This latest turn of the line blender was done with a very specific goal in mind.
Of course the element of familiarity was part of this latest shuffling of the lines by Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice, but the root of the decision went much deeper than simply reuniting a trio that enjoyed ample offensive success earlier this season.
There is little doubt Maurice is hoping that Kyle Connor, Pierre-Luc Dubois and Evgeny Svechnikov can recreate some of their chemistry as the Jets get set to open a pivotal stretch of four games before the Christmas break, beginning with Friday’s tilt against Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals.
“Yeah, we had some great success early on,” said Connor, who is tops on the Jets in scoring with 18 goals and 32 points in 28 games. “Just one of those things where we can see if we can re-create some magic.”
The reunion of Andrew Copp with Adam Lowry and Dominic Toninanto now riding shotgun that was also garnering a great deal of attention during Wednesday’s session with reporters.
“Balance would be another way of looking at it,” said Maurice. “We have to get more role identification from our bottom six forwards. If they’re not going to generate much (offence), they have to shut down. We have to get another line we can use. Especially when you look at the next four opponents. They’re going to be two lines deep of skill. There has to be more than one line and we can’t suffer through somebody having an off night and playing against the other team’s best.”
As the Jets search – and struggle – for consistency continues, therein lies the rub.
On far too many nights this season, the Jets have been far too reliant on one line to produce offensively.
To put it another way, the scoring simply hasn’t been spread out enough and that’s part of the reason the Jets have gone from battling for top spot in the Central Division and Western Conference to slugging it out with a handful of teams on the bubble.
On Friday night, the Jets trio of Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler and Connor were flying, seemingly generating scoring chances at will, but they didn’t get much support from the rest of the group – thanks in part to the brilliance of Vancouver Canucks goalie Thatcher Demko.
Then in Tuesday’s disheartening 4-2 loss to the Buffalo Sabres, it was Dubois and Nikolaj Ehlers getting a lot of accomplished, but they didn’t have much help and that was part of the reason Maurice split them up during third period in an effort to spread the offence around and try to get a few more guys going.
For a team that doesn’t appear to be lacking forward depth, this development has been a bit confusing to dissect.
When you look at the skill set of the group, there is enough talent but on many nights, the finish hasn’t been happening at a high enough level and the Jets must continue to work at going to the hard areas around the net with greater frequency.
But this stretches much deeper than just the offensive side of the game.
For much of the past several seasons, Maurice has leaned heavily on Copp and Lowry in a shutdown role, no matter who was used on the right wing with them.
With Copp spending a lot of time in the top-6 though during the last season and change, the Jets haven’t been running a traditional checking line against the opponents best offensive players nearly as often as they did before.
The Dubois and Scheifele lines have handled the responsibility on many nights – with Copp filling in that role when Scheifele was out with Covid-19 for five games earlier this season.
Part of that responsibility will now go back to falling on Lowry’s shoulders and you can be sure he’ll be quick to embrace that change.
But what about Copp, who got off to a hot start offensively but has tailed off a bit of late?
This might be viewed by some observers as a step down to the third line, but it’s not going to lessen what’s going to be asked of him.
Part of the reason Copp has been moved into that spot is to help the third line try and generate more, as the Jets haven’t found enough secondary scoring to date.
The other reason is to try and take some of the pressure off Copp, who is a pending unrestricted free agent and looking to cash in on his next deal – whether that’s staying with the Jets or hitting the open market for the first time in his career.
By putting him back with a familiar linemate, Copp can simplify his game, which will probably allow him to take a deep breath and get back to doing what he does best.
An uptick in offence is likely to follow.
It’s not like Copp is going to be looking at a massive reduction in ice time either, since he’s currently being used on the first power play unit with the absence of captain Blake Wheeler for an extended period of time with a suspected right knee injury.
Copp is usually quick to jump over the boards up front with Lowry on the penalty kill, so if his minutes are going to be shaved at all, it won’t be much and he’s likely going to continue to be earning around 20 minutes of ice time per game.
“I mean Adam has been a huge part of my success over my career,” said Copp, who is third in team scoring with seven goals and 20 points in 28 games.
“He was kind of the guy who has been there for me when I first broke into that role with him and either (Joel) Armia or (Brandon) Tanev or (Mason) Appleton. So, he’s been rock-solid over my career. I don’t look at it as a demotion to play with him.”
That’s the right attitude to take and even if Copp has any possible private disappointment about being moved out of the top-six, he knows exactly what is required of him to earn his next opportunity up the depth chart.
When it comes to Lowry, he’s always taken pride in his defensive game and physical play but just a day earlier, he was sitting at the podium and discussing the need to try and chip in some additional offence as well.
That’s part of his job, even if it’s not his primary responsibility.
“Obviously, the scoring hasn’t been there for (many) of us (on his line) this year,” said Lowry, who has three goals and five points in 28 games. “So we’d like to contribute there, but I think for the most part, the guys that I’ve played with have played well. Now it’s just about kind of getting that (offensive) part of the game going too.”
As for the larger picture, following Friday’s matchup with the Capitals, the Jets are about to embark on a stretch of contests that includes five consecutive games against Central Division opponents – three of which they’re already chasing in the standings and two others that have quickly moved themselves into striking distance of them after slow starts.
That’s sure to crank up the urgency levels, as the Jets understand fully that they can’t afford another slide.
Points are too precious, even if there are still 54 games left on the regular season schedule, and the Jets can’t afford to spend much more time below the playoff line – especially when you consider the increased expectations on this group heading into the campaign.
“For me personally, I’m pretty aware of what’s going on around the league, and where teams sit and who plays who on any given night,” said Lowry. “Obviously we had that rough patch there that kind of moved us down in the standings.
“We’re not where we want to be sitting. There’s a lot of time, but it’s important that we start getting back and playing to our potential and getting the results that we think we can in this room. There’s no sense of panic by any means, but we know it’s important to kind of start stacking points on a nightly basis.”
Ken Wiebe covers the Winnipeg Jets for Sportsnet.ca and is a regular contributor to CJOB.