Jets need top-line shuffle for success in final stretch

Spreading some of the Jets' top-line wealth could be the secret ingredient needed to help the Jets heading in to the final month of the season.

Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little, Blake Wheeler need to move

Winnipeg Jets' Blake Wheeler (26), Bryan Little (18) and Andrew Ladd (16) celebrate after Little opened the scoring against the Tampa Bay Lightning during first period NHL hockey action in Winnipeg on Sunday, March 24, 2013. (Trevor Hagan Canadian Press)

Desperate times call for desperate measures.

In 16 games in March, the Jets barely averaged more than two goals (2.06), almost a full goal shy of the number they’ve allowed (2.81) in that stretch. In seven of those games, the Jets have scored one goal or less, including three shutouts.

It’s the kind of numbers that make you wonder if the Jets top line, which consist of captain Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler, is no longer untouchable.

Spreading some of the wealth of that line could be the secret ingredient needed to help the Jets heading in to the final month of the season. 

And with 12 games remaining on the schedule and the Jets clinging to top spot in the Southeast division, desperate times call for desperate measures.

First move:  promote Kane to the first line, alongside Little and Wheeler.

Kane deserves a centreman who can give him the puck. He can’t be relied upon every game to create his own chances.

Second move: Ladd should be moved to the second line, joined by none other than Dustin Byfuglien.

With Tobias Entsrom back in the line up, Mark Stuart scheduled to return soon and Derek Meech playing sound and responsible hockey, the move could be seamless.

Ladd and Byfuglien played together for spurts in Chicago, earning a Stanley Cup in 2010. In addition, these two guys could be just what the doctor ordered for veteran Olli Jokinen to salvage his disappointing season.

The choice to split up the Ladd-Little-Wheeler line would be a difficult one.

Head coach Claude Noel has been the greatest ambassador for this line. In multiple post game press conferences following a Jets’ victory, Noel has credited the efforts of his top line with the win.

There’s no doubt they’ve been the best line for Winnipeg this year.

The Jets have a record of 15-5 when one of these guys score in a game. When they don’t, the Jets are a dismal 3-13.

But if there’s anything to learn from Saturday’s 4-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes, it’s that secondary scoring won’t come easy if something doesn’t change.

With the top-line in tact, Noel did everything he could in the game to create chemistry for Kane.

Kane played close to every second shift -- he logged a season high 25:53 of ice-time- with what appeared to be different line-mates each time.

To make room for more ice-time, Noel sat his entire fourth line.

Recent call-up Patrice Cormier warmed the bench for most of the game, playing just over a minute, while Chris Thorburn and Eric Tangradi averaged close to five.

Despite these moves, nothing clicked.

"No one’s more disappointed than us," said Noel following the loss.

"I’m sure everyone is disappointed. We didn’t come here anticipating this. The division race is going to get played out but we didn’t have this in mind."

Missed opportunities were top of mind for the Jets captain. 

"If we could have put a couple more in their net, it’s a different story," commented Ladd. 

"At the end of the day, it lies on us to get the job done, and we understand that. We just didn’t put the puck in the net."

It’s easy to suggest that messing with the best part of the Jets forward make-up would be a big mistake.

As mentioned above, the stats suggest the success of the team lies with the success of the Jets’ top line.

But consider this last stat: The Jets are 9-3 when Kane scores and 4-2 when Byfuglien finds the back of the net.

Imagine the possibilities of both these guys getting the chance to do this every night.