JETS SNAPSHOTS: Finding explosive mix Job 1 for Maurice... Stastny wants to enjoy wing nights

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What to do with that talent-heavy top six.

That might be head coach Paul Maurice’s most critical chemistry experiment as the Winnipeg Jets boss tries to concoct a playoff-ready product over the next 34 games.

How to mix Pierre-Luc Dubois and Paul Stastny, both centres, into the solution appears to be at the head of the lab table this week.

The Jets finished Monday’s 4-0 loss to Vancouver with Dubois moved down to centre the second line, between Nik Ehlers and Kyle Connor, while Stastny took an unusual place on the left side of the top line, next to Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler.

“That idea that I finished with was probably the first thing that I wrote down after the trade, that that’s the way it would look,” Maurice said before Tuesday’s rematch with the Canucks. “So I do want to see it for a while. But I’m not going to leave it five games if it’s not going. I’ll move it around again because there are other options.”

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One of those is as comfortable to Maurice as a favourite pair of old blue jeans: Scheifele between Wheeler and Connor.

“And I like the idea of Stastny on the wing as a mentor for Pierre-Luc and Nikolaj Ehlers,” the coach continued. “That could be really, really good. We may end up going there as well.”

Wheeler said after Monday’s game his coach is likely tinkering today with the goal of “solidifying his vision” for the latter part of the season.

Maurice isn’t sure the mixture ever solidifies.

“You’re probably never ever getting to it, because somebody is getting dinged up, banged up or you have a guy playing that you know is hurt a bit so you’re protecting him,” the coach said. “all you want is two or three places to go with your lineup that when you make that change everybody on your bench goes, ‘Yeah… okay, this has worked before.’”

Don’t over-think it

Wheeler pointed out Monday’s game probably marked just the second time in Stastny’s life he’d played left wing, and his friend didn’t disagree.

“Just thinking that I’m playing wing might be the hardest part,” Stastny said. “I played right wing before, not left. Sometimes breakouts might be a little tougher, just because you’re on the wall. As a centreman, it’s a lot easier to be underneath the puck.”

It’s a far more doable transition for Stastny at this stage of his career.

“If this had happened earlier in my career, you’re thinking differently, you’re over-thinking it,” is how he put it. “If you make too much fuss out of it, it gets in your own head. So for me… just go out there and have fun.”

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Stastny sees the centre position as demanding a bit more thought, more of a big-picture look, at least in the defensive zone. But he says he finds that part easy.

The key to trying a new spot is communicating with linemates – who’s got whom? – when coming back to defend.

“Once you get that puck out of the zone, you’re just playing hockey again.”

Centre of attention

Going back to centre is like going home for Dubois.

“Centre has been the position I’ve played pretty much my entire career in the NHL,” he said. “I started left-wing, but only for 12 or 13 games. Centre allows me to skate more, allows me to battle more.”

That’s why Maurice eased Dubois into the lineup as a winger, after his post-trade quarantine and then injury.

Placing him alongside the more predictable Wheeler-Scheifele combination made sense, too.

Going into Monday’s game, Maurice knew Dubois was ready for more, ready to anchor his own line again.

So with his team generating nothing, he made the switch in an attempt to spark some offence.

Winnipeg Jets centre Pierre-Luc Dubois (centre) tries to power through Vancouver Canucks forwards J.T. Miller (left) and Adam Gaudette in Winnipeg on Tuesday, March 2, 2021.
Winnipeg Jets centre Pierre-Luc Dubois (centre) tries to power through Vancouver Canucks forwards J.T. Miller (left) and Adam Gaudette in Winnipeg on Tuesday, March 2, 2021. Photo by Kevin King /Kevin King/Winnipeg Sun

“Being able to do all it takes at the centre position, battle in the corners, faceoffs and stuff like that, I felt like I was ready,” Dubois said. “Physically, I was ready. Mentally, I was also good to go back to centre.”

He found himself with one very different player in Ehlers, to his right. Connor, on his left, is more similar to the style Scheifele plays.

Which begs the question: what style of player is Dubois best suited for, a free-flowing winger like Ehlers or an up-and-down winger like Wheeler — or something in between?

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Dubois considers his job to be that of an adapter.

“There’s different styles of wingers in the NHL and I’ve played with a lot of combinations,” he said. “Your job as a centre is to support your wingers. If you have a guy like Nik, who is speedy and, like you said, more free-flowing, then you adapt to that. Maybe you have to skate more and stuff. If you’re with a guy like Wheels, close support and nice little plays and nice passes, close passing, then you’ve got to slow it down and play closer to him.

“But there’s so much talent in this lineup it’s just about adapting to the style of the winger you have.”

The man in charge of plugging in that adapter in order to get the most charge into his lineup says it’s an ever-changing current, even within games.

Maurice says he’s not just mixing and matching for the sake of it, either.

“I would never put experimentation above winning the game.”

pfriesen@postmedia.com

Twitter: @friesensunmedia

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