When the Winnipeg Jets fired Claude Noel on Sunday, they did so for a change. Nothing much was working for them, after losing five straight games to enter 2014. When new hire Paul Maurice hit the ice on Monday morning, just hours before the Jets took on the Phoenix Coyotes, changes were felt immediately, as the teams’ offensive lines had a significant shakeup. It seemed to work for them, as they scored five goals, snapping the losing streak and earning Maurice his first win behind the Jets’ bench.
Maurice’s biggest decision to make in his first day on the job was where Dustin Byfuglien would play. The Jets’ defenseman practiced as a forward for most of the previous week, and played as one of the top-six forwards in Noel’s last game, a Saturday night loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets. Byfuglien was placed in that role to fill the void left by the injured Evander Kane, who missed his second straight game with a hand injury on Monday.
Byfuglien followed up a so-so performance on Saturday with a breakout game against the ‘Yotes, showing some of the vintage “Big Buff” that helped the Chicago Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup in 2010. Byfuglien had his feet moving hard in both directions, was a dynamic body in front of the net, and pressured defenders into rushed passes. Byfuglien finished the game with two assists, one coming on the power-play as a defenseman, and the other coming as a forward.
Aside from Byfuglien, the Jets found a spark by separating Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler, who had been together for the majority of the year on the top line. Little remained on the first line, centering Andrew Ladd and Michael Frolik, while Wheeler dropped to the Jets’ second line with Chris Thorburn and Mark Scheifele. Both Little and Wheeler had a point in the win.
Winnipeg’s fourth line even got in on the action, with Eric O’Dell scoring his second career NHL goal in as many games. O’Dell, Anthony Peluso, and James Wright were rewarded for their fine effort late in the game, when they started off the Jets’ eighth power-play of the night.
The Jets’ defensive pairs remained the same, and despite some of the worst combined numbers on paper, Jets’ blue-liners accounted for two points offensively.
All throughout the lineup, many things remained consistent: The Jets played a great 200-foot game, leading to the four-goal differential. It also seemed that the Jets’ average shift time was down, allowing each line to hit their assignment with full speed, and change without giving up an odd-man rush.
The Jets spread out the ice-time during the game, as each player began a mini-audition for the new coach, Maurice. As it stands, there won’t be too much work to do if the offense continues this production, although the coaching staff will need to find a way to insert Kane into the lineup on Thursday, when Winnipeg takes on the Calgary Flames.
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