Losses Put Focus on Jets Lineup Decisions

For a few glorious weeks there, it seemed as if the Winnipeg Jets could do no wrong. Then they went on a quick road trip.

It would be wrong to say that it all came unraveled during that road trip. Sure, they only took one of a possible six points from Tampa Bay, Florida and Detroit, but it’s only three games. Hardly the end of the world given how the season has gone so far.

Some holes most certainly appeared in the ship over those three games, however, and the Jets can’t afford to ignore them. It may seem like the Jets’ start lets them hit cruise control, but this is still the ultra-competitive Western Conference.

In particular, some personnel decisions that didn’t seem glaring when the Jets were winning but get thrown into sharp relief when they lose have drawn the ire of fans and observers. The loss to Tampa Bay in particular brought some questions.

While not every complaint here is totally valid (Jack Roslovic is doing just fine in the AHL for now, thank you very much), there are some noteworthy points here. With Tucker Poolman being so young, it makes little sense for his development to be playing in the press box.

Then too, there’s the fact that Mathieu Perreault, with 15 points in 18 games, played an average of 9:37 per game over the road trip. While Perreault is in a good place on the line with Joel Armia, he could certainly stand to get more ice time overall.

He could also use some help on that line. Matt Hendricks is many things, but offensively inclined isn’t one of them. Perreault could use another scorer to complete that line.

It doesn’t have to be a centreman either. Perreault himself can play center. Given his ability to make those around him better, it would be interesting to see what he can do with Marko Dano, another young player whose development is not aided by all this press box time.

Jets Should Play Dano

On the subject of Dano, his underlying numbers this year haven’t been good, but there are a couple of contextual caveats to that. One, those numbers came early in the season when the Jets’ bottom six was a complete mess. Two, those numbers represent an outlier in his career, in which he’s otherwise posted positive CF% Rel.

Dano hasn’t played since October, and in six games he averaged 7:24 of ice time. He isn’t exactly being put into a position to succeed, and unlike Nic Petan, who is the same age, he wasn’t sent to the AHL to get some ice time. His waiver status likely impacted that, in fairness.

That said, when Kyle Connor had to sit out a game against Ottawa, it was Shawn Matthias who drew into the lineup, not Dano. Given that Dano spent time in the top six last year after injuries, it’s hard to watch him languishing in a suit for games now.

Dano’s NHL career has certainly been a rocky one, and he’s had a hard time gaining the trust of his coaches. Yet when he’s in the lineup, he makes his team better. And no team, not even one that was briefly atop the Western Conference, can ignore a chance to get better.

Tucker Poolman Deserves a Chance

On the defensive end, an injury to Toby Enstrom (an all-too-common theme of recent years) forced Ben Chiarot into action. He’s played in 11 games since then with two assists and 16 PIMS (all minor penalties) and negative 5-on-5 possession metrics.

This is Poolman’s first pro season, and although he made the Jets out of camp and played well in his three games in October, he was sent back to the AHL in order to play. He should still be playing, as what was true of Poolman in October is still true: he’s a young player whose development is better for him getting on the ice.

Chiarot knew at the start of the year he was likely to be a seventh defenseman, called in if an injury occurred. He’s filled in for Enstrom for a while, but now it’s time to see what the kid can do. After all, Poolman earned rave reviews for his play at the start of the year.

Tucker Poolman
Coming off his UND career, Tucker Poolman made a relatively seamless transition to the pros. (Photo: Eric Classen, UND Athletics)

Poolman’s great start was a long time ago, but he’s not going to regain that form sitting in the press box. Since the Jets won’t send him down to the Moose again until Enstrom returns, it’s time for him to play.

With Dustin Byfuglien possibly going down injured, it may be unavoidable for Poolman to get game action, but it shouldn’t have had to come to that. Even if Byfuglien is ready to go against the Canucks, Poolman should play.

All of these may seem like minor nitpicks, and next to the Jets’ record, they are. The Jets’ success this year means little details will start to be scrutinized harder, of course. And nitpicking is, after all, part of a columnist’s job.

More importantly, however, the Jets need some nitpicking to optimize their lineup. They cannot fall into the trap of thinking they have a playoff spot all locked up just because things are going well right now. The injury bug, which has been relatively light on the Jets this year, could bite at any time, among other things.

The Jets need to put themselves in the best possible position to succeed, and that means icing the best possible lineup. If that means making a couple of minor tweaks after a quick lesson on the road, so be it.