Bruce Fedyck/USA TODAY Sports
The Winnipeg Jets will be without big minutes defenseman Tobias Enstrom for Monday night’s crucial matchup against the Minnesota Wild.
Enstrom, who leads all Jets defenders in minutes played per game this season, sustained an upper-body injury late in Winnipeg’s 5-4 victory over the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday afternoon. Though he’s dinged up, Enstrom’s injury isn’t believed to be serious and he’s still traveling with the team on their current road trip.
On Monday though he’ll be replaced in the lineup by Ben Chiarot, who hasn’t played since Feb. 21. Chiarot is expected to lineup in Enstrom’s usual slot on Tyler Myers’ left side.
Asked to sum up what he expects of Chiarot after a long lay off, Jets coach Paul Maurice mentioned that Chiarot has been around the team and in meetings and is “in tune” with the club’s system and gameplan.
“He came in (when Dustin Byfuglien was injured), really new to the NHL, and played big minutes and played very well,” Maurice said of Chiarot, a 23-year-old rookie, by way of IllegalCurve.com. “So he’s got that in his memory bank and that what we’re hoping for here tonight. I think Tyler is a pretty easy defenseman to read off… So they’re similar in what they’re both capable of doing, and he can play a simple hard game.”
In limited duty this season, he’s appeared in only 36 games, Chiarot has been a plus player by shot attempt differential and the Jets have outscored their opponents when he’s been on the ice at 5-on-5, and have done so without the benefit of unduly favourable percentages. Based on his professional track record Chiarot is a decent bet to give the club a solid showing in a top-pairing role over the short-term, though the loss of Enstrom still threatens to expose Winnipeg’s lack of depth on left defense.
For now though the young two-way defender is just excited about the opportunity:
#NHLJets Ben Chiarot back in the lineup for Enstrom:”I’m excited. I’ve been ready to go for awhile now.”
— Ed Tait (@WFPEdTait) April 6, 2015
As for the Enstrom, he didn’t practice with the club on Monday, and Maurice described the skilled puck moving defender as day-to-day.
“We’re going to monitor him day-by-day here,” Maurice said, “and soon as he feels strong enough we’ll get him back on the ice in practice and see how he feels.”
A set of back-to-back road games down the stretch against very good and very deep Central Division foes like the Wild and the St. Louis Blues is not the ideal time to be relying on defensive depth. Needless to say Winnipeg is going to need stellar showings from the likes of Chiarot, Myers and Jacob Trouba if they hope to keep up in the Western Conference playoff race without Enstrom and Byfuglien.