After a short stretch of shutdown hockey the Winnipeg Jets have stumbled again defensively, allowing 11 goals over their past two games.
While a focus on team defence was the major theme at training camp, the results have not come easily. Nor will they, according to head coach Paul Maurice.
“That will be a work in progress all year,” Maurice said following the Jets’ 4-2 loss to the Arizona Coyotes on Tuesday. “That’s not getting switch-flipped next week and saying, alright now we’re a defensive juggernaut. We’re going to have to work really, really hard to become a solid defensive team.”
Few will be surprised the Jets are struggling on the back end with so much turnover. But it’s easy to overlook that major defensive pieces still remain.
Amongst all the defensive chaos the Jets have displayed this season, Adam Lowry has been a rock. Of the team’s 30 goals allowed, Lowry has been on the ice for just two of them, one of which came while Winnipeg was shorthanded. Impressive considering Lowry starts more than 70 per cent of his shifts in the defensive zone.
He’s the exact type of player you would think the Jets need more of right now. Instead, Lowry’s average ice time of 12:12 per game is the lowest of his career — more than two minutes less than he played last season.
Here’s the problem. Lowry is hockey’s definition of Even Steven. He won’t allow many goals against, but he won’t score many either. Case in point, he’s been on the ice for just one Jets goal this season. It makes sense given that Winnipeg is more likely to turn to offensive options when trailing a game, something they have been forced to do far too much this season.
What Lowry needs are wingers who can hang with him defensively while chipping in offensively. That’s what this team had last season when Lowry, Brandon Tanev and Andrew Copp combined for 77 points. Many of those were scored while shutting down opponents’ most prolific lines.
But Tanev is gone and Copp has been unavailable to Lowry so far and that’s created a big problem for the Jets.
This is where we see how Bryan Little‘s absence from the lineup due to a concussion has caused a major blow to Winnipeg’s lineup. Not only are they playing without their second line centre, but it’s forced Maurice to take Copp off Lowry’s line to fill in for Little. As a result, Maurice seems to have lost faith in his revamped shut down line around Lowry.
It’s been a work in progress so far as Lowry has cycled through a list of wingers including Jack Roslovic, Mark Letestu, Gabriel Bourque and Mathieu Perreault.
The good news: Little was back in a regular contact jersey this week and practicing with his teammates, which indicates he could be ready to return soon. The bad news: he’s not ready to return to the lineup on Thursday against the Islanders.
When Little does return — perhaps Sunday versus Edmonton — don’t expect it to be a cure-all solution to the Jets’ defensive woes.
But at the moment, getting any missing piece of this puzzle back is sorely welcome.