In Toby they trust

Veteran Jets defenceman is durable, dependable and a key cog in team's improving goals against


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You can understand if it gets a little blurry for Toby Enstrom, all the ways and means the Winnipeg Jets and Atlanta Thrashers have tried to be a better team.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 06/11/2014 (3125 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

You can understand if it gets a little blurry for Toby Enstrom, all the ways and means the Winnipeg Jets and Atlanta Thrashers have tried to be a better team.

Enstrom is in his eighth NHL season. All of his games — numbering 498 with tonight’s visit by the Pittsburgh Penguins — have been with this team, and for six different coaches: Bob Hartley, Don Waddell, John Anderson, Craig Ramsey, Claude Noel and now Paul Maurice.

In seven-plus calendar years, there was only one other stretch of games that matched the Jets’ current run of 5-0-1 over six games, giving up just six goals.

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Veteran Jets defenceman is durable, dependable and a key cog in team's improving goals against

It must have been an other-worldly 11 days for the Atlanta Thrashers in their final season of 2010-11, winning six straight and surrendering just five goals, though it was an anomaly, ending by missing the playoffs by 13 points and being the Eastern Conference’s worst defensive team.

So what’s different about this streak and this exhibit of defensive competence?

“It’s hard to really put a finger on something specific but since Paul came in, I feel like he’s been trying to change the way we play defensively,” Enstrom said Wednesday, his 30th birthday. “Overall, it’s not just the defensive zone. It’s pretty much the whole ice.

“I think he’s doing a lot to get the team to play as a group, all 22 or 23 guys. That’s the most important thing you can see in the way we play, how everyone is working really, really hard to get it done.”

Enstrom also said Wednesday what a lot of his teammates have been saying since near the end of their successful road trip last week, when they posted a 3-0-1 mark and ended it with back-to-back shutouts in New York’s Madison Square Garden and Chicago’s United Center.

It’s about buy-in and it’s about confidence.

“It comes down to what the players do in the end but (Maurice) believes in the team and he puts confidence in the team,” Enstrom said. “That’s a huge thing for our group overall. There are times you really have to do the easy play instead of the fancy plays. But I feel like the last road trip here, we’re moving the right way.

“Yes, there are only good words to say about Paul and the way he wants us to play it. If you look at the last few games, Chicago, that’s a great team, but coming off that game with a 1-0 win, that’s a huge boost for the whole team. It feels like we’re moving the right way and confidence is something you really need. You get that when you can win games 1-0.”

The Swedish-born defenceman has proven to be a durable competitor, despite his size. He has four times played all 82 games in a season, including in 2013-14.

Maurice has certainly put some major trust in the eighth-round draft pick of 2003.

He played nearly 29 minutes in New York and regularly goes between 24 and 26.

The trust is fine, Enstrom said, but it’s really about something else for him.

“I’ve been on this team for a long time,” he said. “The older you get, well, I haven’t made the playoffs since I came over. I mean, winning games, whatever it takes, whatever way they want me to play, it’s all about winning and that’s all I want to do.

“I’m still trying to put in some offence. That’s the most fun part of the game but that will come later.

“We’re only 13 games into this season. I’m not worried about our offensive game. But you’ve got to start with the defensive zone and that’s what I feel like we’ve been doing.”

Since he brought up the offence, the context is that the Jets haven’t been scoring a lot so far in 2014-15, barely two goals per game. And he himself hasn’t yet scored, coming off a 10-goal, 30-point season.

A player with Enstrom’s vision and gifts with the puck does get his offence in, but could he get more if he could be convinced to shoot more?

Statistics might suggest it. He took just 106 shots in 82 games last season, for instance, but only one player among the top 22 most productive NHL defencemen had a better shooting percentage than his 9.4 per cent.

This season, Enstrom’s shots on goal are down from last year’s pace, just 13 in 13 games.

“You had to bring that up,” he said, chuckling slightly. “You know what? I hear it a lot. I do. I think I have to work on shooting the puck a bit more. But since I started playing, I’ve always liked to see other people score and see how happy they get, so I guess that’s why I like to pass the puck. And I feel like I’m more a passer than a shooter but it is something I really need to work on.”

Old dogs and new tricks came to mind, but Enstrom laughed that his 30th birthday didn’t make him old.

“No. I feel better than ever. It’s only a number.”

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