Josh Morrissey and Brian Strait, thrown together hastily as a defensive pairing for the injury-ravaged Winnipeg Jets Sunday afternoon, had a game-changing discussion on the bench midway through the third period.
The chat between the left-handed defencemen led to Morrissey’s game-winning goal at 12:43 of the third.
"Right before the goal I had a feed to him that I put a little too much zip on," said Strait, who was recalled Saturday from the AHL’s Manitoba Moose to fill in for an injured Paul Postma. "He’s playing his off side so, on the bench right before the next shift, he goes, ‘I’ll come up close to you and take a one-timer from there.’ Next play I take a little off it and he scores."
Morrissey, playing on the right side for the first time this season due to the absence of regular blue-line partner Jacob Trouba (also out with an injury), took Strait’s cross-ice pass and ripped a low point shot off the post and behind Minnesota Wild goaltender Devan Dubnyk. Right-winger Patrik Laine provided an excellent screen on the goal, which gave the Jets a 5-4 lead.
"We had a couple of other D-to-Ds (passes) earlier in the period," said Morrissey.
"Again, me being a lefty over there, if I catch it on my backhand, obviously, I’m not scoring from there... We talked about it on the bench, about me sliding over towards the middle, so it’s a closer pass and an easier one-timer, which is the advantage of having your off side. It was nice, our very next shift was the goal.
"Not too many times when you talk about those things and it actually ends up working right away. Just tried to get it through the first guy and fortunately it went though the screen and went in."
Although the pair played together briefly in the pre-season, Morrissey and Strait spent much of the game getting to know one another on the fly.
"It was good, I mean for me it was the first time on the right side this year, except for the pre-season, so a couple of little adjustments, angles and things like that when you’re on a backhand instead of a forehand," said Morrissey.
"We tried to talk lots and keep it simple. Yeah, I thought he played well. I mean, he’s got experience in the NHL before, so it wasn’t anything new for him."
Strait, an off-season signing by the Jets, was called up on an emergency basis last month but did not play. Toiling in the AHL, he had two goals and 12 points in 50 games with the Moose. He hadn’t played an NHL game since the next to last week of the 2015-16 season with the New York Islanders.
Were there any nerves? Strait admitted to a few early in Sunday’s game but he performed admirably, logging 15:41 of ice time with two blocked shots and a plus-1 rating.
"It’s not even as much as the playing anymore," said Strait, an eight-year pro with 183 NHL games on his resumé. "When you get your first callup you’re pretty wired about the playing. It’s more about being on a new team again. I haven’t been with the team at all this year. You’re with new guys, I know I met them all in training camp, but it’s not a super-comfortable feeling when you first get here. Everybody did a great job making me feel comfortable."
Strait is unsure of what the future holds.
"It’s tough," said Strait. "You never know when your chance is going to come up. I thought maybe I’d get a chance earlier on in the season but it didn’t happen. I’m just thankful it came around now. I got a chance today and I’m hoping I get another, maybe next game."