COMPETITION can be healthy for any hockey club, even if it comes at the cost of working through some temporary chemistry issues.
That's the storyline these days for the Winnipeg Jets, a team ravaged by injuries earlier in the season but now getting some healthy bodies back.
In last Saturday's win over the Anaheim Ducks, the Jets welcomed back Tobias Enstrom, Nik Antropov and Alex Burmistrov from injury but, alas, also lost top centre Bryan Little with a foot injury.
Little, who has 11 goals and nine assists this season, was injured when he took a Johnny Oduya shot off his foot and did not return to the game.
"He's day to day. We'll see how he's doing (Tuesday) because he didn't skate today," said Jets' head coach Claude Noel. "He's got a swollen foot and taken a shot and we'll see how he feels. We got him checked out today, but I didn't see the report."
Alex Burmistrov finished on the Jets' top line in Little's place, centring Evander Kane and Blake Wheeler and was again working with them at practice on Monday. Antropov was back in the middle of Andrew Ladd and Kyle Wellwood while newcomer Antti Miettinen was working on a line with Jim Slater and Tanner Glass. To make room for Miettinen, the Jets assigned Jason Jaffray to the St. John's IceCaps. Jaffray appeared in 13 games with the Jets after being recalled, recording one assist. In 15 games in St. John's Jaffray had seven goals and five assists.
"What adding a guy like Miettinen does for us is not only gives us depth, it enables us to create competition within your group," said Noel. "That's what really drives your team and that's the important factor here.
"But that's the problem with some of our guys: The timing is all out of whack. I found the timing was a little strange for some of the players and the new guys coming in and then the chemistry within the group, I found, was a little bit off and it looked like we were disjointed at times."
That said, Burmistrov was brilliant against Anaheim and scored a goal after stepping in for Little.
"I liked him," said Noel. "I loved his goal... his goal was up there with the peanut butter, right in the top shelf. I thought he played pretty good. He fit right in with Little's line and didn't really miss a beat. He scored a really big goal for us and I thought he played with more pace to his game. He seemed to be excited to play a bigger role and (be) back at centre."
Added Wheeler: "(Little and Burmistrov) are a little different players, but the things they try to do are the same. Burmi is a very dynamic player and he's really good at hanging onto the puck in the offensive zone. You've got to figure out his strengths, and we know that from watching him play, and feed off that. He's a really talented player who plays with a lot of energy and is physical. He's the kind of guy you want to play with. He can complement our line really well."
Meanwhile, it's no coincidence that both Ladd and Wellwood scored after Antropov, who had missed six of the last seven games, returned to the lineup.
"I felt as soon as we got put together we had some chemistry there," said Ladd. "He's such a big body and tough to move in front. Me and him can play off each other and get to the net and Welly is just so good at finding holes and making plays, it just seems to work.
"You've got to give credit to the guys who jumped in and played extremely well (during the rash of injuries, particularly to the defensive corps). We were missing a lot of guys there for a while and we were able to play some good hockey. Now that we're getting guys back... (we) just don't want to have that lull where we're expecting everything to go good just because we're getting guys back. That's got to be handled in practice with the pace we play there and then that will turn over in games."
COOL LOOK: According to InGoal Magazine, Jets netminder Chris Mason will soon be sporting a new look that features a stylized Jets logo on the pads, blocker and glove designed by Brian's SubZero of Kingsville, Ont. The pads were sent to the NHL offices for approval last Friday and Mason could be wearing them in his next start or two.
Here's a peek at Mason's new look.
Ed.firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @WFPEdTait