AT THE MORNING SKATE
NASHVILLE, Tennessee -- The talk around the Winnipeg Jets dressing room since Head Coach Paul Maurice announced the injuries to Dustin Byfuglien and Bryan Little was that the team has players in the room that can step up.
Paul Maurice is giving Adam Lowry an opportunity to be one of those players.
The rookie centre skated between captain Andrew Ladd and Michael Frolik prior to tonight’s game against Nashville (41-18-7).
“Any time you're going to play with two players of their quality and their capability, it makes your job pretty easy sliding in there,” Lowry said. “They're always in the right spot, they do a great job supporting the puck. I had a chance to play a lot with Frolik this year, and watching Ladd throughout the year, you know what to expect from him.”
Ladd, who leads the team in points with 52, said he doesn’t think Lowry needs any sort of pep talk before taking to the ice with a new line tonight.
“The nice thing about having Adam is that he plays such a simple game. That makes it easier on your line mates that you know what to expect,” said Ladd. “I think he fits into the mould of what Fro and I like to do. That's skating, get on the body, and get on the puck, it should be a pretty easy transition.”
Still, it isn’t easy to replace players like Little and Byfuglien. Maurice mentioned the Jets have played through similar, if not worse, adversity earlier in the season, when four defencemen went down with injury. The fact there is an injury up front as well as on the blue line in this scenario, just means more ice time for players like Lowry.
“There's three holes when Bryan goes down. He kills penalties for us, he's on the power play, and he takes a big chunk of minutes 5-on-5,” Maurice said. “So Adam is the guy, Scheifele's minutes are going to go up, but he plays a lot. The bigger jump is when you go from the 3-hole to the 2 or 1 hole, that's the bigger jump in minutes.”
Lowry’s season-high for minutes played came back on February 2 against Calgary, when he played 16:27. Lowry won’t be the only one who will see his minutes go up. Maurice says second-year defenceman Jacob Trouba will also see an increase with Byfuglien’s injury.
“We have depth on our right (defence) side for sure. Jacob Trouba has done it in the past and appreciates and enjoys the chance to play more and his minutes go up,” said Maurice.
While Bridgestone Arena hasn’t been friendly to the Jets so far (Winnipeg has dropped both games in Nashville this season), they may be catching the Predators at a good time. Losers of five in a row, Nashville has seen its lead in the Central Division fall to only four points.
But the Jets know better than to be over confident.
“Even in their losses, I think their team game has been really good,” Maurice said. “There will be nothing different about them except they'll be really focused and really hungry. I expect the start of this game especially, they'll be coming.”
Speaking of standings, the Jets currently hold down the second wild card spot in the Western Conference with 76 points. Two points separate Winnipeg from Los Angeles in the race for that final playoff spot.
Ladd doesn’t hide the fact he keeps an eye on his team’s playoff situation.
“I think everyone knows what's going on,” he said. “(It) doesn't seem like anyone is losing. The best part is it's still in our own hands. If we keep winning hockey games, we'll be alright. This is an important one tonight to get the ball rolling.”
Is it ever. But Maurice wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Gotta earn it,” Maurice said of a playoff spot. “You wanted to get into this fight at the start of the year, and now we're in it. So you better find a way to enjoy it.”
-- Mitchell Clinton, WinnipegJets.com