January 23, 2020

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Jets juggle lineup in hopes of snapping home skid

Andrew Copp gets promoted. Jack Roslovic gets demoted. One defenceman goes down. Another is set to return. And coach Paul Maurice hopes some lineup juggling gives his sagging squad a much-needed boost as they try to turn their fortunes around on home ice this week.

It's not going to be easy with the NHL's two hottest teams next on the docket for the Winnipeg Jets, who have just four wins in their past 13 games to fall out of a Western Conference playoff spot. That include six straight defeats at Bell MTS Place.

Andrew Copp will move up to play left wing on the second line with Blake Wheeler and Nikolaj Ehlers. (Trevor Hagan / Free Press files)</p>

Andrew Copp will move up to play left wing on the second line with Blake Wheeler and Nikolaj Ehlers. (Trevor Hagan / Free Press files)

Next up are the Vancouver Canucks, winners of nine of their 11 games, on Tuesday. That's followed by a Friday night meeting with the Tampa Bay Lightning, who just had their 10-game winning streak snapped on Sunday against New Jersey.

Copp will move up to play left wing on the second line with Blake Wheeler and Nikolaj Ehlers, while Roslovic slides down to the third line to skate on the right wing with Adam Lowry and Mathieu Perreault.

"Just a different kind of zone time more than anything else. A little more predictable read. (Copp) plays a pretty defined kind of game. With the way we’re structured right now I want to get that hard match. I want to get Matty Perreault back to the left, that was a function of it. And we get Jack Roslovic out of some of that heavier responsibility and let him play his game a little bit, relax a little bit," Maurice said of the switch following Monday's 45-minute practice at the downtown rink where they've had nothing but misery lately.

The top line of Mark Scheifele, Kyle Connor and Patrik Laine remains intact, while the fourth line will be some combination of Nick Shore, Mason Appleton, Gabriel Bourque and Jansen Harkins.

Roslovic, 22, has struggled mightily lately, with no points in his last six games and no goals in his past dozen games despite getting ample offensive opportunities playing with skilled players. Copp, 25, has provided a spark with a pair of goals in his four games since returning from an injury that kept him out of the lineup for nearly three weeks.

"I think my offensive game has been developing a lot. Playing with two special players like that, hopefully we can create some chemistry. We each kind of bring a little something different to the table. As far as my game, I’m not going to change too much in terms of being hard on the puck, good on the forecheck, being responsible, smart, go to the right areas," Copp said of the opportunity.

"Definitely, when (Wheeler) has the puck, you got to be ready for it and go to the right spots where he can find you and same with (Nikolaj Ehlers). Just got to not cheat for offence or anything like that but just try and play my game and hopefully that fits into some line chemistry, some offensive zone time and some opportunities, burying our chances and then kind of get it rolling. Feel like there’s a good mix between the three of us."

That won't be the only lineup change for Winnipeg. Top-pairing defenceman Tucker Poolman will miss at least a week after suffering what looked to be an ankle injury in the first period of Sunday's 1-0 loss to Nashville.

Luca Sbisa will come back in on Tuesday after sitting out the Predators game to nurse some bumps and bruises he's been battling.

"For about two months I’ve been playing with a few things that don’t feel good. But they are good enough to play. But when you start to miss a lot of practices, I think over the last three, four weeks I’ve probably only had two or three real practices, I think it starts to catch up with you. It’s just a matter of kind of let the body heal a bit more and kind of hit the reset button," said Sbisa.

The Jets can't seem to catch a break on the blue-line. Nathan Beaulieu recently got re-injured, Dmitry Kulikov just returned to action last week and now Poolman is out.

"The guys on the back end play a hard game. They put their body on the line every night. They’re not the finesse type of back end. There’s a lot of guys who block shots and play a hard game. With that game comes a lot of injuries. We’ve had a little bit of bad luck, but eventually we’re going to get a full lineup on the back end and we’re going to be fine," said Sbisa.

Maurice said Neal Pionk will get a look on the top-pairing with Morrissey, but it's possible others could play there as well including Kulikov or even Sami Niku in an attempt to replicate what they'll be missing in Poolman.

"Whenever a guy plays that (shutdown) role goes out, you can spread it around. Really think the couple days off for Luca are really going to help. So we’ve got a guy who’s not been sitting out for a long time obviously coming in and we should be able to spread that around pretty good," said Maurice.

"We’re going to learn a lot on the fly. We’ve got one righty (defenceman) now in our lineup so we’ve got a couple guys playing their off-side. If they’re comfortable we’ll leave them, if not we’ll have to move some people around."

A LITTLE UPDATE: Bryan Little was all smiles Monday as he joined his teammates for the full practice, wearing a yellow no-contact jersey. The veteran centre has been sidelined since Nov. 5 after a slap shot from Ehlers struck him in the side of the head, causing extensive damage to his head and ear.

"It's the best. When you see someone go through something as traumatic as what he went through, you kind of just never know in that instance what his career even looks like. So it’s great to have him on the ice. Such a great person, such a great teammate, good character guy in the room. It puts a smile on my face to see him out there, too," said Copp.

Although optimism is growing, there is still no set timetable for Little's return.

"We think he's in there (Tuesday) again. Non-contact. He's going to stay on the ice with us as long as he feels good. He's almost monitoring his own heart rate. He gets in the drills and then stays out if he needs to. We'll start stringing some on-ice days together," said Maurice.

Little was also sporting a tinted visor, which Copp and then Perreault have both worn after suffering previous concussion.

"When me, (Perreault) and Lits were out, we were talking about getting a line together, that tinted visor line going. Something that’s worked for me in terms of… I have a really high sensitivity to light, aside from the concussion, that was something that’s bothered me my whole life. I think he’s trying it out, I think he likes it so far. Should have bought shares in it when I first switched to it," said Copp.

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Reporter

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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Updated on Monday, January 13, 2020 at 5:32 PM CST: Corrects typo

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