27 points (4G, 23A) in 28 games.
Party in the Pacific
The Jets are 11-3-2 against Pacific Division opponents this season and have won six of the past eight games...Winnipeg was a dominant 17-4-2 against Pacific Division foes last season and are on an 21-4-4 run in their last 29 games versus the Pacific...Blake Wheeler (5G, 11A) leads the Jets in scoring against the Pacific Division this season with 16 points in 16 games, while Mark Scheifele has 15 points (6G, 9A) in 16 games...Goaltender Laurent Brossoit is 3-1 with a 1.59 goals-against average and .959 save percentage in four games against Pacific Division teams this season.
For and Against
The Jets are averaging 3.35 goals per game this season, which is sixth in the NHL...Last season, the Jets finished second in the league with an average of 3.33 goals per game...Winnipeg is averaging 2.95 goals against this season, which is 13th in the NHL, but have allowed an average of 3.69 goals per game in 13 games since Jan. 19 (5-6-2).
Taking Their Shots
The Jets have been outshot in five consecutive games, but have earned at least a point in three of the five games by going 2-2-1...Winnipeg is 22-11-4 when being outshot this season, which is the third most wins in the NHL...The Jets have been outshot by an average of 41.2-32.6 in their past five games.
The Jets are in a stretch of six games in three different time zones and play consecutive games in the same time zone just once...The Jets play the three games of this road trip in the Mountain and Pacific Time Zones before returning home to the Central Time Zone for two games and then going to the Eastern Time Zone for four games.
VIEW THE FULL GAME NOTES
The Jets were assessed 33 minutes in penalties on Wednesday, which is the second most penalty minutes they have taken in a game this season (60 - Oct. 11 at NSH)...The Jets have 588 penalty minutes this season, which tied for third most in the NHL, but only have one player in the NHL's top 25 in penalty minutes - Brendan Lemieux (T-17 with 64 PIM)...Winnipeg's opponents have had at least four power play opportunities in four of their past five games.
After going back-to-back games without a point for just the second time this season, Blake Wheeler assisted Kyle Connor's goal on Wednesday for his team leading 57th assist and 69th point...Wheeler needs one more point for his fourth consecutive 70-point season, which would leave him one season shy of Ilya Kovalchuk's franchise record of five consecutive 70-point seasons...Wheeler needs three more assists to become the first player in franchise history to record back-to-back 60-assist seasons.
Lots of Rubber
Goaltender Connor Hellebuyck faced 46 shots in Wednesday's loss to Colorado, which marked his sixth consecutive start of facing 35 shots or more...Hellebuyck has faced 35 shots or more in 20 games this season, which is the most in the NHL...He faced 35 or more shots in just 14 games all of last season...Hellebuyck has a .918 save percentage this season when facing 35 or more shots in a game, which is up from his overall save percentage for the season at .909.