Maurice shuffles the deck
Jets coach tinkers with lines ahead of Oilers game
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/11/2021 (447 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It’s often been said that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Yet that isn’t stopping Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice from shuffling his forward lines ahead of a big home-and-home clash with the surging Edmonton Oilers which begins Tuesday night at Canada Life Centre.
Captain Blake Wheeler, who has no goals and four assists in nine games, has been bumped up to the wing to play on the top line with the red-hot Kyle Connor (11 goals, eight assists) and Pierre-Luc Dubois (eight goals, six assists). Evgeny Svechnikov, who had been on the right side with that trio in recent weeks, gets the demotion.
“I don’t know that I ever looked at that line and said that it was so dynamic that you couldn’t break it up,” Maurice said following Monday’s practice for his 8-3-3 club. “I never felt that by making the change that we were losing some chemistry on that line. If I’m wrong we’ll find out real quick.”
According to the veteran bench boss, this is about seeing whether the established Wheeler might be able to offer a bit more than Svechnikov can in that spot. He’s also putting Mark Scheifele, Nikolaj Ehlers and Andrew Copp together on the second line, while Svechnikov forms a new-look third line with Adam Lowry and Jansen Harkins. The fourth line of Riley Nash, Dominic Toninato and Kristian Vesalainen remains intact.
“I think it also will allow me going into these next two games to have a cleaner understanding of match-ups. I have two really really powerful lines,” said Maurice.
“I like Copp and Scheifele together, I think Andrew brings something to every line that he plays on, he makes plays but he’s a good defensive player. I like the physicality, the size of Dubois and Wheeler playing together. Blake will go to the net hard, and right-hand shot. There’s just a bunch of things that could work. I don’t think that there’s a downside to that line with Blake there. I don’t think we’re going to lose anything. The question is is there quite a bit more there?”
Paul Stastny is expected to miss a fourth straight game with a foot injury. Whether he joins the club for a two-game road trip (Thursday in Edmonton, Friday in Vancouver) remains to be seen.
“He’s getting better. He just can’t skate on it. So we’ll see how he is (Tuesday) and the next day. And if we don’t think he’s close we won’t bring him. If we think he’s close we’ll bring him,” said Maurice.
This week marks a return to the recent past for the Jets, who played 56 regular-season and eight playoff tilts entirely north of the border last year. And while most players were happy to say good riddance to the all-Canadian division and get some variety back on the schedule, three straight one-anthem games are being welcomed with open arms.
“Obviously, we haven’t seen those guys since playoffs. We haven’t even played a Canadian team. I feel like we’ve just played California teams,” said Scheifele. “But yeah, it will be exciting. Obviously, they’re rolling. Those big guys are playing really good right now. It will be good to test our stuff against them. It will be a fun game.”
SCHEIFELE A 1.7 HANDICAP
Hockey is front and centre right now. But Scheifele admits he’s looking forward to teeing it up next summer at the Manitoba Open after receiving a sponsor’s exemption into the Mackenzie Tour—PGA Tour Canada event. The tournament will be held Aug. 15-21 at Southwood Golf & Country Club, where Scheifele is now a member.
Scheifele competed in 2018 under a sponsor’s exemption, firing rounds of 87 and 86.
“I’m hovering around a two (handicap). I think I’m about a 1.7 right now. I think at the time, when I played in it, I was around a seven. So the golf game has gotten a lot better,” said Scheifele. “Hopefully, I have a better showing this time, but it’s such a fun thing to do. It gives you such an appreciation for how good the pro golfers are and how much of a grind it is. To do that for four straight days is crazy.”
Kyle Connor had the Jets’ exemption in 2019, and COVID-19 scrubbed the event in 2020 and 2021.
“I’ve gotten to know the guys at Southwood really well over the years, they’re great people and it’s a fantastic golf course,” said Scheifele. “When I played in it a couple of years ago, I’ve never been so mentally exhausted. After a round, me and my caddy, we went to grab dinner and literally sat there for an hour straight, didn’t say a word to each other. It’s almost like we sat down and, ‘Phew.’ We were both like exhausted. You get such an appreciation for what those golfers are, even at that level, the Mackenzie Tour level, how good of golfers they are.”
Scheifele plans to work on his swing all winter here in Winnipeg, through a golf simulator he has installed in his home.
“I’m a competitor, you never want to suck at anything,” he said.
“The first year I did it, (Wheeler) was supposed to play in it and he had another obligation so jumped in, so I didn’t have a lot of time to prepare. I only had about two weeks, didn’t do a practice round or anything. I have a little more sense of what to do, but that will come once our season is done. I will have to spend a little bit of time focusing on my golf game, but that will come after the hockey season.”
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.
Updated on Monday, November 15, 2021 8:35 PM CST: Fixes typos.