Bryan Little

Jets lose Mark Scheifele for 6-8 weeks

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In looking at the year in fantasy hockey, two Winnipeg Jets forwards ranked among the highest scorers for the calendar year of 2017: Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele, who both managed 87 points. Maybe they aren’t household hockey names, but those two scorers are tied for third in points since Jan. 1.

Now we’ll see how effective Wheeler can be without Scheifele, for quite a bit of time.

The Jets announced that Scheifele was placed on injured reserve today, with head coach Paul Maurice estimating his time missed at six-to-eight weeks.

No doubt about it, that’s brutal. PHT’s Scott Billeck reports that Wheeler described Scheifele as “irreplaceable” last night, following that scary spill into the boards (see the video above this headline).

Early on, it seems like Wheeler will need to step into Scheifele’s shoes in more ways than one, as the Jets will tinker with him being the team’s new top center. It will be interesting to see how much of the burden Kyle Connor can carry, while Patrik Laine rounds out the top trio. Mathieu Perreault also gets bumped up to the second line alongside Nikolaj Ehlers and Bryan Little.

Perreault allows the Jets to, at least possibly, maintain a standout strength: having two strong scoring lines. Depth remains a question.

The Jets are currently battling it out with the Predators and Blues for positioning in the Central Division, so this could deal a blow that might cost them to lose their grip on a round of home-ice advantage, something that’s not frequently discussed regarding this franchise. The Predators already had a decent cushion for the top spot, though it’s far from unassailable:

Predators: 49 points in 36 games played
Jets: 48 points in 38 games
Blues: 48 points in 39 games

Looking forward, the Jets face an erratic schedule where they’d likely lean on Scheifele to get through tough road runs in January and then try to stock up on points during a home-heavy February.

From Jan. 9-25, the Jets play six of seven on the road. They follow that up with a massive 10-game homestand from Jan. 30 – Feb. 20. If Scheifele were to miss two months or more, he’d be out for all of that time, so some of this comes down to how he heals.

A lot of this is tough to stomach, but consider what happened to Scheifele’s opponent last night, as Connor McDavid missed the rest of his rookie season after falling into the boards. It’s an unfortunate break, yet this could also be worse, especially if he recovers as expected (or better than expected).

And, let’s face it. The Jets haven’t navigated bumps in the road very often as a franchise stretching back to the Atlanta Thrashers days. You need to roll with the punches come playoff time, so perhaps this will give them some of that experience early?

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

The Buzzer: Price, Canadiens continue to roll

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Players of the Night:

Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens: Price made like a brick wall for the third straight game, stopping 27 of 28 shots he faced for his third straight win since returning from injury. Montreal had been a tire fire prior to Price’s return, and Price had been a tire fire before he went down with the mysterious lower-body injury. Price’s revival looks very, very good over the past three games with a 0.67 goals-against average and a .980 save percentage. The Canadiens have won three-straight.

Antoine Vermette, Anaheim Ducks: Vermette picked a good night to end his 11-game goal-scoring drought, netting twice, including the game-winner, as the Ducks beat the St. Louis Blues. Anaheim had lost their previous four games before Wednesday’s win.

Highlights of the Night:

This is just one filthy, filthy pass by Andrew Shaw:

Riley Nash made Andrei Vasilevskiy look pedestrian with this slick wrister:

Steven Stamkos ended a five-game goal-less slump when he finished off this tic-tac-toe play on the power play:

The Mighty Stumble:

The NHL’s No. 1 and No. 2 teams coming into Wednesday night’s action both fell to lesser teams (going by standings, of course).

On Wednesday Night Rivalry on NBSCN, the Boston Bruins topped the NHL-leading Tampa Bay Lightning 3-2. Charlie McAvoy had a goal and an assist and played over 28 minutes for the Bruins.

Kyle Brodziak scored twice in the final four minutes for St. Louis, but it wasn’t enough to claw his team back from a 3-0 deficit.

The Winnipeg Jets took a too many men penalty with seven seconds left in regulation in a 2-2 game and paid for it when the game shifted into overtime as Nathan MacKinnon scored 59 seconds into extra time.

The Jets had a chance to move into a tie for the top spot in the Western Conference with St. Louis losing. Alas, it was not to be.

MISC:

  • Tuukka Rask hasn’t had a good start to the year — he has just four wins in 14 starts — but he stopped 19 shots on Wednesday against the league’s top team to end a four-game skid, including this fine save:

  • Bryan Little has eight points in nine games since ending an 11-game goal-scoring drought on Nov. 14.
  • Erik Karlsson continues to starve the scoresheet of his name. He is now seven games without a goal or an assist, this after recording 17 in his previous 10 games.

Factoid of the Night:

And it was a pretty nice goal to boot.

So majestic.

Scores: 

Bruins 3, Lightning 2

Canadiens 2, Senators 1

Ducks 3, Blues 2

Avalanche 3, Jets 2 (OT)


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Fracas ensues during Jets’ rout of Wild (Video)

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Can a two-game road trip be a long road trip?

The Minnesota Wild might feel that way, as they’ve been drubbed by two Central Division rivals in as many games. First, the Blues handled them 6-3 on Saturday. Things only got worse tonight as the red-hot Jets poured it on during a 7-2 beating.

Minnesota aimed to get a measure of revenge via beatings, actually, as quite the brawl erupted as Bryan Little scored all alone to make it 6-2. As you can see from the video above this post’s headline, it was a brief-but-heated skirmish.

Wild coach Bruce Boudreau would likely prefer a more defensive-minded response going forward, as The Athletic’s Michael Russo points out while singling out Kyle Quincey for quite an odd, mostly bad night:

With those consecutive losses, the Wild fall to 11-10-3 on the season. The Jets, meanwhile, move to just two points behind the Central-leading Blues for the division lead.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Jets basically have two top lines, and that’s scary

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At times, this season feels like The Year of the Mega-Lines.

Even so, the modern NHL is cruel to offense, and many of us are waiting for the other shoe to drop, as much as we want the fun to continue. What if Steven StamkosNikita Kucherov is driven down by injuries? Can Brayden Schenn remain a point-per-game player with Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz into the spring?

A lot has been going right for the Winnipeg Jets lately, as they improved to 14-5-3 after beating the Anaheim Ducks 4-1 on Friday. It was their sixth win in seven games; they’ve gone 11-2-3 since beginning 2017-18 with a sputtering 3-3-0 mark.

Still, there are some of those red flags that make you wonder if the party might stop soon. They ranked second in the NHL in even-strength PDO (via Natural Stat Trick) coming into today’s action, one of the go-to signs that a Cinderella story may end. Their possession numbers have left much to be desired. Connor Hellebuyck might be playing over his head.

All or at least most of those considerations are worth some concern.

Even so, Friday managed to shine a spotlight on a scary notion: the Jets might possess the equivalent of two “top lines,” or at least an electric top duo and a young, rising one that isn’t far behind.

Around the start of the season, the Jets raised some eyebrows – mine, anyway – by handing Nikolaj Ehlers a seven-year extension that carries a $6 million cap hit. It’s not like the 21-year-old lacked signs of brilliance; instead, it was just a little startling to see them be so proactive with a big contract and term rather than seeing if his 25-goal, 64-point breakthrough from 2016-17 was “for real.”

It’s incredibly early, but Ehlers is making it look like a wise decision, if not an outright steal. There are even moments when you might catch yourself wondering, “Is he just about as good as Patrik Laine?”

Perhaps the Ducks thought that way today, as Ehlers dropped two goals and an assist on them.

Snickers turn to nods of begrudging approval when you hear talk about “shot quality” with a team that might just have an excess of high-end shooters. After all, you can only cheat to cut off shooters so much if it means giving Ehlers too much time and space:

Laine played somewhere between coy and possum when discussing how hockey was “hard” for him during a relative scoring slump, as he’s climbing to right where the Jets would want him to be. Since November began, the 19-year-old has only failed to score a point in a single game and averages a point-per-night. (Overall, he has 17 points in 22 contests.)

This outburst gives Ehlers 10 goals and 17 points, and perhaps the Jets’ risky investment in Bryan Little may look better if he can merely set the table for these two. Perhaps it’s fair to say that the Ehlers – Laine benefit from the occasional wake-up call, though.

And, again, the scary part is that Ehlers – Laine isn’t even the first pairing you’d underline on the whiteboard.

Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler both sit at 25 points even after being blanked on Friday, and it seems like they might have found their third amigo in Kyle Connor, another young forward coming up the ranks in Winnipeg.

It has to be disheartening for opponents to consider that they might shut down Scheifele – Wheeler and still get blitzed out of the building by Laine and Ehlers, yet that’s the predicament you face, particularly since the Jets boast the sort of defensemen who might force you to “stay honest” in the likes of Dustin Byfuglien and Jacob Trouba.

Does this all mean that Winnipeg can just pencil in its first playoff games, nay, series wins already? No, they have questions, all the way up to if Paul Maurice can make it all work.

That said, days like these make you wonder if the talent will do all the work for him.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Flyers’ Will O’Neill makes NHL debut 11 years after being drafted

Flyers
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His first shift probably won’t be remembered years down the line, mainly because it lasted a whole four seconds. But Thursday night, Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Will O’Neill finally made his NHL debut.

The 29-year-old O’Neill stepped onto the ice at Scottrade Center in St. Louis 4,198 days after his name was called in the seventh round of the 2006 Draft by the Atlanta Thrashers. (Six rounds earlier they selected Bryan Little 12th overall.) When he hopped over the boards early in the first period of the Flyers’ 2-0 win, he was quickly back on the bench after a Dale Weise penalty ended his first shift after four seconds.

But he would hit the ice 11 more times and play 9:25 during the win as his mom, sister and best friend were in attendance.

“He did a good job. He did his part, he did his job,” Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said.

After O’Neill’s draft, it took him some time to finally reach professional hockey. He would spend two years in the United States Hockey League with the Omaha Lancers before becoming an integral part of the blue line with the NCAA’s Maine Black Bears. At the end of his senior season he made the jump to the American Hockey League’s St. John’s Ice Caps, one year after the Thrashers became the Winnipeg Jets.

Injuries to Radko Gudas, Shayne Gostisbehere and Andrew MacDonald forced Flyers general manager Ron Hextall to bring in reinforcements, and after 346 games in the AHL O’Neill, who was selected 210th out of 213 picks in 2006, finally got the call.

“It was pretty cool. It was the first one I’ve received like that,” he said on Wednesday. “I knew that someone was trying to call me, so I had a little bit of an idea. I was pretty cool for a few seconds there and then he told me. It’s exciting. It’s cool for me. I’m excited to be able to play the game.”

We see these stories every season, from Bracken Kearns to Pat Cannone — sometimes those long bus rides in the minors eventually do pay off with a chance in The Show. Who knows how long O’Neill’s stay in the NHL will be, but a goal was certainly reached Thursday night in St. Louis.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.