LOS ANGELES, California -- Only 184 days after it began, the Winnipeg Jets regular season comes to an end tonight in Los Angeles against the Kings.
“It’s no secret that this year has been a disappointing season for us,” said forward Adam Lowry. “The way we’ve played just shows the kind of guys we have in this room … Playing these teams that are gearing up for playoffs, it’s a good measuring stick. “
The Jets have measured up well in those games. The last four games have been against playoff bound Western Conference teams, and Winnipeg has a record of 3-0-1, including the season’s first three-game win streak.
Pushing that to four games would improve on the 11-8-1 record the Jets have against Pacific Division teams, but it would also throw a wrench in the Kings’ attempt to win the franchise’s second division title.
Heading into tonight’s action, Los Angeles has a two-point lead on Anaheim in the Pacific, thanks to a 2-1 win over the Ducks on Thursday night.
“We know they’re going to be a desperate team fighting for first in the Pacific Division,” said Lowry. “Obviously the last time we played them they handled us pretty well the first two periods and we were able to find a way to come back in the third period.”
Both of the previous meetings between the Jets and Kings have finished with 4-1 scores. Winnipeg won the most recent one on Mar. 24, despite being out shot 29-14 in the first two periods.
Lowry’s goal at 18:20 of the second period was the first of four unanswered goals that paved the way to a Jets win that night.
“They don’t give a whole lot up in the neutral zone, they’re a strong defensive team, and they like to play a big, heavy game,” Lowry said. “We know we’re going to have to be ready to battle right from the start.”
Regardless of the final score tonight, the Jets will head home to Winnipeg outside of the playoff picture. Injuries that have kept veterans like Bryan Little, Tyler Myers, Toby Enstrom, and others out of the line-up has resulted in opportunities for younger players like Nic Petan and Brandon Tanev to see more NHL action.
Despite their play though, nothing is guaranteed for next season.
“How they’ve played, performed, and carried themselves in this last stretch has been really important to it, but when training camp starts, the guys that prepared the best over the summer will look the best in training camp,” said head coach Paul Maurice. “When you’re talking about a bunch of young guys that you’re looking to insert in your line-up, you’re going to take the guys that are most ready.
“The other guys will go and play in the American Hockey League and have to fight their way back up.”
And as 11-year-veteran Drew Stafford said following this morning’s skate, once the final buzzer sounds tonight at Staples Center, the focus has to be finding ways to avoid being in this position in 2016-2017.
“Going into this summer, everyone in here, including myself, have to find ways to get better,” he said. “(Then) come back to training camp, have a really competitive camp, and get back to where we need to be.”
Puck drops at Staples Center at 9 pm CT.
Going into the final game of his rookie season, Nikolaj Ehlers said he’s seen a lot of growth in his play since the first puck dropped back in Boston.
“There’s been up and downs. I think that I have learned a lot throughout this season, both on and off the ice,” he said. “I think I have been getting better and better, which was my goal.”
On the ice, Ehlers has potted 14 goals and added 22 assists this season. Maurice said the 20-year-old worked hard to improve himself, eliminating what the coach calls the “amateur” in his game.
“He learned to stop and start, his shift length got better, he stays on his feet. He went three months there where he didn’t put a lot of offence up, but he worked on his game,” said Maurice. “(He) worked on buying himself the opportunity, being a good enough all-around player, to go out and play with your best players because they play against the other team’s best.
“He’s a coach’s son. He knows that there are other parts of the game that are important, and he values those.”
But Ehlers believes most of his learning took place off the ice in 2015-2016.
“I think I learned a lot off the ice when it wasn’t going that well. I hadn’t had a lot of moments like that in my junior career to be honest,” Ehlers said. “I think I learned a lot from the older guys who just kind of told me ‘just keep going. Keep playing the game, have fun.’ and not get too upset with not playing well sometimes, and just get back on the horse and keep going.”