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This article was published 13/2/2019 (184 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Joe Morrow remains a plug-and-play performer on a Winnipeg Jets blue line that continues to hold strong, even when it’s battered and bruised.
He doesn’t need a whole lot of coddling at this stage of his NHL career, despite suiting up for just 159 NHL games over parts of five seasons with the Boston Bruins, Montreal Canadiens and Winnipeg Jets.
Morrow clearly understands his lot in life with the Jets organization. Picked up at the trade deadline a year ago to provide some insurance to a defensive corps that was rarely 100 per cent healthy, Morrow has demonstrated then and now that despite being down a few rungs on the depth ladder, he can be more than just a stop-gap veteran when others go down to injury.
He’s had rotating partners during his time in Winnipeg, and, with Dmitry Kulikov (upper body) still on the mend, head coach Paul Maurice has paired him with towering, right-side defenceman Tyler Myers. The reviews have been favourable.
On Tuesday, the 26-year-old from Edmonton had his finest offensive night of the season in a 4-3 win over the New York Rangers. He sent a slick pass to Mark Scheifele for the game’s first goal and then unloaded from the point to beat goalie Henrik Lundqvist — Morrow’s first tally of the season — and tie the game at 5:22 of the third period.
It was his first goal since Game 1 of a first-round playoff series with the Minnesota Wild this past season, when he wired the game-winner in the franchise’s first post-season triumph.
Morrow, who played his 38th game of the 2018-19 season Tuesday, said possessing the confidence of the coaching staff is a boon not just to the mind, but the body as well.
"I think the last couple of games, I’ve had a lot of opportunity to skate the puck and to be able to possess (it) more," Morrow said. "Developing more chemistry with (Myers) game to game, it gets better and better. It’s a big part of the flow of the game, when there are penalties and you’re not on special teams, you have to fight that lull in the game to try and stay focused.
"But the past few games have been pretty good for that. (Maurice) has been good for keeping me out on the ice and keeping that consistent flow to the game, so I think that’s played a huge part in how I’ve progressed."
The Jets (36-18-3) host the Colorado Avalanche (22-23-11) tonight at Bell MTS Place. Game time is 7 p.m.
Morrow dressed for 19 of the club’s first 23 games, but was felled by an injury at home against the Pittsburgh Penguins in late November.
He was sidelined for eight games and then was a healthy scratch for seven more when Kulikov returned from sick bay.
When Dustin Byfuglien tweaked an ankle against the visiting Minnesota Wild in late December, Morrow was inserted into the lineup New Year’s Eve in Edmonton, and has been a fixture since.
Back-filling due to injuries on the blue line is nothing new for the Central Division club. Late in the 2016-17 campaign, the big club was ravaged by injuries and management had to dip way down the Manitoba Moose roster, selecting Nelson Nogier to fill out its defensive corps.
Nogier’s presence has been required only once this season, while Sami Niku has been activated for 11 games and Cam Schilling has played four times. Tucker Poolman played 24 regular-season games and a pair of post-season contests this past season, but has yet to wear a Jets jersey this year (an injury prevented him from being called up on at least one occasion).
For the most part, at least six members of Winnipeg’s top seven have, each night, managed to answer the call of duty. The club has the luxury of a stable of bona fide everyday NHLers.
"The correlation is that we have seven veteran defenceman," Maurice said. "(Josh) Morrissey and (Jacob) Trouba aren’t kids anymore, they’re vets, just based on their minutes and experience alone. So, when we lose one — and Dustin (Byfuglien) is a dynamic player but he’s just one guy ... but we’re putting veteran guys in. We’re deep enough on our back end to miss a guy."
Morrow said it’s exciting to be a contributing member of a blue-line corps that seemingly doesn’t miss a beat when one of its key members goes down, adding that adaptability is a positive sign for a Stanley Cup contender.
"Coming down the stretch here, when the games get harder... everyone’s coming in playing their best games against us and everybody’s getting ready to suit up for the playoffs and that’s when injuries happen," he said. "The games get a little harder, a little rougher, and guys are pushing themselves past that threshold to get ready for everything.
"So, to have that versatility in the lineup where somebody goes down and somebody else fills in and there’s no real lack of performance from the back end or on the forward side of things, that’s a big part of how the ownership and the brass has built the team."
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).