The return of defensive pairing Dustin Byfuglien and Zach Bogosian from the injury list signalled a sigh of relief for the Winnipeg Jets; the two make up some of the team’s top defencemen, with Byfuglien in particular providing a huge presence (figuratively and literally) both in front of the net and at the blue line.
“They’re obviously two big parts of our back end, and two guys that can log a lot of minutes and skate and help us out on the offensive side too,” said captain Andrew Ladd after a loss against the Philadelphia Flyers on Feb. 12.
Byfuglien, who has been struggling this season with a lower body injury, returned to the ice that evening against the Flyers, but does not yet seem to be performing to the best of his abilities. He has registered just two points (in seven games) since his return, and the 265-pound defenceman known to use his size to his advantage lately seems somewhat hesitant to get physical and throw his weight against the boards in full force.
On the same day that Bogosian finally made his season debut, the Jets’ defensive lineup took yet another blow with Tobias Enstrom injuring his right shoulder during the Feb. 15 game against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Enstrom, the team’s point-leading defenceman with two goals and 11 assists this season, underwent an MRI recently and will “be out for a little while,” as head coach Claude Noel put it.
The injuries only continue, most recently with defenceman Zach Redmond suffering a critical injury when he fell during morning practice on Feb. 21 and was stepped on by fellow teammate Antti Miettinen. The skate blade pierced through Redmond’s thigh, severing his right femoral artery. He was taken by ambulance to the hospital and straight into a three-hour surgery to repair the damage. Not surprisingly, Redmond will not return this season.
“It was my skate that hit it,” stated Miettinen. “I feel pretty bad about what happened. I hope everything goes well for Zach. For the short time that I’ve known him, he’s got a great will and spirit. I just hope the healing process goes well for him.”
These setbacks have likely contributed to the less than favourable season the Jets have been experiencing thus far. Though the team seemed to come out of the gates with a confident and fluid game, the Jets have regressed into the familiar patterns displayed in 2011/2012, filled with clumsy plays and an inability to capitalize on scoring chances.
“It’s something where every guy in this room has to look at [himself] first and realize that there’s more to give,” states Ladd. “You know, it’s not okay to just go out there and do your job and come off the ice. We want guys to try to make an impact every time they touch the ice and make things happen, and you’ve got to have that attitude to be a successful team.”
After a long stretch on the road where the Jets have been able to pull in a few key victories, they will head home to face the New Jersey Devils on Feb. 28. The team will likely look to Ladd to deliver in this difficult game, as he is one of the Winnipeg players, along with Blake Wheeler and Evander Kane, who has been able to consistently find the back of the net over the past few weeks, scoring eight points over the past seven games. Wheeler has also picked up the pace with five points over three games for the Jets.
“Right now we can’t afford [to] sit around here and wait for other guys to [step up]; everyone has to jump on board and be a part of the solution,” said Ladd. “At the end of the day it’s up to each individual to commit to getting better for your buddy sitting next to you and for the team.”