Jets' flailing in a shallow bench

By: Adam Wazny | Tuesday, April 2

Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist and the rest of the New York Rangers stymied the Winnipeg Jets on April 1 at Madison Square Garden in New York. The Rangers won 4-2. (Bill Kostroun/Associated Press)

The lack of depth on the Winnipeg Jets roster was quite apparent in the 4-2 loss to the New York Rangers Monday night.

Winnipeg, already down regulars in defenceman Mark Stuart, winger James Wright and centre Jim Slater, saw its shallow pool of NHL quality tested early inside Madison Square Garden when defenceman Grant Clitsome was forced to leave the game with an eye injury.

That unforeseen event forced the Jets (18-17-2) to play with five defenceman. No big deal, it happens to every NHL club from time to time, and because of this unfortunate turn, head coach Claude Noel felt compelled to give his heavy-minute eaters -- Dustin Byfuglien, Zach Bogosian, Toby Enstrom -- even more time in a close contest (the three combined for just under 80 minutes, by the way).

Normally, this wouldn't be a big deal, as it's standard practice for the Jets coach to ride his best players with the outcome of the game still in the balance. Winnipeg was born with a short bench.

As the defence was getting maxed out, two skaters on the fourth line -- Patrice Cormier and Chris Thorburn -- sat and watched. Cormier, who saw two shifts and 1:06 of ice Saturday afternoon, played a whopping 1:39 Monday night, and didn't see a shift in the final two periods.

Thorburn, meanwhile, had five shifts (only one in the final 40 minutes) for an exhausting 2:21 minutes.

No surprise. Noel has ignored the fourth line for much of the year, using only Slater (who's currently injured) in faceoff situations that in turn, have lifted his minutes into double digits. Depth at forward was the biggest concern facing the Jets coming into the season; the season will end with the same questions. This fact of Jet life doesn't completely remove Noel from the hook, though.

Winnipeg takes on the New York Islanders tonight (6 p.m.). Both clubs are fighting for playoff aspirations in the Eastern Conference, so it's no stretch to predict another close affair full of intensity and desperation.

The big names on defence should expect to play a lot again.

Knowing this back-to-back scheduling test, knowing his club will play three games in four nights this week (a visit to Montreal comes Thursday) and knowing two of his forwards won't see a regular shift -- even if things are going well on the scoreboard -- Noel, who's wrestled with managing the minutes on his roster all season, should be considering alternatives to reinforce his roster.

Monday would have been a good time to start.

If Cormier and Thorburn aren't going to play, why not dress another rearguard as another option on the blueline? Remember, the Jets are carrying extra defencemen in Paul Postma and Arturs Kulda these days. This isn't a second guess after the Clitsome injury, either. It's about overseeing a roster that's lost three straight games (six of its last nine) and a club that's looked a little tired of late.

The worry Winnipeg is running out of gas is real.

Noel could give the offensive-minded Postma minutes on the second power play group. Who knows, maybe he'll help a unit that's gone 0-for-its-last-12 over the last three games. Or maybe he won't. Maybe Kulda can provide a little more stability in the Jets end. Or maybe he can't.

We do know this, though: Cormier and Thorburn can't help the power play, nor have they shown to be the defensive difference.

At the very least -- at the very least -- a seventh defenceman gives Noel some insurance on the bench; extra bodies on the blueline are always a good thing.

Everyone understands the Jets aren't deep enough to compete with the elite teams in the NHL. This is accepted as fact, a reality born out of a lack of foresight from a previous administration. What the club can control, though, is how they distribute that depth from game to game, and right now, the coaching staff is not maximizing the various pieces they have at their disposal.

Adding an extra defenceman to the lineup may or may not lead to more wins, but having the option available has to be better than dressing forwards who never see the ice.

Opinion

Adam Wazny is a Winnipeg-based freelance writer who has covered sports in the city for over a decade. He has worked as a reporter for both the Winnipeg Free Press and the Winnipeg Sun, and now spends most of his time checking his Twitter. Did someone say Twitter? Find him here: @wazoowazny.

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