WINNIPEG — The equilibrium that existed for the Winnipeg Jets has been rocked over the past few days.
First, there was the six-to-eight week injury to Mark Scheifele, the team’s second-leading scorer, and its best center. And then on Friday night, Brandon Tanev, a winger on the third line, went down in the first period and didn’t return.
He was placed on injured reserve on Saturday, week-to-week with a lower-body injury.
Now, Jets fans will be thinking, why is Tanev’s injury being mentioned in the same breath as Scheifele’s? Of course, Tanev doesn’t have anywhere near the same impact that Scheifele does, on the scoresheet or otherwise, but he has played a key role on a very important line for the Jets since early November.
Since Adam Lowry returned from injury in early November, Jets coach Paul Maurice has deployed a line featuring Lowry, Tanev and Andrew Copp. On paper, its the team’s third line, but it’s played a pivotal role.
Lowry’s line with Tanev and Copp had remained untouched until Maurice’s hand was forced on Friday. Maurice has talked at length about how well that line has gelled since it was formed.
Maurice has sent out that line against the NHL’s best since it showed, early on, that it could handle those duties. And it’s had a trickle-down (and up) effect on the team’s forward contingent.
In the past, Maurice and the Jets have relied on its top two lines to handle the brunt of the shutdown work. With that third line pitching in some valuable minutes in that role, it’s freed up the other two lines to do what they do best: score.
The Jets are fourth thus far in goals-for, a testament to their talent, surely, but also their ability to ice a line that’s had a bigger impact that first thought.
With the two injuries, the Jets have had to shuffle the deck now. Mathieu Perreault, who elevated the team’s fourth line into something that resembled a formidable trio, has moved up to the second line. He’s been exceptional at making those around him better, and one of the reasons why he was kept on the fourth line despite playing well above its level.
Early indications seem favourable, even if the lineup has taken quite the jolt.
The Jets beat in the New York Islanders 4-2 on Friday night, playing without Schiefele and most of the game without Tanev. Even with the missing parts, the team seemed to click.
It’s always going to be a tough ask to trudge along without your top center. But it will be interesting to see how the Jets manage without that third line intact.
“Even with all of that movement, there’s still quite a bit of continuity,” Maurice said after Friday’s game.
That’s true, and Maurice pointed out that several of its new line combos have spent time with each other in the past, including Joel Armia playing with Copp and Lowry, which happened with regularity last year.
The Jets might also get a look at perhaps their best prospect in Jack Roslovic. The 20-year-old first-rounder in 2015 has been lighting up the American Hockey League with the Manitoba Moose, sitting third in AHL scoring with 15 goals and 35 points in 31 games.
Roslovic is envisioned as the heir to the center position on the team’s second line in the future and he’s certainly deserved his opportunity to get some playing time.
Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck