It was a blast from the past when Bryan Little took a regular turn on the right side with centre Adam Lowry and Brandon Tanev at Thursday’s Jets practice.
And it could become a regular feature during the NHL’s stretch run.
"I got a little taste of it last year in the playoffs," said Little, a career centre. "I’ve seen them play enough and know enough about their games to have an understanding of what I have to do to be successful with them. It’s easy to play with guys like that. They work hard, they’re on the puck and they’ve had success doing that this year. Simple, straight-ahead hockey."
Head coach Paul Maurice explained what intrigues him about the combination.
"Bryan would be on par with Blake Wheeler in terms of work ethic and pace in practice," Maurice said. "You don’t leave the rink and say it was one of those nights where Bryan wasn’t tryin’ or didn’t look like he had any energy. That never happens. He’s driving all the time, and for years here, he played against the other teams’ best, so that’s part of that line’s role.
"(He’s a) right-handed faceoff man, so you’re going to see Lowry’s line go out in the D-zone on both sides pretty heavily, and because Tanev can play left and right, it’s real easy. You’re not rolling guys out of position to do it.
"Also know that Tanev and Lowry and whoever plays there get zone time. They don’t defend in their end, they defend in the offensive zone and there’s been lots of times where we thought more finish, maybe one more pass when it was appropriate, would have opened something up and Bryan certainly could provide that."
Welcome to the club
Newly acquired forward Par Lindholm was content to remain a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Then, Monday’s NHL trade deadline arrived.
"It kind of surprised me, actually," Lindholm said.
"I sat on my couch back home when the clock passed (3 p.m. ET). I thought I was safe. But apparently not. (Toronto GM Kyle) Dubas called me 20 minutes after and told me what happened. When I got told I was going to be traded, I was like, ‘Oh (expletive), I’m going to end up on a bad team.’ But when he said Winnipeg, I was happy about that. It’s good players, all of them."
Lindholm knows he will have a difficult time cracking the Jets’ lineup. He and another new arrival, centre Matt Hendricks, were the extra forwards at Thursday’s workout.
"The forwards are really good," Lindholm said. "It’s kind of inspiring. This is a team contending for the Stanley Cup, and of course you have to have good players. I’m going to try to crack the lineup and see what happens. But it’s fun to be a part of it."
Winnipeg added five players at the deadline, including forwards Kevin Hayes, Lindholm and Hendricks and blue-liners Nathan Beaulieu and Bogdan Kiselevich.
"It’s always nice to have new faces in here," Lowry said. "Kevin and Par up front and Hendy add to our depth. They add a different dynamic to the room. You have to get to know them. Everyone’s a little nervous at the start of practice today. As they get acclimatized to our group, it’s going to be good... the depth we’ve added to the back end as well, it’s just going to help us."
Kiselevich was ill Thursday and did not practise. His status for tonight is uncertain.
Tough times for big guns
Lowry was asked if the current difficulties experienced by the Nashville Predators, Winnipeg and the Vegas Golden Knights — a trio of Western Conference elites last season — have a common thread.
The Preds and Golden Knights are 4-5-1 in their past 10 games, while the Jets have gone 3-6-1.
"There’s a lot of good teams," Lowry said. "It’s hard to win any given night. The paces we were all on last year, it’s hard to duplicate. You might be saying the same thing to Tampa next year. They’re probably not going to repeat a 140- or 130-point season. The parity in this league is so good... it’s tough to win and go on streaks."
Meeting of the minds
Maurice and veteran defenceman Dmitry Kulikov had a lengthy on-ice conversation at the close of Thursday’s practice.
The Jets boss was asked if the meeting served as a pep talk.
"No, we were talking about the other 20 minutes of the game and the pressure now that he and Tyler Myers have to carry with our injuries," Maurice said.
"The minutes change, the (defensive) reads have to become simpler, that we don’t spend time in our end, that we don’t need to pull off overly creative plays. It was just about the change in role — that’s all."
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Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.