Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Tinker with chemicals before finalizing formula

Some lines have natural chemistry, but Noel decides

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Welcome to the NHL preseason. Welcome to chatter about the implementation of systems and building chemistry, of power plays and penalty-kill units.

And welcome to a short window of opportunity for all regulars -- the Winnipeg Jets included -- to begin jockeying for positions on certain lines and defence pairings.

The issue of line chemistry came up following the Jets' Monday scrimmages and practices -- portions of it predictably sloppy -- and in advance of their first preseason contests against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

First of all, a hockey definition:

"Chemistry is knowing where your guys are on the ice," explained Evander Kane. "It's reading and recognizing what other guys like to do on the ice in the offensive and defensive zone.

"When you build chemistry it takes time. It's great to be able to play with the same guys for the majority of the season, that way you are familiar with each other and you can definitely build something throughout the year."

Kane, for the record, said he patrolled the wing for the first 35 games in Atlanta last year on a line with Bryan Little and Anthony Stewart, now a Carolina Hurricane.

But he also worked with Stewart and Nik Antropov on a line and, during another stretch, with Tim Stapleton, all en route to 19 goals and 43 points.

"Me and Timmy Stapleton had pretty good chemistry in the few games we played and it kinda came naturally," Kane said. "We'll see what happens. I'm not the coach, so we'll see what happens with the lines."

And therein likes the key: Kane doesn't get a vote on all this. And neither does Blake Wheeler, Andrew Ladd or Little, for that matter, even though that trio finished the 2010-11 season as Atlanta's top line.

Oh sure, all these men can most certainly influence the result of the vote by their work, but a hockey club is hardly ever held up as a classic example of democracy at work.

No, the Jets are a triumvirate headed by Kevin Cheveldayoff, Claude Noel and Craig Heisinger. Other voices may be heard, but the Big Three cast the only votes on all issues, including line combos.

"Laddy, Litts and I had chemistry right from the first game I was traded," said Wheeler. "That would be great, it would be awesome if we could get that opportunity again."

Asked why it worked -- Wheeler had seven goals and 10 assists in 23 games in Atlanta with Ladd and Little after being traded from Boston -- and the big winger shrugged.

"That's a good question. That's the great unknown, when you have chemistry with guys," he said. "We were all on the same page, that was the biggest thing. None of us were trying to do too much. We worked well as a three-man unit and whenever we were out there it was about making smart plays and getting the puck to the net.

"There wasn't much cute stuff going on out there, but we made nice plays and were able to capitalize.

"It just gives you so much energy and confidence," Wheeler continued. "That's the biggest thing when you're a hockey player: when you're energized and excited and playing with confidence that's when you're playing your best hockey."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 20, 2011 C4

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