WINNIPEG -- The home portion of the pre-season schedule comes to an end tonight when the Winnipeg Jets (1-2-2 in pre-season play) host the Calgary Flames.
It’s the first of two meetings between the two clubs to close out the pre-season, with the second contest taking place Saturday night at Scotiabank Saddledome.
But players trying to make the team this season can’t afford to look past the opportunity in front of them tonight at MTS Centre. After a strong showing on Tuesday in a win over Ottawa, Nic Petan will skate on the wing with Bryan Little at centre, and Andrew Ladd on the other side.
“With the young guys you’re looking for them to be consistent with their play,” Ladd said. “For me and (Bryan Little), hopefully (Petan) does what he does really well, sees the ice, and uses that hockey sense that he has to read off us two.”
Ladd saw his first pre-season action in Tuesday’s 4-3 overtime win over Ottawa. The Jets captain had a goal and an assist, along with 21:20 of ice time. It was his goal in the final minute of regulation that sent the game to overtime. While it was mostly veterans on the ice at that point of the contest, as captain, Ladd won’t hesitate to offer help to younger players.
“You’re there for advice if they need it. I think you want them to enjoy it too,” said Ladd. “It’s a pretty exciting time in their lives to be in competition for an NHL spot. So you want them to try and enjoy it.
One of those young players is Nikolaj Ehlers. In his second pre-season as a member of the Jets, he feels he’s come a long way since he was in this position a year ago.
“Last year I felt I could play. But this year I look back and I see ‘ok maybe there are some things I have now that I didn’t have back then,’” said the 19-year old. “I wasn’t very big. I’m not that big now, but I feel a little bit stronger and heavier. It feels good to be back here, and I feel great.”
The challenge comes with changing line-mates each night, as the coaching staff tries to evaluate each player in different situations. Ehlers recorded an assist on Tuesday, when he set up Drew Stafford to pull the Jets within one. Tonight, he’s with Mark Scheifele and Thomas Raffl. At 29-years-old, Raffl isn’t letting the pressure of being on a professional tryout get to him, as he prepares for his fourth pre-season game.
“I just have to continue doing what I’ve been doing until now. Keep the game simple, pay attention to small details, and do my best,” he said. “I’m excited for tonight. I’m not nervous. I’ve been in those type of situations too many times so far. If you’re nervous, it just makes it worse. I just want to leave my best out there.”
Here is how the rest of the line-up looks, based on today’s morning skate:
Ladd – Little – Petan
Raffl – Scheifele – Ehlers
Burmistrov – Lowry – Stafford
Lipon – Copp – Peluso
Chiarot – Byfuglien
Pardy – Myers
Harrison – Trouba
With the regular season opener on October 8 in Boston looming, those fighting for open spots on the roster are running out of time to cement their status. While his focus was on individual play early in the pre-season, coach Paul Maurice says it’s all about chemistry now.
“Fit with the other people around them,” Maurice said following the morning skate. Along with that “fit,” Maurice also likes to see versatility, as injuries can wreak havoc on even the most well constructed line-up.
“Up front, you just love the guys that at times were centre men, and now can play either wing. You can just find a place for them all over your line-up…Injuries, all those things over the course of the year. The more wingers you have that can play both sides, and the more guys on the wing that have spent some time at centre, you can just move your lines around a lot.”
Puck drop tonight against the Flames (4-2-0 in the pre-season) is 7 pm CT.
-- Mitchell Clinton, WinnipegJets.com