WINNIPEG – As he looks to rebuild the Winnipeg Jets’ playoff hopes, head coach Claude Noel finds himself tinkering with a fourth line that has done a lot for his team’s confidence this season.
The GST line (Tanner Glass, Jim Slater and Chris Thorburn) has lost Thorburn to injury, forcing the team’s gritty assistant captain out at a crucial point.
As of Monday, it looked like Eric Fehr would replace Thorburn. At six foot four and 212 pounds, Fehr might have the size but Noel admits he’s not a perfect match for a checking line.
“I don’t think there’s necessarily a fit there,” he said Monday after practice. “He’s not a checking type of player, he’s more of a scorer, finishing type of player but that’s where the door opens right now.”
And once again, Noel has put the onus on the native of Winkler, Man., to break out. Fehr has been sidelined by injury in the past but Noel has also left him sitting for much of the season because of his level of play.
“He needs to look at that and say I’ve got to find my way and get from the third or fourth line to a more prominent role,” Noel said. “I’m not going to give him an automatic berth into the top six.”
Fehr has one goal and one assist in 33 games this season, his first in Winnipeg. Fehr’s best campaign came with the Washington Capitals in 2009-’10 when he had 21 goals and 18 assists in 69 games.
“Confidence is not an easy thing to get,” Fehr said after practising with Glass and Slater. “I’ve got to find a way to get confidence, whether its five minutes, 10 or 15 and try to play a skilled game.”
But while Fehr wasn’t taking anything for granted, Glass was wondering aloud whether his new linemate had a T in a middle name so they could keep the unit’s nickname alive.
“I’m not exactly sure what we’re doing come gametime but, right now, I’m practising with them so it’s great,” said Fehr. “They work hard, they battle hard and that’s what I want to do as well.”
Heading into Monday’s action, Winnipeg is tied with Buffalo for ninth in the Eastern Conference with 72 points apiece, four points behind eighth-place Washington. The good news for the Jets is their next three games are at home, where they’re ranked eighth overall in the NHL, compared to a dismal 28th on the road.
Buffalo hosts Montreal on Monday and would assume sole possession of ninth spot with a victory.
The Florida Panthers lead the Southeast Division with 77 points and have a game in hand on Winnipeg. That makes the prospect of reaching the playoffs by winning the division less likely for the Jets.
“We’ve got to do what we’ve got to do to win games,” said Noel.
Winnipeg’s first chance comes Wednesday when it hosts the Dallas Stars, who lead the Pacific Division with 81 points.
“It doesn’t really matter what other teams are doing right now, we’re still right there and we have big games coming up,” said Blake Wheeler, who has a personal best and team-leading 56 points this season. “If we keep winning, at some point the teams we’re now chasing are going to lose.
“Just get back to playing the way we were at home before.”