December 7, 2019

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Jets bolster defence with Sbisa

Team plucks veteran blueliner off waivers

Tony Ding / the associated press files</p><p>Defenceman Luca Sbisa (right) was signed by the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday and claimed off waivers by the Jets the following morning.</p>

Tony Ding / the associated press files

Defenceman Luca Sbisa (right) was signed by the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday and claimed off waivers by the Jets the following morning.

NHL journeyman Luca Sbisa has been added to a Winnipeg Jets blue-line group in an interminable state of flux.

The former Ducks, Islanders, Golden Knights, Canucks and Flyers defenceman was picked up on waivers by the Jets on Wednesday morning.

He joins the Central Division team at a time when it requires warm, healthy skaters that defend — even just adequately — for a living. Nathan Beaulieu (upper body) is still on injured reserve and Tucker Poolman (undisclosed) is considered day-to-day, while Anthony Bitetto (lower body) only returned to the lineup Tuesday in a 3-2 loss to the Los Angeles Kings.

Meanwhile, the Dustin Byfuglien saga continues to drag on, as the hulking defenceman mulls his hockey future. Jets brass must also still decide whether they keep rookie Ville Heinola for more than the nine games allowed before the first season of his entry-level contract gets burned.

"We need some depth. We need some guys who’ve got some games in, and he’s got a great reputation as a real solid team guy. I had him at the World Cup (in 2016 for Team Europe) and I think he can add something to our room," head coach Paul Maurice said of Sbisa following practice Wednesday.

"We’ve got players that we like, and they’re working hard. But we’re one or two injuries away from really (being thin), and we’ve got injuries (with the Manitoba Moose) now, too."

Sbisa has yet to play this season. He was signed by the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday on a one-year, two-way US$750,000 deal, but he had to be exposed on waivers before beginning a second tour of duty in California.

Winnipeg claimed the left-shooting former first-round draft pick (2008, Philadelphia), who has 504 NHL games under his belt, scoring 18 goals and setting up 85 others since debuting with the Flyers 11 years ago.

Maurice said it was too early to project if Sbisa will play in the Heritage Classic in Regina on Saturday night.

"Some of the time, it’s about experience. He’s got 500 games in the NHL and it’s a basic game, and sometimes there’s a lot of good in just that," Maurice said. "He’s not a headhunter. But he’ll finish checks, he’ll clear the front of the net, he’s killed some penalties. He’s had 32 playoffs games, so he’s had some time in the league and he’s a pro."

In just nine games last season with the New York Islanders, Sbisa had a lone assist.

At 6-3, 204 pounds, he has size and mobility but isn’t known as a bruising defender. Sbisa, who played for Switzerland at the 2010 Winter Olympics, battled for third-pairing ice time during the 2017-18 campaign with the Vegas Golden Knights. Three seasons ago, he played all 82 games in Vancouver.

Earlier this month, the Jets plucked Carl Dahlstrom off waivers from the Chicago Blackhawks. He has yet to register a point in eight games, while averaging 18 minutes of ice time.

● ● ●

When even the best guy on a defensive corps built on quicksand gets stuck in the gunk, it’s a particularly dreadful night.

No one liked the Kings’ winning goal less than Josh Morrissey, who was caught flat-footed by Anze Kopitar in the third period and then chased from behind as the veteran forward’s backhand shot hit goalie Connor Hellebuyck’s arm, rolled up and over him and into the net at the 5:52 mark.

L.A. switched up its power-play breakout on the play and it fooled even the heady, steady Morrissey. Drew Doughty had control in the neutral zone and, instead of dropping the puck to Adrian Kempe, threw it up to Kopitar along the right wall. The two-time Selke Trophy winner did the rest, scoring his fourth goal of the season and 316th of his stellar career.

"That’s a play where they’d been running the drop all night. Obviously, he swung with a lot of speed. I’m not sure — I haven’t watched all the penalty kill — but up to that point, I don’t think they ran that fake-the-drop and used just that quick play. But I have to be more in that lane to try to discourage that pass from going there," Morrissey said. "I wasn’t anticipating it going there, it caught me off guard.

"But when you’re maybe a half-step off it, just from not having that energy level in our game like we saw (Tuesday), that’s when those kind of things can happen."

Kopitar is two points shy of 900 for his career. He hit the 1,000-game mark — all with the Kings — late last season.

● ● ●

While the Jets and Edmonton Oilers spent a long Sunday night together, Jets winger Mathieu Perreault played just a fraction of it.

Perreault clocked in with just seven minutes, 26 seconds of ice time on the fourth line in the Jets’ 1-0 shootout victory over the visiting Oilers. That’s his fewest minutes since last October, when he dipped under eight minutes in a pair of games.

He played just over 12 minutes in the loss to L.A. on Tuesday, and that total was bolstered by 21/2 minutes on the team’s second power-play unit.

Perreault has averaged around 15 minutes a game over five-plus seasons in Winnipeg as he plays behind several skilled, young forwards. So a major boost in ice time only happens if injury or illness strikes.

Or, as in the case of Tuesday, the club trails late in the game and Maurice is looking for some added offensive punch, so he tosses out the veteran puck hound.

"I’m used to this the last couple of years. (Maurice) plugs me in at certain situations, like when we are down a goal and he feels like I can help. But he comes and talks to me and makes sure I’m OK with it. I always try and stay positive on the bench, encouraging the guys," said Perreault, who has a pair of goals and an assist in 11 games. "Every time I step on the ice, I try to work as hard, to lead the guys in that kind of way. Maybe I play seven, eight minutes, but I go all out every time."

Perreault is in the third season of a four-year, US$16.5-million contract, with an average annual value of US$4.125 million. He’s a pricey fourth-liner, skating lately with centre David Gustafsson and winger Gabriel Bourque.

"Sometimes, it’s hard to just sit and watch, especially when we lose games. When we win, I’m going home (happy) that we got two points and that’s all that matters," he said. "When you sit there and we’re losing, it gets harder on me. But I try to be positive. I feel lucky to put on an NHL jersey every night."

jason.bell@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPJasonBell

Jason Bell

Jason Bell
Assistant sports editor

Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).

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