Saturday, 21 March 2015

A Very Good Problem

That was a helluva performance! The Winnipeg Jets welcomed NHL goal-scoring leader Alexander Ovechkin and his Washington Capitals to MTS Centre tonight where the two teams both needed to capture points. Like in the win over St. Louis, there was an electric feeling in the air as the puck dropped between these two teams, and the result was exactly what the fans at MTS Centre wanted: a dominating performance over an old foe that, in the end, helps their playoff chances immensely. And suddenly, with the Jets on a roll, they face an interesting dilemma in the coming days.

The Jets got another outstanding performance from netminder Ondrej Pavelec in his 28-save effort, and they mounted all the offence needed in the first period from an unlikely source with Mark Stuart's second goal of the season. Mark Scheifele made it 2-0 in the second period while Adam Lowry killed any hope of a Washington comeback with a 180-foot shot that found the back of the empty net. With their two of their best offensive players on the shelf, the Winnipeg Jets won their fourth consecutive game over another legitimate playoff team.

Now the dilemma facing the Jets is what to do when players like Bryan Little, Dustin Byfuglien, Mathieu Perreault, and Ben Chiarot are ready to return from injury. It was thought that losing these four players would ultimately sink the Jets, but they have rallied to find yet another level in beating Tampa Bay, San Jose, St. Louis, and Washington over their last four games.

Having Byfuglien and Chiarot return won't be a cause for headaches as these two men have been paired together all season, and it would be expected that they would replace the tandem of Adam Pardy and Jay Harrison. The issue, though, is that Pardy and Harrsion have been playing great hockey!

Pardy's big body and exceptional reach have been essential on the penalty kill and in his own end in neutralizing scoring threats, and Harrison's toughness and steady all-around play around the Jets' net have kept these two in the line-up. While Byfuglien and Chiarot bring more offence off the Jets' blue line, it's hard to replace two players who have been exceptionally sound in their defensive games.

It gets even harder to start swapping parts out up front when it comes to Little and Perreault. I'm 99.9% sure that the line of Stafford-Scheifele-Wheeler won't be touched with the chemistry they're experiencing right now. Andrew Ladd and Bryan Little have had chemistry in the past, and it would be logical to put Little back into the roster spot he abandoned when he was injured. Could Perreault fit on that line with them? It would be an interesting look for the Jets, and it would slot Jiri Tlusty or Lee Stempniak with Michael Frolik and Adam Lowry on the third line. The fourth line would remain Stempniak or Tlusty with Jim Slater and either Matt Halischuk or Anthony Peluso.

However, if the Ladd-Little-Perreault line doesn't work, Frolik can slot in on the right side once more, pushing Perreault to the third line with Tlusty and Lowry. Tlusty has shown signs of brilliance in generating some offence, and he could use another weapon to help him bury a few of those chances. While parts are always interchangeable, it appears that once the injury bay begins to clear for the Jets, Paul Maurice will have a number of decisions to make.

If there was one player whose contributions stood out more than any other tonight, it was the effort by Tyler Myers in shutting down Ovechkin. The 6'8" defenceman was dominant in his play against Ovechkin, using his size and reach to keep Ovechkin on the outside of the ice all night. Myers has been, in my mind, the best defenceman on the ice in the fifteen games we've seen him wearing a Jets uniform.

I don't envy Paul Maurice for the decisions he has to make on who sits and who doesn't, but it's a great problem to have with the leading goal-scorer and the leading scorer from the blue line ready to return to the lineup. While it would appear that the decisions are easy, it's never easy to break up a group that is playing as well as they are.

If it ain't broke, do you tweak it?

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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