Jets shuffle lines, ‘clean carburetor’ with hard practice

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Paul Maurice reached deep into the bag of coach's tricks on Wednesday in an attempt to spark his struggling hockey club. Change all the lines? Check. Bag-skate his sluggish squad. Check. Preach positivity and the chance to get back on track? Check.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/12/2021 (291 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Paul Maurice reached deep into the bag of coach’s tricks on Wednesday in an attempt to spark his struggling hockey club. Change all the lines? Check. Bag-skate his sluggish squad. Check. Preach positivity and the chance to get back on track? Check.

“It was a sprint day today. It wasn’t a punishment day,” Maurice said following an on-ice workout at Canada Life Centre, less than 24 hours after the Winnipeg Jets played one of their worst games of the year and fell 4-2 to the basement-dwelling Buffalo Sabres.

“We were better than they were (Tuesday) night, but that doesn’t matter. We should be. We weren’t as good as we needed to be to win that game. I just feel we played in a fog. You think you’re working hard. You think you’re driving. You’re not. We needed to get the carburetor cleaned out today. It was just a sprint day up and down the ice. Get the legs moving, get the blood flowing hard. It was 42 minutes so it’s not long enough to be considered a punishment skate. I have to get these guys cleaned up and back to speed.”

Fred Greenslade / The Canadian Press Buffalo Sabres' Jeff Skinner scores on Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck during the third period in Winnipeg on Tuesday.

The Jets (13-10-5) will get another practice in Thursday to get ready for Friday night’s visit from one of the league’s top teams, the Washington Capitals. And they’ll go into that game with four new forward lines.

The trio of Pierre-Luc Dubois, Kyle Connor and Evgeny Svechnikov has been reunited after enjoying success earlier this year. Mark Scheifele is back with Nikolaj Ehlers, and Paul Stastny is now on that line. Andrew Copp moves down for a reunion with long-time centre Adam Lowry, with Dominic Toninato joining them for a true shutdown checking line. And Jansen Harkins and Kristian Vesalainen will be on the fourth line with a skater expected to be called up Thursday from the Manitoba Moose — likely to be top scorer David Gustafsson. Winger Blake Wheeler is out long-term with a knee injury.

“Balance would be another way of looking at it. We have to get a more role identification from our bottom six forwards if they’re not going to generate much, they have to shut down,” Maurice said.

“We have to get another line we can use. You look at the Vancouver game (4-3 shootout loss last Friday), Connor, Scheifele, and Wheeler were dominant. Then Dubois and Ehlers were good (Tuesday) night, but I need another line. Especially when you look at the next four opponents. They’re going to be two lines deep of skill. There has to be more than one line and we can’t suffer through somebody having an off night and playing against the other team’s best.”

St. Louis comes to town Sunday afternoon to wrap up the brief homestand, and then Winnipeg heads to Nashville and Dallas next week for back-to-back games before heading into the Christmas break.

“Pretty necessary,” is how Copp described Wednesday’s skate. “It’s not like we were really that bad (against Buffalo). But a couple things where we need to play faster, play harder. Still outchanced them, did some good things. If we play as fast and as hard as we’re capable of, we feel like we should be able to be in a better spot than we are right now.”

Copp, who will be an unrestricted free agent next summer, has spent the entire season so far in the top six. His offensive opportunities are likely to be more limited on a checking line, but he wasn’t viewing the latest shuffle as a demotion.

“No. I mean Adam has been a huge part of my success over my career. He was kind of the guy who has been there for me when I first broke into that role with him and either (Joel) Armia or (Brandon) Tanev or (Mason) Appleton. So, he’s been rock-solid over my career,” he said. “Adam is a good player. We’ve had a lot of success together. We can dominate teams in the offensive zone, we can play a lot down there, be strong defensively. If that’s what we’re doing going forward, I feel confident in it.”

Connor, who leads the Jets with 18 goals and 14 assists, hopes familiarity with his new (old) linemates can help snap the funk, the way it did when he was reunited with Scheifele and Wheeler prior to the captain going down last week.

“Yeah, we had some great success early on, some good chemistry there. I thought Doobie looked pretty strong last game, made a lot of good plays. Just one of those things where we can see if we can re-create some magic,” he said.

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.caTwitter: @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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