WINNIPEG – The Winnipeg Jets will be shuffling the deck again as they look to find a combination of forwards who can put the puck in the net and help keep it out of their own as well.
Coach Claude Noel hasn’t been shy about moving players around, even shifting them from their usual spots at centre or wing, as he looks for matchups that work.
The Jets (4-5-1) are in Ottawa to play the Senators (6-3-2) Saturday.
A third-period collapse that let the Toronto Maple Leafs leave Winnipeg with a 3-2 win was the latest headshaker for Noel, as he grasps for something to kick his offence into gear.
“To say I’m disappointed would be an understatement,” a visibly disgusted Noel said after the loss.
“I’ve got the one line that’s minus all over the place and so you’ve got to make changes. You just can’t sit back and watch this, you’ve got to (start) juggling this thing around.”
It’s still relatively early but, with the loss, the Jets slipped below .500 and out of playoff contention for now in their sophomore season.
After a promising start, they’ve lost four out of the last five, consistently lose the faceoff battle and their power-play performance has flipped from above average to anaemic.
It probably says something that one of the few players Noel had praise for after the game was 24-year-old defenceman Zach Redmond, brought up from the AHL to fill holes caused by injuries.
Redmond scored his first goal and third point in the last two games and spent more than 24 minutes on the ice, a measure perhaps of the confidence he has won in just four games.
“He’s just getting better, he’s getting stronger all the time, one of our better players for a young player,” says the coach.
The Jets defence overall has been strong offensively, with Tobias Enstrom the leading scorer at 13 points. He’s riding a career-best, eight-game point streak as the top-scoring defenceman in the NHL.
Dustin Byfuglien, who hasn’t even played the last four games, is still fifth on the Jets’ scoring list with seven points.
So far, however, whatever combo Noel has tried with his forwards has failed to produce consistent results.
Overall, the picture isn’t pretty.
He doesn’t like to talk No. 1 or No. 2 lines—he says he’ll leave it to others to make that call—but this season it would be pretty hard for anyone to pick one over the other.
Evander Kane, Olli Jokinen and Blake Wheeler should be the jets top line and they do have an edge in points—21 compared with 18 for the latest Andrew Ladd, Alexander Burmistrov and Bryan Little combo.
But collectively, Wheeler, Kane and Jokinen are a -20, compared with a plus five for Ladd, Burmistrov and Little.
“You ask me about the personnel of the top six guys? You’ve got to change things around, you’ve got to make some moves,” says Noel.
Their third and fourth lines have produced only eight points and Nik Antropov has three of those. Chris Thorburn and James Wright are at -1 and Alexei Ponikarovsky sits at -2.
In goals against, Winnipeg ranks 28th, having allowed 36. They do better in goals for, with 29 putting them in 11th spot, but their penalty kill is the worst in the NHL. They’ve taken just 33 penalties and let in a dozen goals.
Their power play has slipped to 12th, with nine goals in 42 chances, and is going the wrong way. They got one shot away in four tries Thursday night as they went 0-4.
The addition of Jokinen and Ponikarovsky brought more size and experience to the Jets offence, but it hasn’t produced the kind of consistent scoring ability they need.
It hasn’t even helped in the kind of team-wide approach to discipline and defence Noel has been preaching.
Jokinen has only four points and is a -6, second only to Wheeler’s -9. Ponikarovsky has one point and took a holding penalty late in the third Thursday that set up Phil Kessel’s first goal of the season and the game winner.
“The problem that I have is that we have of finding a way to lose games. And some of the problems that we get are created by ourselves and that’s the disturbing part,” says Noel.
After the Senators, the Jets return home to play the Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins, with Pittsburgh and Boston duelling for the Eastern Conference lead.