The Winnipeg Jets lineup will feature a decidedly new look when they try to snap a three-game losing streak against the New Jersey Devils on Sunday night at MTS Centre.
Jets head coach Claude Noel tried a few things out during the latter stages of Friday’s game against the Dallas Stars and he’s broken up the team’s top line in an effort to first find — and then possibly spread out — the offensive attack.
During this slide, the Jets have managed to score only three goals, so I have no issue with Noel making these moves.
Sports editor Ted Wyman was kind enough to give me the morning off, but the Jets used the same lines they had going during Saturday’s practice I attended.
That means Evander Kane slides onto the top line with Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler, who scored his first goal of the season on Friday.
Captain Andrew Ladd finds himself with Mark Scheifele and Michael Frolik and Devin Setoguchi moves to the third line with Olli Jokinen and Eric Tangradi.
There’s no concern about breaking up the top line. It’s not like the trio was lighting it up out of the gate anyway, so give them some time apart and see how it goes.
Besides, it’s almost certain that given their recent history together, Ladd-Little-Wheeler, will be back together before long anyway.
Furthermore, part of the reason the Jets brought in Frolik was to help encourage competition among the Top-6 forwards, so this move is two-fold: it gives Frolik an opportunity he can play more of an offensive role and it’s a reminder to Setoguchi that he needs to contribute a bit more to be a regular on the top two lines.
That’s a win-win situation and competition should bring out the best in both players anyway.
The fourth line of Jim Slater, James Wright and Matt Halischuk remains the same, meaning Anthony Peluso remains in the press box and Chris Thorburn (lower-to-mid body) is still sidelined.
On defence, it appears Paul Postma will draw back in for Grant Clitsome and be used on the third pairing with Mark Stuart.
Zach Bogosian with Jacob Trouba and Dustin Byfuglien with Toby Enstrom round out the pairings.
As I wrote in this space earlier this week, backup Al Montoya makes his first start of the season.
It’s a big opportunity for Montoya to show he deserves to start with a little more regularity.
There’s no doubt Ondrej Pavelec is going to be a workhorse, but as I’ve said before, if Montoya can start 15 to 20 games, it could be beneficial to all parties.
Although the Jets have been struggling in their own zone for much of the start of the season, they’ve done a nice job on the power play, recording at least a goal in each of the first five games — a good sign for a group that was dead last in the NHL in that category last season.
Noel gave more power play responsibility to assistant coach Pascal Vincent and the Jets have seen positive results, at least to this point.
“At the start of the year, it’s always a fresh start to do new things,” said Ladd. “Pascal has done a great job of getting us involved, with what we see. He did a good job of studying successful power plays and what worked. We’ve got a few more options.”
I also asked Ladd what stands out to him about the first five-game block of the season.
“That’s a good question,” he said. “It’s been kind of all over the place. The thing you can take from that is that we’ve done a lot of really good things and now it’s a matter of putting them all together to make sure we’re giving ourselves the best chance to win.”
As for the Devils, they’re on a long road trip and still searching for their first win of the season (0-2-3).
“It’s been a draining week, with how we’ve lost some games,” Devils head coach Pete DeBoer said on Saturday after practice at MTS Centre. “Everybody is going to go through adversity at some point. As a coach, you want adversity because you do find out more about your group, it does make you stronger. If you had your choice, you’d like to spread that adversity out a little bit. You wouldn’t want it right out of the gate, but you don’t get a choice in that.
“We’ll deal with it and I’m comfortable with our group that we’ll come out on the other side.”
The Devils have a strong Manitoban contingent with Winnipegger Travis Zajac and Brandon product Bryce Salvador both in the lineup.
Zajac is playing centre on the Devils second line, while Salvador, the team captain, is on the top defence pairing.
The Devils will start former Manitoba Moose netminder Cory Schneider in goal, which is a nice move by DeBoer — who is familiar with Schneider’s background in this city.
I had a chance to speak with Schneider on Saturday afternoon and had a good visit. I wrote about him in the paper and online at www.winnipegsun.com but there were a couple items that didn’t make it into the expanded online story.
Earlier this week, Schneider made his return to Vancouver to face the Canucks — losing in overtime after receiving a warm ovation.
“I was glad to get that out of the way early, just so we can all move on and not be distracted by it,” said Schneider. “It was a lot of fun and the fans were very good to me there as well and kind of gave me a nice ovation at the start, which is something they didn’t have to do. It was a fun game, it was exciting. The game had a lot of hype and stuff and hopefully, it lived up to it, even though we didn’t get the W.”
Schneider also told me that he was able to share a private moment with Roberto Luongo, his former goalie partner with the Canucks.
“It was good to see him again, shake his hand and talk to him and everything,” said Schneider. “I’m keeping an eye on him and hopefully, he does well. He’s a good friend and a very good goalie.”
Schneider also spoke about his quest to try and be part of Team USA at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
“It was an honour to be invited to that camp in the summer. Goaltending has come a long way in the U.S.,” he said. “It wasn’t exactly our strongest position 10 years ago and now you could pick four, five or six guys and feel pretty good about yourself. It’s a great sign for USA hockey that we’re considering ourselves contenders and not just showing up and trying to compete.
“For me personally, your team success will translate into getting on the radar. First and foremost, I’m focused on playing well here and winning and hopefully, that will take care of itself.”
Here’s how I expect both teams to start on Sunday: (thanks to Tom Gulitti, @TGfireandice for the Devils’ lineup)
Evander Kane-Bryan Little-Blake Wheeler
Andrew Ladd-Mark Scheifele-Michael Frolik
Eric Tangradi-Olli Jokinen-Devin Setoguchi
James Wright-Jim Slater-Matt Halischuk
Toby Enstrom-Dustin Byfuglien
Zach Bogosian-Jacob Trouba
Mark Stuart-Paul Postma
Al Monotya (Ondrej Pavelec)
Dainus Zubrus-Patrik Elias-Jaromir Jagr
Ryane Clowe-Travis Zajac-Damien Brunner
Adam Henrique-Andrei Loktionov-Michael Ryder
Rostislav Olesz-Stephane Gionta-Steve Bernier
Bryce Salvador-Marek Zidlicky
Andy Greene-Adam Larsson
Anton Volchenkov-Peter Harrold
Cory Schneider (Martin Brodeur)