Well, that didn’t last long.
After going down with an injury on Nov. 29 in a game against the Anaheim Ducks, Winnipeg Jets defenceman Dmitry Kulikov returned in last Thursday’s 5-4 road loss to the Boston Bruins. With Kulikov back, it gave head coach Paul Maurice a fully healthy defensive unit, outside of Nathan Beaulieu, to work with, for, well, about a minute.
Sunday’s 1-0 loss at home against the Nashville Predators was only Kulikov’s second game back and the Jets would lose another defenceman. In the first period, Tucker Poolman collided with Nashville winger Yakov Trenin and fell awkwardly to the ice. When Poolman got up, he appeared to have a tough time putting weight on his right leg. Poolman went to the locker room to be evaluated. He returned to the bench, but didn’t play another shift. Poolman wasn’t with the team to start the second and was officially ruled out with a lower-body injury. Maurice had little information after the game.
'Honestly, I think once you're down to five D, everyone's heart rate is up more'— Josh Morrissey
"It was enough they didn’t want him to test it and we’ll get him looked at tomorrow," Maurice said.
The loss of the 26-year-old from East Grand Forks forced the Jets’ five remaining defencemen to continuously rotate partners.
"Honestly, I think once you’re down to five D, everyone’s heart rate is up more," said Josh Morrissey, who plays beside Poolman on the team’s top defensive unit.
"You’re playing a little bit more often of course. Sometimes you’re on the left, sometimes you’re on the right. You’re with different partners but you know you’re out there and you’re just going. There’s nothing you can really do. To be honest with you, I thought we handled it pretty well considering there wasn’t a whole lot of bad communication on the bench as far as pairings up next or anything like that. An unfortunate situation seeing Tucks go down, but I thought we did a decent job of handling five D."
Seconds after Poolman left the ice and was replaced by Kulikov, Nashville forward Kyle Turris scored the lone goal of the game. There was a time in the second period where defenceman Sami Niku was stuck on the ice for nearly three minutes, but other than that, Maurice also thought his defensive troops did an admirable job.
"I thought they were fine. They moved it well enough to get us the zone time. That’s a good solid number for us. They depend on that. They got us the puck to that end. If we’re going to get 14-15 shots on net or near that from our back end, that’s a big number in a game as well, so they did what they needed to do," Maurice said.
Their first period play, however, did not receive a passing grade. The Predators outshot the Jets 15-7 in the opening 20 minutes.
"We gave up a whole lot of chances in the first that we didn’t need to give up. Most of those were puck decisions," Maurice said. "You can understand (them) when the other team does something really well and creates something. But we would have had the puck on our stick in a number of places where we think you should control it and not necessarily do more with it. Play a simpler game."
With Poolman out, Niku was given a much bigger workload. He played a career-high 21:50. Pionk and Morrissey led the team with over 25 minutes. In 34 career NHL games, Niku averaged 13:57 minutes per contest.
"I liked it. The things that we know he’s going to do for us, in terms of moving the puck and making plays, to see it, he’s going to have to play minutes and he’s going to have to play against good players to get those kind of minutes," said Maurice on Niku.
"So I thought he moved (the puck) when he had the chance. Anything that he’s going to improve on over time, reads, being able to close people off and some things like that - maybe some simpler decisions, especially later in shifts when it gets to the end...he’ll get better."
You can’t put the loss on the defence when the team failed to score a single goal. Despite that, the Jets would much rather have Poolman in their line-up going forward.
"I haven’t even seen the play, but obviously, hopefully, he’s doing alright and hopefully can be back soon... I think he’s been playing awesome for us and tough to see him go down," Morrissey said.
Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of.