Scheifele enjoys watching MacKinnon line: Jets centre relishes match-up with Avs’ best

This is the type of match-up Mark Scheifele lives for.

The NHL season may only be 14 games old for the Winnipeg Jets, but the parade of young stars rolling through Bell MTS Place has been plentiful through the first six weeks.

Connor McDavid has already made his presence felt and the same goes for Auston Matthews.

On Friday night, another Team North America teammate of Scheifele’s will swing through town as Nathan MacKinnon leads the Colorado Avalanche into the Manitoba capital for a Central Division battle to open a four-game homestand.

Count Scheifele among those impressed by the hot start by the top line on the Avalanche, which includes MacKinnon, captain Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen – a unit that has 27 goals and 64 points between them through 15 outings.

“They just kind of do it all. They’re a fun line to watch,” said Scheifele. “They’ve got a lot of skill, make a lot of plays, but at the same time they go to all of the dirty areas. It’s not just a rush line. They get possession and they’re in the O-zone for a good amount of time.

“They play a full 200-foot game and they’re going to make you pay if you take a shift off against them. They’re going at a pretty good clip right now and hopefully, we can play a solid game against them and knock them down a peg or two.”

Since Jets head coach Paul Maurice has temporarily broken up his checking line of Adam Lowry, Andrew Copp and Brandon Tanev, the task of trying to limit the offensive exploits of MacKinnon’s line will fall on Scheifele, captain Blake Wheeler and Nikolaj Ehlers, along with the defence pairing of Josh Morrissey and Jacob Trouba.

MacKinnon, who was the runner-up to New Jersey Devils forward Taylor Hall for the Hart Trophy as most valuable player in the NHL last season, is the driving force.

“I played on a team with him when I was 12 years old and he was the same player then that he is now. He can absolutely fly and he’s one of the most explosive guys that I ever played with,” said Morrissey. “He’s such a strong skater and he’s got a really high motor. He’s coming at you every shift. He competes really hard and he’s got a great release and he makes great plays. He can beat down low out of the corner with a quick move and if he’s got a step on you, you’re in trouble because he’s strong.

“But he can also beat you up the ice because of his speed. The accolades that he’s been getting the last year or so are warranted because he’s right up there with the best guys.”

When you have two lines like this going head-to-head, there is the potential for some serious fireworks.

However, the Jets top trio hasn’t been lighting up the scoreboard as much at even strength in the early stages of the campaign as folks have become accustomed to.

Make no mistake, Wheeler (two goals, 16 points and riding an eight-game point streak) and Scheifele (six goals, 13 points) are still getting the job done offensively, but a chunk of their points (10 for Wheeler, six for Scheifele) have been recorded with the man-advantage.

Maurice removed Kyle Connor from the top line in an effort to try and find balance with several of his other units, which meant Scheifele and Wheeler have been adjusting to new linemates, including Patrik Laine and Ehlers.

That’s not a knock on either Laine and Ehlers, but the unit with Connor on the left side had emerged as one of the most productive in the NHL last season, so there’s obviously been an adjustment period.

“It’s still early. We’re still figuring some things out,” said Scheifele. “Hopefully, our five-on-five gets going. But if our power play continues to score, that’s always a positive.”

Has Scheifele noticed his line being defended any differently so far?

“Not really. Teams are good. It’s tough to score goals in this league,” said Scheifele. “You see it every night. You’ve got to work hard and you’re noticing that you’ve got to do a lot of good things to score a five-on-five goal. We have to get used to that.

“There are still chances there every game. You watch video and you see there are missed chances and Grade A’s that get missed. We have to continue to focus on doing the same thing consistently shift after shift, even if they’re not going in.”

Maurice was also asked if he’s noticed a difference in how teams are defending against Scheifele and Wheeler.

“Relative maybe to the early stages of last season, I would say yes,” said Maurice. “We put up a lot of goals last year, so there’s a respect factor there in terms of what they’re seeing through the neutral zone, the numbers that they see. Teams aren’t as willing to trade chances with that line. But that would just be the normal progress of a No.1 line.”

kwiebe@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/WiebeSunSports

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