MONTREAL – When you’re as big and as deep and as talented as the Winnipeg Jets are on the blueline, it’s not as though you don’t miss a guy such as Dustin Byfuglien, but suffice to say the Jets were able to make do when he was out of the lineup. While hockey’s largest land mammal was out of the lineup, all the Jets did was go 10-4-1.
One shudders to think of how good the Jets will be Thursday night when they kick off a three-game road trip in Montreal with Byfuglien back in the lineup. The only mitigating factor is that the Jets will be without Josh Morrissey, who left the Jets 3-2 overtime loss against the San Jose Sharks Tuesday night after blocking a shot in the first period.
Prior to the injury, Byfuglien was the Jets’ undisputed leader in ice time with 24:30 per game, a total head coach Paul Maurice doesn’t see diminishing just because Byfuglien hasn’t played in 15 games. “There is no easing Dustin Byfuglien back into the lineup, so for him that will be 24 minutes,” Maurice said. “We’ve got three right-handed defensemen (Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba and Tyler Myers) who all want to play 30, so that’s our challenge. He’ll be more than 16 tonight, that’s for sure.”
With Morrissey out of the lineup, Trouba pair with Joe Morrow, Byfuglien will play with Ben Chariot and Myers will partner with Dmitry Kulikov. This will not be a long-term issue for the Jets, since Morrissey’s injury is relatively minor. “We’re really expecting him to be available for Ottawa (Saturday afternoon),” Maurice said. “We’re really hopeful of that. He wanted to try it and put a pretty good press on to get into the game, but we’ve got Dustin coming back here today and we’re healthy. The foundation of Josh’s game is skating, so we don’t want to put him in the position where he’s not even at 90 percent before he gets back in the lineup.”
The Jets have so few problems right now, but one of them is Patrik Laine. He’s a goalscorer who has one goal in 2019 and two in his past 21. The Jets have gently suggested to Laine that he not speak to the media until he breaks out of his slump, simply because Laine is so hard on himself when he’s not scoring. He tends to publicly dwell on his shortcomings, which probably isn’t good for anyone at this point. Jack Roslovic, who has five power play goals for the past five games, including three in a 9-3 drubbing of Anaheim last weekend, will take residence on the first power play in Laine’s spot.
“He’s hot,” Maurice said. “It’s coming off his stick right and we think there’s going to be some action around the net a little bit. (The Canadiens) do a nice job taking away the perimeter shots, so we think there will be a little more action around the net and he’s been good there. That (second) unit has been rolling and they get pucks to the net and they get some action there.”
There are all sorts of theories about the drought. He had 12 shot attempts against the Sharks, six of which hit the net. So Maurice was asked about shot selection. “I wouldn’t have been able to describe his shot when he scores and when he doesn’t score,” Maurice said. “We had the same thing happen with Kyle Connor. He scored in two games over 21 and Patty’s at 21 and scored in two games over that stretch. I can’t tell you about the shot, but when a guy is feeling it, it gets off the stick a certain way and when he’s not, it doesn’t. I haven’t played in 30 years and it was off the glass so I never got close enough to the offensive blueline to know.”
The Jets are confident Laine will find his groove sooner or later. Like a lot of shooters, much of it is about personal momentum. They were encouraged that he got the puck off his stick 12 times in their last game because if he replicates that kind of play, the goals are going to follow.
“You have a 20-year-old kid who is one of the top goalscorers in the league and when you’re used to scoring goals as he is and it doesn’t go in quite as often as you’re used to, there’s obviously some frustration that comes with it," Jets captain Blake Wheeler said. "The beautiful thing for him is he’s probably going to end up with 40 goals this year. This is going to be an afterthought and it’s going to make him a better player. It took me 20 games to score a goal when I came to Winnipeg and I thought they weren’t going to let me put a home sweater on after 15 games. It’s not fun, but it builds character and you learn from it.”