Photo of Old Man courtesy of Mark & Andrea Busse
The Jets 2.0 will play their first game without former Head Coach Claude Noel when the newly hired Paul Maurice makes his Winnipeg bench boss debut tonight against the Phoenix Coyotes. The online community exploded yesterday morning after said announcement, with player, media, and fan reactions ranging from surprise to vindication. The players blame themselves. The media blames the players. Fans just want their team out of the basement.
Speculation aside, tonight marks the first opportunity the Jets community will have to see who really was to blame.
Paul Maurice is a seasoned NHL coach with 1,014 games under his belt (813 more than Claude Noel), including two stints with the Carolina Hurricanes and two years with the Toronto Maple Leafs. In his 13 seasons, Maurice’s teams have reached the post-season only four times, including an unsuccessful trip to the Stanley Cup Finals with the Hurricanes in 2001-02. Maurice’s experience should provide a boost to the ailing Jets, who have been saddled with a coach with no answers for the past three seasons.
It’s hard to say when that boost will come. Perhaps the Jets will feel motivated to prove something in their first game with a new coach. Or maybe all the spotlight will melt the ice at the MTS Centre and the Jets will play like they did Saturday against Columbus.
Regardless of tonight’s outcome, the Jets can finally turn the page with Noel gone. Ex-players and associates of Maurice note his strong ability to find the strengths in his line-up and maximize them, something that certainly wasn’t a strength of Noel’s. Believe it or not, Winnipeg has a playoff-calibre core group of players in Byfuglien/Kane/Ladd/Wheeler/Enstrom, much more than some of Maurice’s previous rosters. This game should be viewed as an experiment, like someone trying on different pairs of shoes before deciding on the right fit.
- Ladd – Little – Frolik
- Thorburn – Scheifele – Wheeler
- Setoguchi – Jokinen – Byfuglien
- Wright – O’Dell – Peluso
It’s hard to predict who will play where tonight considering the circumstances, but this certainly seems like the line-up of a new coach trying to figure out his roster. Frolik sees a well-deserved promotion to the first line after a strong effort against Columbus – and really, a remarkably consistent performance in his role all season long. This line could be a quietly dangerous, possession machine.
With Evander Kane likely to miss his second game in a row due to a hand injury, Chris Thorburn may be bumped back up to the second line, which is amazing. If this second line of Thorburn/Scheifele/Wheeler stays together tonight, look for them to get eaten alive by whoever Phoenix matches against them. Scheifele has looked better recently, but the hard-working Frolik and supremely-talented Kane have been the main reason for that. Wheeler’s "lurking" style of play and Thorburn’s "bad" style of play do not complement Scheifele’s.
Byfuglien may slot back into the third line winger spot, though it’s just as likely we see him starting on defence or splitting time between the two positions. Jokinen and Setoguchi are decent forward linemates for Byfuglien (in that all three are slow). It seems ill-advised to put one of the league’s best defencemen on forward, especially after a six goal shellacking at the hands of the Blue Jackets, so we’ll see where Big Buff actually winds up.
Eric O’Dell scored his first NHL goal Sunday playing with Scheifele and Frolik, so it’s probably safe to say he won’t score his second between Wright and Peluso. Maurice’s first taste of Winnipeg’s shallow forward depth is likely to be bitter.
- Bogosian – Enstrom
- Stuart – Trouba
- Pardy – Ellerby
The first and third defensive pairings were good-to-decent against the Blue Jackets, with Bogosian/Enstrom easily being the MVP’s of the D. Enstrom remains the only stabilizing presence on the back-end with Byfuglien moved to forward, though Bogosian deserves credit for his steadily improving play.
Pardy and Ellerby should be decent, so long as they see sheltered minutes. Stuart and Trouba had a disastrous game against Columbus, and we shouldn’t be surprised to see Byfuglien moved back to defence to fill the massive hole left by his absence.
Maurice will get his first chance to shake his head disapprovingly at Ondrej Pavelec.
- Doan – Hanzal – Vrbata
- Klinkhammer – Vermette – Boedker
- Korpikoski – Ribeiro – Moss
- Bissonnette – Halpern – Szwarz
The Coyotes are struggling right now, winning only three of their last ten games. Phoenix seemed poised to challenge for a wild card spot after a hot start to the season, but are currently four points out of the money with time slowly running out. Like the Jets, the Coyotes do not have a point-per-game player on their roster.
The top line of Doan/Hanzal/Vrbata is a bona fide threat, with captain Doan starting to find his game again after a nasty bout of Rocky Mountain Fever. Combined with Hanzal’s size and Vrbata’s sniper-ness, the Jets will have to watch this line closely.
Don Maloney looked like a genius for signing FA Mike Ribeiro after the first two months of the season, but Ribeiro’s 5.5M hit has to sting a bit now. The centre has six points in his last ten games, and has shown that while he is a capable producer, it’s almost always going to come in sporadic bunches. Ribeiro’s demotion to the third line certainly is not ideal.
Klinkhammer. Just wanted to type that again.
- Yandle – Morris
- Stone- Ekman-Larsson
- Klesla – Schlemko
Phoenix’s star defenceman Keith Yandle has been mired in a bit of a slump since USA Hockey announced he would not be going to the Olympics. The Jets and the Coyotes both rely heavily on production from the back end, and despite the slump, Yandle is still the most dangerous Coyote on the ice. The Jets may have a tough time covering Yandle at his point, especially if that Jet is Mark Scheifele.
Ekman-Larsson is another bright spot on the Coyotes, though his production has taken a similar dip in recent weeks. The Jets defence is also similar to the Coyotes in that they only have two really good options, and if those two players aren’t producing, the team isn’t winning.
Another big reason for the Coyotes’ current slump is the play of goaltender Mike Smith, who has lost eight of his last ten starts and averaged a .890 save percentage doing it. The Jets would do well to get as many pucks on the struggling third string Olympian as possible.
Who in the absolute heck knows what will happen tonight in Winnipeg. The Jets are on a five-game losing skid, and the Coyotes haven’t done much better as of late. Both teams have star defensemen and shallow forward depth, although they play very different styles. It will be interesting to see how Maurice employs his roster and which (if any) adjustments he makes during the game.