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New combo sparks Jets' offence

Scheifele, Kane find chemistry with Wheeler

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Winnipeg fans and Jets Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler and Evander Kane celebrate Wheelers' second-period goal Tuesday night.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Winnipeg fans and Jets Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler and Evander Kane celebrate Wheelers' second-period goal Tuesday night. Photo Store

There were a lot of good signs on Tuesday night, Jets coach Claude Noel thought, a lot of encouraging things in the wake of a spirited shootout loss.

For instance, there were the lines, rejigged a little this time, as Noel looked to shake things up after Sunday's mucky play. The change seemed to spark some offence from some frustrated players.

"I think, from that standpoint, it was good," Noel said. "Guys got on the board, made some good plays. I think it's good for our guys, because we're analyzed on when things don't go well... for me, you gotta give 'em some credit."

That shuffle was how Evander Kane and Mark Scheifele found themselves, looking right to Blake Wheeler, split on Tuesday night from his longtime centre, Bryan Little. That was the line that started the night and, although they'd only had one practice with that combination, it seemed to work.

"It felt good," Scheifele said about having Wheeler on the side where Devin Setoguchi used to be. "He's obviously an unbelievable player. He's fast, he's around the puck. It was definitely really good to play with him... I thought we generated a lot of offence."

There are numbers to gauge the success of that line, and then there is the eye test. That latter bit goes like this: Blake Wheeler, who somehow rendered his 6-5 frame invisible for much of this early going, finally looked himself on Tuesday. He was skating, again. He prowled the offensive zone, made seven shot attempts and found some clever little plays with Scheifele.

"I think we were moving," Wheeler said. "What started it off was, we were gaining possession in the offensive zone, and we were moving, and moving the puck and distributing it. From there, I think we were able to slash, and penetrate a little bit."

So when Wheeler tied the game in the second period with a purposeful tip on a Kane shot from south of the faceoff circle, his second of the year seemed not only deserved but long overdue. He'd been waiting for it for so long.

"First shift, Kaner hit me backdoor," Wheeler recalled.

"We didn't quite connect, but you do little things like that and it kind of gets the blood pumping a little bit more, and you get a little bit more excited and more scoring chances are quick to follow."

When the scoring chances followed, the ice time followed, too. Noel rewarded the Kane-Scheifele-Wheeler line with big-time minutes. The three led all Jets forwards in ice time, with Kane taking a monster 28:41 and Wheeler wrapping up at 21:25. Scheifele, meanwhile, clocked in at 22:40 for the whole shebang, and soared past his season high before regulation was over.

They better get used to it. After an encouraging performance from the team, the Jets line chef isn't tempted to go mixing again.

"I think they looked like they got a little bit of chemistry, for not having played together for some time," Noel said. "I didn't mind a lot of the lines... I didn't have any real problems with trying to juggle lines, it wasn't something I was thinking about."

melissa.martin@freepress.mb.ca

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 23, 2013 C2

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