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This article was published 5/3/2018 (716 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
NEW YORK, N.Y. — Paul Maurice must feel like a kid in a candy store these days. After all, he's surrounded by tantalizing treats — the kind that would have many other head coaches absolutely drooling.
The addition of Paul Stastny, the MVP-type year of Blake Wheeler, the continued growth of Mark Scheifele, the steady veteran presence of Bryan Little and Mathieu Perreault, the explosive raw talent of Patrik Laine and Nikolaj Ehlers and the emergence of rookies Kyle Connor and Jack Roslovic, have all combined to give him three forward lines right now that might just be the deepest in the NHL.
Just how the heck do you try to match up?
Carolina coach Bill Peters, who got the last change as home team, put his best checking line in Jordan Staal, Justin Williams and Brock McGinn against Winnipeg's trio of Scheifele, Wheeler and Connor Sunday night. And, for the most part, it worked out quite well. The so-called No. 1 line had a fairly quiet night at the office, combining for just three shots and one assist for Wheeler on the power play.
But it was a small victory in the grand scheme of things, as Winnipeg came away with the most important thing — two points in the form of a 3-2 victory to kick off a six-game road trip. The Jets will try to keep the momentum rolling when they play the New York Rangers on Tuesday at Madison Square Garden.
Stastny's line was absolutely dominant against the Hurricanes, with that trio combining for six points and 11 shots on goal. And while the Little line didn't hit the scoresheet, it looked its most dangerous in several games.
Talk about having to pick your poison.
Maurice was asked whether Stastny's line might ultimately start getting the best checkers, considering Laine (35 goals) and Ehlers (25 goals) are the top two snipers on the team.
"I think Mark and Blake are going to pull the heavy fire. What may change is you'll start to split your forwards and your D a little bit. So you may have your dominant shut-down line, and that second pair of defence come out," Maurice said of how opponents may try to counter what the Jets can now roll.
"And then it'll be more style. There's a real difference in style of play between Stastny's line and Scheifele's line. So you would maybe match your D pairings, maybe with a less physical group against Stastny and some size with Blake and those guys," he said.
Maurice can certainly play that game, too. And he did Sunday night, despite not having last change. For example, the top defence pair of Dustin Byfuglien and Josh Morrissey spent most of the game going out at the same time as the Stastny and Little lines — and not the Scheifele trio, as they usually do.
That was by design, said Maurice. Tyler Myers and Dmitry Kulikov were linked with the Scheifele line. With Peters putting his checkers out against that group, that meant his top scorers in Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen spent much of the night matched up against Byfuglien and Morrissey — just the way Maurice wanted it.
"(Morrissey) closes that gap, and he's got such a great stick. Dustin also can make you change your mind about going to get pucks," Maurice explained. "And Tyler was really good (against Carolina). We like sometimes what Dustin can do with his presence, and what (Morrissey) can do with his stick."
Following Monday's practice, Little said having three strong scoring lines along with a shut-down fourth line gives the Jets so many juicy options.
"I think we're comfortable with any one of our lines playing against the other team's best," he said. "That's the sign of a good team, when you can spread guys out and interchange guys and still have four lines that you can put on the ice to do a job. Right now we just have that confidence."
Little said it also helps takes pressure off the team as a whole, as the Jets aren't just reliant on one or two lines to perform for the team to have a chance at success.
"The depth is so deep. You have good players out of your lineup, you have good players fighting for ice time," he said. "It's a good problem to have, especially when you get into injury trouble like we have this year."
Maurice said the matchup game can be overrated at times, as it ultimately boils down to performance.
"It never is nearly as much about matchups as some people talk about. Because we both have a plan going into the game and what matters is the performance of the players. So your matchups are right when your players are performing well, and your matchups are lousy when they're not," he said.
And that's where having a pure scorer like Laine can really shift the balance, as he ultimately did in Carolina with two goals. Little said the team is in awe of what the 19-year-old can do.
"It’s pretty crazy. It’s almost getting funny now. Like on the bench when he shoots and scores, we just kind of look at each other and smile," said Little. "Unbelievable... It seems like everything that comes off his stick it’s going to go in. If he misses a couple in a row, you know the next one’s going in. It just seems like everything that comes off his stick is magic."
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.
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