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Jets make line-up adjustments in search of offensive 'spark'

Team will have special guests on three-game road trip which begins in Chicago

by Mitchell Clinton @MitchellClinton / WinnipegJets.com

WINNIPEG - Saturday's practice at Bell MTS Iceplex brought with it a different look for the Winnipeg Jets.

Perhaps the most notable change was up front. Mark Scheifele's wingers were Andrew Copp and Nikolaj Ehlers, while Blake Wheeler had Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor.

"I don't think we've loved our offensive game here for a little bit - and our defensive game, clearly," said head coach Paul Maurice. "I don't want to leave it too long. Just sometimes it's a change and a spark there to get guys going."

The trio of Wheeler, Laine, and Connor is one the Jets have used before. Laine recalls that was his line when Scheifele was injured during the 2017-18 season.

"I think it's going to be a little bit different, but I think it will be a good change for the whole team. I think we've been struggling with our offence so it's good to mix it up a little bit," said Laine.

"Blake has an awesome skill set on him. He can really dish the puck and can finish also. It's the same for all three of us. We can all finish and all find each other. We'll just try to play hard, look for open spots, and hopefully get a couple."

Video: PRACTICE | Patrik Laine

Laine says both Scheifele and Wheeler bring incredible vision and playmaking abilities to the ice each night, so he doesn't anticipate too much of an adjustment to the change.

That wasn't the only change however, as Josh Morrissey was paired with Sami Niku for the 30-minute skate.

"Sami can move the puck pretty effectively. I don't know if it's a permanent fit for what Josh's job eventually is. He has to shut down the other team's best," said Maurice. "That's usually something that young puck-moving defencemen take years before they grow into getting that assignment. They usually get hidden in the line-up.

"We're not in that situation right now. We have to get minutes out of guys that can move the puck."

The full line rushes heading into the three-game road trip, which begins Sunday in Chicago against the Blackhawks, looked like this:

Copp-Scheifele-Ehlers

Connor-Wheeler-Laine

Perreault-Lowry-Roslovic

Bourque-Shore-Appleton

Morrissey-Niku

Kulikov-Pionk

Bitetto-Sbisa

The fact Luca Sbisa was even able to practice was impressive after getting a puck to the mouth in the 7-1 loss to the Lightning. The Jets recalled defenceman Nelson Nogier on Saturday from the Manitoba Moose - one day after recalling fellow blue liner Cameron Schilling - just to be on the safe side during the road trip.

"We think Luca is going to be good. He got through practice," Maurice said.

"When you get into back-to-back on the road, it can be tough to get guys in and out. We just want lots of coverage there."

Video: PRACTICE | Paul Maurice

The focus on Saturday's skate was flushing the tough loss to Tampa Bay the night before and working to improve play at even strength, something Maurice feels the team was doing better earlier in the season when the special teams were a work in progress.

"We were a five-on-five team because we weren't scoring on the power play. Our special teams were off the table," said Maurice, referring to earlier in the season.

"Our penalty kill the last six is dead even, we've given up two and scored two. That's outstanding. Our power play from the start of November is running near the very top of the league. I don't like our five-on-five game. 

"That's where our area is. Get back to being real hard at five-on-five. If your PK is good and your power play is running the way ours is, you should win games on dead even, hard five-on-five."

Video: PRACTICE | Adam Lowry

As the team heads out on a three-game road trip, they'll have some special guests as the Jets will bring along the player's moms.

Adam Lowry will have his mom, Elaine, on the trip and said she's been looking forward to it since the invitations came out.

"The moms are going to have a blast," he said.

"I have a brother and two sisters. My dad was on the road a lot, so my mom had to coordinate our schedules, shuttle us around, constantly on the go, find time to cook us all dinner at different times, and find time to watch our games and keep up with the laundry in that household. She did an amazing job.

"On top of that she has her own life and her interests. She's doing marathons and ironman and stuff like that. She somehow found time for it all. I'm very lucky to call her my mom."

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