Stafford back on the attack

Happy his role has shifted from defence to offence

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The defence-oriented assignment was no problem for Drew Stafford.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 20/11/2015 (2563 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The defence-oriented assignment was no problem for Drew Stafford.

For the first 19 games of the Winnipeg Jets season, he was matched with Adam Lowry and locker-room next-door neighbour Alex Burmistrov to take on some major responsibilities when it came to matchups with the opposition.

The results early were good — in particular Stafford’s five goals in the first eight games — but in the team’s recent six-game losing slide, a lot of zeroes.

Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press Winnipeg Jets' Drew Stafford (12), celebrates his goal against The Vancouver Canucks during the second period NHL action in Winnipeg on Wednesday at the MTS Centre.

So when the day came to reconfigure the lines, the 30-year-old Minnesotan not only smiled, he showed Jets coach Paul Maurice why it was a great idea.

Stafford scored twice, as did new/old centre Mark Scheifele and each man of the Scheifele-Stafford-Mathieu Perreault unit had three points in Wednesday’s 4-1 triumph over the Vancouver Canucks.

“Obviously the offence had dried up with how the lines were, the way things were going,” Stafford said after Friday’s return-to-work practice at the MTS Centre. “To get put back in a more offensive role, more a scoring role, I’m pretty comfortable there.

“I’m not complaining. It’s just one game and we have to try to make sure to string a few together.”

That job resumes tonight, when the Arizona Coyotes visit for a 6 p.m. start (Sportsnet, TSN1290).

The outburst Wednesday might have been predictable, given Stafford had some exposure playing with Scheifele and Perreault when he was acquired from Buffalo in February.

Their chemistry Wednesday was not starting from scratch.

‘When I first came in and played with Mark, it was on the left side,” Stafford said. “I don’t mind playing left, but I am predominantly a right-winger.

“One hundred per cent, this was very comfortable, very easy. Our communication was there. Same with Matty. We like to talk a lot.”

There wasn’t a discouraging word heard about combinations from Stafford while he and the Jets struggled recently, including when he went 11 games with zeroes after scoring a pair against Minnesota Oct. 25.

“I definitely take a lot of pride in playing a two-way game and being responsible,” he said. “That’s something that I’ve worked on over my career but I am an offensively wired player.

“I’ve been very fortunate to get an opportunity to sign a contract here to provide some offence. Even defensively, a good offence is a good defence. Producing offence is less time you’re spending in your D zone. Last game was just one game but it was a great opportunity for me to play more to my strengths.”

Scheifele said the new trio benefits from Stafford’s smarts.

“Really, I think it’s just the whole line,” he said. “I love playing with Matty. He’s unbelievable to play with, so dynamic and he works so hard. And just Drew’s abilities with the line helps us out. He’s great with the puck, makes simple, great plays. He seems like he’s always in the right spot.

“I think he was excited, but we were all excited to see what we could do and I think we have a really good dynamic. We still have things to work on but the dynamic of our line is really good. It fits really well.”

Maurice cautioned Friday the current version of lines “isn’t the end game,” but acknowledged he got out of the shuffling the positives he was hoping for.

“We got a real high payoff on the Scheifele line,” he said. “I don’t know (if) you have a realistic expectation they’re going to bang in four every night.”

The coach’s expectations will continue to be high in terms of energy and quickness from his team, one of the reasons he gave them an unscheduled off-day Thursday after playing eight of the previous 10 away from home.

There was positive reaction for that when the Jets went back to work on Friday.

“It’s not just being on the road,” Stafford said. “They were tough games and also the way that they went, when you’re losing. Everything kind of gets amplified, every little mistake and the negativity tries to start creeping in.

“Guys are missing their families and the comfort of being at home. So for us to come back and have a big game, I think Mo realized we hadn’t had a day off at home with our families in about a month. Now we’re thinking about keeping the momentum going from Wednesday.”

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

 

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