Jets-Isles Preview: What the Enstrom Injury Means

Scott Taylor
November 03 2011 12:36PM

 

 

On the one hand, the injury to Jets defenseman Tobias Enstrom means that somebody else is going to get a load of ice time.

On the other hand, it means Claude Noel is pooched. 

It's not like Noel doesn't have other defensemen. Fact is, he has six of them at his disposal tonight. However, when his Winnipeg Jets skate out onto the ice at Nassau County Coliseum to face the New York Islanders, he won't have the guy who is playing more than 25 minutes a game.

Enstrom is to Noel what Bobby Orr was to Harry Sinden, Tom Johnson and Don Cherry. Sure, Toby Enstrom ain't no Bobby Orr, but when you add up his ice time after a game, you might think he is. For instance, in the Jets season-opener against Montreal, Enstrom played 25 minutes and 23 seconds. A full 7:38 came on the power play with another 1:56 on the penalty kill. In the shootout loss to the Leafs on Oct. 19, he played 31 minutes and five seconds with 5:24 on the power play and 3:03 on the penalty-killing unit.

We could waste your afternoon and look at all the other games, but you get the point. Tobias Enstrom is 13th in ice time in the NHL this year. Less than a week ago, he was fifth. However, when he was injured on Monday night in Sunrise, Fla., he'd played only 15 minutes -- of 36 minutes in the game. He was actually on pace for another 30-plus minute outing thanks to overtime.

But with Enstrom out of the lineup, along with Mark Stuart, Ron Hainsey and Derek Meech, Noel has some stress. The head coach of the Jets needs to find a replacement for the player he trusts more than any other before his team faces a 3-4-2 Islanders club in their own barn (and that place really IS a "barn") tonight. He needs a gifted skater who is responsible in his own zone, has a decent shot, great puck-handling skills and sees all of the ice. He needs a guy who plays bigger than he is (Enstrom is only 5-foot-10, 180 pounds), can kill penalties AND play on the power play and has the ability to settle down a defensive unit that can panic without notice (see: Johnny Oduya). 

Too bad his AHL call-ups, Brett Festerling and Mark Flood, don't have the skills to fill the hole. Too bad Dustin Byfuglien is the best power forward in the NHL playing on the point. To bad Oduya or Randy Jones aren't good enough. In fairness, Zach Bogosian might be and we might find out how good -- or not so good -- he is tonight.

Regardless, when the Jets face the Islanders tonight, Noel needs one of the following elements to turn into his best defenseman: A power forward disguised as a defensemen, a skilled 21-year-old, a guy with a great agent (I wonder if Oduya's agent could get me $4 million to turn over the puck?) and three AHL-level reaguards. Noel needs one of those guys to step up and play exactly like the most trusted player in a Jets uniform.

Ahh, well, it could happen. 

Then again, Noel could just close his eyes, hope the Islanders go out and play like the Islanders and maybe Big Buff will stop pretending to be a defenseman and actually turn into Serge Savard.

Granted, Serge Savard ain't Bobby Orr, either, but he'd do in a pinch.

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Scott Taylor wrote the definitive bestselling book on the Winnipeg Jets, a book that comes with the perfect title: "Winnipeg Jets: A Celebration of Professional Hockey in Winnipeg." He has covered the Jets as a writer and broadcaster since the WHA days in 1976. He likes the Jets and danced the conga at The Forks when the team returned.
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