Maurice wants production from third, fourth lines

With nine players in the mix, bottom six looks crowded

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It’s getting awfully crowded at the bottom for the Winnipeg Jets. But the team’s growing list of depth players — believed to be a strength headed into this season — have provided next to nothing when it comes to offence.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/10/2017 (1863 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It’s getting awfully crowded at the bottom for the Winnipeg Jets. But the team’s growing list of depth players — believed to be a strength headed into this season — have provided next to nothing when it comes to offence.

That’s creating a frustrating situation for head coach Paul Maurice as he tries to figure out his lineup card these days, especially with a pair of injured forwards set to return and further cloud the situation.

Consider this: the Jets’ third and fourth lines have yet to score a goal in five-on-five play through seven games this year, in which they’ve managed to go 4-3-0.

Darryl Dyck / The Canadian Press Files Brandon Tanev (right) follows Vancouver's Sven Baertschi as he handles the puck during the third period of a game between the teams Oct. 12.

Brandon Tanev and Joel Armia each have a short-handed tally, while Andrew Copp assisted on a shorty scored by defenceman Tyler Myers.

As for the rest of the lot, Shawn Matthias has no points through seven games despite ample chances. Nic Petan has been blanked in his six games, which has included plenty of power-play time. Marko Dano has nothing through five and Adam Lowry was kept off the scoresheet for four games prior to being injured.

Brendan Lemieux has one game under his belt since being recalled from the Moose, while veteran Matt Hendricks has yet to play this season but is expected to be in the lineup Thursday when the Jets battle the Penguins in Pittsburgh.

Add it all up and the Jets have just three points this season from nine players competing for those bottom-six forward spots.

By contrast, they have 39 points from the seven forwards who have played in the top six (Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele, Patrik Laine, Nikolaj Ehlers, Bryan Little, Mathieu Perreault and his injury replacement, Kyle Connor).

That kind of scoring imbalance is not going to cut it for any team, let alone one with playoff aspirations.

“Feel free to score,” Maurice said Tuesday when asked what he wants to see going forward from his bottom-six group.

Question is, how are those two lines going to look once everybody is healthy?

“There’s obviously a lot of internal competition going on now,” Copp said following Tuesday’s practice.

Hendricks is likely to be activated off injured reserve prior to Thursday’s game, which will require the Jets to send a player down to the Manitoba Moose, their AHL affiliate. It could be a forward, or perhaps rookie defenceman Tucker Poolman, who faces limited playing time with seven healthy defenceman on the roster.

For what it’s worth, Dano and Armia were the extra skaters at Tuesday’s practice. Matthias was skating on a line with Copp and Tanev, while Hendricks was between Lemieux and Petan. The top-two lines of Scheifele-Wheeler-Connor and Ehlers-Little-Laine were unchanged from last game.

Lowry wasn’t part of the main practice group and is unlikely to play prior to this weekend. Once he’s activated off IR, another player will have to come off the roster. The same would have to happen in another three weeks once Perreault is declared fit to play.

Maurice said it’s not a question of just throwing the most skilled forwards into the lineup.

“We need guys who can kill penalties. And then (it’s about) intensity and style of play. It’s not an easy job sometimes to come off the bench and play six or eight (minutes) and be sharp and strong. But we need guys who can do that,” he said. “It’s usually a simpler game, pucks to the net and grinding. Having skill in your bottom six is what we’d all shoot for, but we gotta kill penalties and need guys who can win faceoffs to do that.”

That likely means good news for players such as Lowry, Hendricks, Matthias, Copp and Tanev. Maurice has also spoken highly of Lemieux and what he can offer in terms of physical play and aggression, but whether he gets more action with the Jets or is returned to the Moose remains to be seen.

Players such as Petan, Armia and Dano, while offering plenty of offensive upside, could be under further scrutiny if they don’t start notching up points.

“Versatility is huge for me, playing all three forward positions is important for me going forward. Being able to play any role is really important,” Copp said.

He said defensive responsibilities are key when playing in the bottom six, so trying to force offence can be a mistake.

“We don’t want to concentrate on that because it can feed into other issues, such as turnovers. That’s how you end up decreasing your ice time. You’re trying to earn the coach’s trust. Playing the right way, as soon as turnovers happen, that’s when they end up in the back of your net,” Copp said. “As a depth guy, that’s not your game. We’re trying to be real solid coming up the ice and not take too many chances. But when you do get chances you gotta take advantage and bury them.”

Tanev said he’s not getting caught up in the numbers game.

“You just need to go out there and play your game, ultimately just helping the team any way you can. Things can happen to guys at any point in time, you gotta be ready when you’re called upon,” he said. “Ultimately, go out there and compete and do what you need to do and put yourself in a position to succeed.”

Tanev said the lack of offensive production from the bottom six would be more frustrating if they weren’t getting opportunities.

“Chances are being had. It’s just a matter of putting the puck in the net and capitalizing on those chances” he said. “If you’re not getting the chances in the first place you might second-guess yourself and think twice. But at the end of the day, you’re getting chances, it just takes a couple to get on a roll.”

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Sports columnist

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

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