Grant CLITSOME has taken his lumps this season, even feeling the sting of a press box seat for a three-game string in February. Those days, however, are behind him and the Winnipeg Jets coaching staff is showing a renewed confidence in his play.
Clitsome led Jets blue-liners in ice time Thursday night in a 4-3 overtime win over the Carolina Hurricanes, playing a season-high 25 minutes and 58 seconds while being elevated to the team's top pairing early in the game.
"We just thought he was defending better and wanted to pair him with Bogo (Zach Bogosian) and move (Ron) Hainsey over with Buff (Dustin Byfuglien)," said Jets assistant coach Charlie Huddy. "It was a good switch. They have that big line (Eric Staal, Jiri Tlusty, Alex Semin) and Clitsome and Bogo were able to handle them. I thought they defended well."
Clitsome is more physical than Hainsey and when the opposition has a physically imposing line, he's a better match. Huddy was unsure if the switch would carry over into today's game against the New York Islanders.
"I'll talk to Claude (Noel) and we'll see what we want to do," said Huddy. "We'll look at their lines and see what they have and go from there."
Clitsome said he's enjoying the opportunity to contribute and believes his earlier struggles are all part of learning the craft of NHL defencemen.
"I don't think you can dwell on those tough games," said the 28-year-old Clitsome, a veteran of 145 NHL games. "You want to make sure you're learning from your mistakes and the things you're not doing well. Whether that's through watching video or talking to the coaches and getting their thoughts. Confidence is a big thing, you have to focus on the things you're doing well."
Clitsome was as surprised as anyone when Huddy made the switch during Thursday's game.
"It's great to have the coach's trust and to play that much in an important game," he said. "They made the switch in the first period and then kept me and Bogo together the rest of the night. They had us together (Friday) in practice but I don't know if it will be the same again (Saturday)."
Clitsome is not the only blue-liner moving from fringe contributor to key piece these days.
Rookie Paul Postma has struggled to get in the Jets lineup at times, playing 30 of a possible 44 games to this point. But Thursday, he played over 15 minutes and scored his fourth goal of the season, sneaking down from the blue-line and converting off a back-door pass.
"The first year they say is the toughest in terms of consistency and getting into the lineup but I just tried to make sure I was in game shape when I wasn't playing. Now that I've got the opportunity I want to stay in my spot and I'm going to battle to stay in the lineup," said the 24-year-old Red Deer, Alta., native. Postma's accurate shot and a quick release combined with sound offensive instincts make him a threat to the opposition, but also a risk at times for his own team.
"The offensive part has always been there for me, although in the NHL it's a lot harder to play that way," said Postma. "I need to focus on my own end first and then let the offence take care of itself. I have to work on the defensive part of my game and make sure I'm a reliable two-way defenceman."
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