MONTREAL, Quebec -- Playing an NHL game in Montreal for the first time can be an exciting time for a rookie. For Nikolaj Ehlers, tonight’s match up against the Canadiens will be even more special. This will be the 12th time Ehlers suits up for the Winnipeg Jets (7-3-1), but it will be the first time his parents, Tina and Heinz, are in the stands to watch him play.
“It’s something special. It’s pretty nice to finally have them over here. Last year my dad couldn’t come over all year. So it’s nice to finally, like I said, have them here, and show them what it is and how amazing it is to play in the NHL,” said Ehlers. “They almost watch every game (at home). Which is also pretty nice even though some of the games are at two in the morning.
“I always get a text from my dad and my mom on how it went. I don’t know that myself, but they know. My dad and my mom, they’ve been huge on me coming over here, and helped me, and supported me all the time.”
Ehlers is no stranger to Montreal. He says he played here on a couple occasions in junior. His teammate, Mathieu Perreault, has also skated at the Bell Centre a few more times since being drafted in 2006. But the novelty of playing in his home province hasn’t worn off. Perreault will have 24 guests in attendance tonight.
“It’s always special to come to Montreal,” said Perreault. “All my family and friends will be here. It’s an exciting building to play in.”
Tonight marks the third time this season the Jets are in a back-to-back scenario. They’re 2-0 in the second game of those situations so far, with wins over the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers.
“For myself, I feel pretty good on back to backs. Last night I didn’t really feel that good, and usually the next day I feel a little bit better,” he said. “So hopefully today I feel better, and I think most of the guys do as well.”
Just as the Jets arrived at Bell Centre this morning, the Montreal Canadiens announced goaltender Carey Price will miss tonight’s game with a lower-body injury. But Head Coach Paul Maurice says that doesn’t make playing the 10-2-0 Canadiens any easier.
“Well, the other guy’s numbers are better right? Which is hard to imagine,” Maurice said with a grin.
That “other guy” is Mike Condon. The 25-year-old netminder has a 3-0-0 record and a .944 save percentage so far this season.
“I think with the depth and the structure Montreal has, I’m not sure they don’t rally around it a little bit,” Maurice said. “Nobody is replacing a Carey Price or an elite player when they’re out of the line up, but their game is more than their goaltender.”
Maurice says the main thing the Canadiens bring to the ice is speed. That team speed has helped generate 45 goals so far this season; tops in the NHL.
“They don’t give you a whole lot off the rush, very few odd man rushes if any,” said Maurice. “They can use that speed for the attack. Straight lines and get to the net… It’s a really good defensive hockey team as well.”
Speaking of defence, Maurice feels playing in the Western Conference prepares the Jets for extremely active defencemen. But after looking at video of the Canadiens, he adds there might be a slightly different challenge tonight.
“They’ll decide whether they’re pinching and they make good decisions, and they’re not overly aggressive,” said Maurice. “In the West, we see that D is coming regardless because that’s the way they’re playing, and it’s the forwards’ job to fill back, and they’ll over pinch at times. They do a really good job with it, they’re really disciplined with it.”
This all adds up to a show down between the two Canadian teams with the most points early on in the regular season. Injuries or not, Perreault feels the Jets approach can’t change tonight.
“Right now, (they’re) probably the best team in the NHL, if you look at their record. But we like where our game is at right now,” he said. “We battle every night really hard. We have not a bad record ourselves… We have to have a mentality to get a lot of pucks to the net and see where it takes us.”
The puck drops at Bell Centre tonight at 6 pm CT.
-- Mitchell Clinton, WinnipegJets.com