May 23, 2018

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Defensive duo squeezes life out of opponents

Trouba, Morrissey are Jets' silent blue-line assassins

JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES</p><p>Jets defenceman Jacob Trouba (centre) greets Predators forward Filip Forsberg on goalie Connor Hellebuyck’s doorstep in NHL playoff action last week. Trouba and partner Josh Morrissey are playing key playoff minutes.</p>

JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES

Jets defenceman Jacob Trouba (centre) greets Predators forward Filip Forsberg on goalie Connor Hellebuyck’s doorstep in NHL playoff action last week. Trouba and partner Josh Morrissey are playing key playoff minutes.

There’s no respite for Jacob Trouba and Josh Morrissey, whether it’s the rigours of the regular season or a pressure-packed playoff series.

The Winnipeg Jets’ defensive pairing will always draw the onerous assignments.

Heck, it’s a safe bet Trouba and Morrissey would have played big minutes against the amazing Gretzky-Kurri-Tikkanen trio if the year was 1987.

“They don’t get talked about that much, but they do a great job for us,” Jets veteran centre Bryan Little said Sunday afternoon. “Josh, especially, has been unbelievable all year. It seems he does all the little things perfectly out there. He rarely makes mistakes, he’s got a really good stick.

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There’s no respite for Jacob Trouba and Josh Morrissey, whether it’s the rigours of the regular season or a pressure-packed playoff series.

The Winnipeg Jets’ defensive pairing will always draw the onerous assignments.

Heck, it’s a safe bet Trouba and Morrissey would have played big minutes against the amazing Gretzky-Kurri-Tikkanen trio if the year was 1987.

"They don’t get talked about that much, but they do a great job for us," Jets veteran centre Bryan Little said Sunday afternoon. "Josh, especially, has been unbelievable all year. It seems he does all the little things perfectly out there. He rarely makes mistakes, he’s got a really good stick.

"You saw (Trouba) throw a couple big hits (Saturday) night. It just seems like he’s involved in everything out there, and he can do it all. He can score, he can rush the puck, and he can play that physical game. When he’s playing well, he’s connecting on all of them.

"Those two have done a great job so far in the playoffs," Little added.

Trouba and Morrissey got a double-dose in Round 1, receiving plenty of time from head coach Paul Maurice to combat the Minnesota Wild’s top two lines, centred by Eric Staal and Mikko Koivu.

Against Nashville, the duo played big minutes against Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson, arguably one of the NHL’s most lethal units.

Trouba and Morrissey had another hectic night Saturday, charged with the primary responsibility of going up against the Vegas Golden Knights’ top line of centre William Karlsson and wingers Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith.

Consider it a job well done, as they limited the scoring opportunities of the dangerous trio in Game 1 of the best-of-seven Western Conference Final.

"They make plays, and they’re probably one of the best lines in the league. They’re a real challenge to play against," Morrissey said. "It’s a tough matchup, for sure. I thought we did a reasonable job. They scored the first goal in the first period, but after that, we were able to make some plays. There’s some things we want to clean up.

"But it’s fun to compete against guys on a line like that, who have that much ability. All three compete really hard on the puck, they’ve got good sticks. Their transition game’s outstanding. It’s a tough challenge no matter how you look at it."

It’s a tall order to pinch off the line’s offensive flow entirely.

Karlsson, whose 43-goal, breakout NHL season was one of the keys to the expansion Golden Knights’ remarkable inaugural campaign, scored a power-play goal in Winnipeg’s 4-2 victory at Bell MTS Place. Marchessault provided two assists, while Smith added a helper.

But Trouba and Morrissey forced the speedy Vegas forwards to the outside, inflicted a couple of forceful checks along the walls and allowed them to fire just eight shots at goalie Connor Hellebuyck.

"We know what kind of team they are. They’re fast, and when they build speed, they’re a really good team. I think that’s something we talked about, was trying to slow them down in a way that, whether it’s being physical or running some interference or picks or whatever, just keep them from getting to full speed, because that’s when they’re a really good team," Trouba said.

He said being a part of that trusted, shut-down tandem is something he relishes.

"Yeah, that’s an important role. You look at every great team, and they have those guys. That’s something I’m not going to say we accept, that’s something we want. It’s a very important part of the game, and that’s something we take pride in," he said.

They also used their frames to block four shots apiece over the course of the contest.

In Game 1, Morrissey logged 21 minutes, 34 seconds of ice time — with 5-on-5 play and on the penalty kill. Trouba’s total ice time (21:25) pretty much mirrored that of his partner. Only regular workhorse Dustin Byfuglien (24:44) had more. In fact, he led all skaters.

Play that much together, and good communication becomes a vital ingredient for success, Trouba said.

"We complement each other well. We have a good friendship off the ice. Our styles go together pretty nicely and we have a good, open relationship where we can talk to each other, we’re not going to hurt each other’s feelings, we can say whatever we want," he said. "We know it’s in a constructive way. I think we’re just really comfortable with each other

"We’re not the types who will scream at each other, that’s not our personalities. But if we see something, we tell the other guy.

"If there’s an adjustment we want to make, we’ll talk to each other. We value each other’s opinions."

jason.bell@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPJasonBell

Read more by Jason Bell.

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