The Winnipeg Jets play their second home game of this young season tonight, hosting Pierre-Luc Dubois and the Los Angeles Kings. I guess the Kings also have Drew Doughty and Anze Kopitar, too.
The Kings are looking for their first win of the season, after losing their opener to Colorado and falling to Carolina in a shootout Saturday.
The Jets, meanwhile, are coming off an impressive home opening win against the Florida Panthers, and continue a stretch in the schedule where they play four of last season’s playoff teams in a row.
Tonight is the second game of that stretch.
Here are a few thoughts on the matchup ahead.
Nikolaj Ehlers will be the key to unlocking the Kings defensively
The Los Angeles Kings have long been known for their gritty, neutral zone suffocation, and this year’s team should be no different.
With their shiny new three-headed monster at center in Kopitar, Dubois, and Philip Danault, the Kings will be able to throw defensive capability against whatever line combination the Jets put over the boards.
Los Angeles is known for their lane clogging, suffocating 1-3-1 forecheck style (if you can call it that), and it puts the onus on the Jets to manage the puck intelligently through the neutral zone and chip and chase if need be.
Enter Nikolaj Ehlers.
Ehlers is the best skater this team has ever seen, and is a one man zone entry machine. He’s a clear choice for being the guy you drop the puck back to on a power play, and has a combination of agility and top speed that is hard to contain.
It’s a blast to watch.
He can be erratic in his performance sometimes, being hard to predict and read as a teammate. But the task is simple tonight: skate through the zone if you can, or chip into the corner if LA has a chance to set up their neutral zone wall.
He’ll be the key to gaining controlled zone entries tonight.
Zooming out, the 2nd line of Ehlers-Perfetti-Niederreiter is still the line that has to find their footing and develop more chemistry. That’s okay, given this is Perfetti’s 3rd game at center in the NHL and just his 72nd overall, and Niederreiter, too, is only playing his 29th game as a Jet, none of which Perfetti played in.
Ehlers also missed the entirety of training camp with a nagging shoulder injury, which certainly doesn’t help things.
Still, if there’s a time for this Winnipeg Jets’ second line to put their stamp on this young season, it’s now.
Josh Morrissey looks to continue good start after explosive season
I’ve barely mentioned Josh Morrissey over the past month or two, and that needs to be rectified.
The studly defenseman has taken the step forward this team desperately needed out of it’s defence core, and he’s now scored a cool 79 points in his last 80 games. He’s off to a nice start so far this season, with three assists, two of them coming on the power play Saturday against Calgary.
For much of the same reason as Ehlers, he’ll be a key tonight too.
Since Rick Bowness took over as head coach, Winnipeg has played a refreshing attacking style, with defenders joining the rush as the fourth man regularly and having the green light to close off the boards aggressively in the attacking zone. Morrissey has benefitted from that immensely.
And given how often he is that 4th man coming, he’ll also be a player to watch as Winnipeg looks to navigate the murky waters of a neutral zone full of Los Angeles Kings.
He doesn’t quite have the top speed of Ehlers, but Morrissey is heady and alert as he skates up ice. And given LA’s 1-3-1 nature, it means if you can get through that middle three, there are odd man advantages and overloads waiting to be found.
Sometimes it’s just a short five or six foot pass that allows a team to get past that critical neutral zone defender, and often that pass is to a defenseman.
It’s up to Morrissey to be that player tonight.
Or the Jets could be in for a neutral zone slogfest.