With center Bryan Little out of the lineup for an undetermined amount of time with a perforated eardrum, Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice knew he’d have to make some adjustments.
His first move was to text captain Blake Wheeler.
“I said this is the direction I’d like to consider, and I had some line combinations,” Maurice said of his idea to move Wheeler to center on the Jets’ second line.
“His answer was, ‘Yes, I’d love it,'” Maurice said. “He was all for it.”
Wheeler spent Thursday’s practice centering Nikolaj Ehlers and Jack Roslovic and will make his season debut at that position Friday night when the Jets play host to the Vancouver Canucks.
Wheeler moved to center two years ago when Mark Scheifele was injured. The Jets went 11-2-3 with Wheeler in the middle and he won nearly 50 percent of his faceoffs.
“I think playing with Jack and Fly, our line can be pretty fast up and down the ice. I think there is going to be a lot of north-south speed,” said Wheeler, who normally plays right wing on the top line. “Playing in the middle is going to allow me to carry the puck a little bit more, play with it a bit more.
“Those guys match where our game needs to go — fly up the ice with speed, try to make our plays with speed, and from there we can open some things up and make some seam plays. I liked our practice.”
Little suffered the injury in the third period of Tuesday’s 2-1 shootout loss to New Jersey when he was struck in the ear by Ehlers’ errant slap shot.
“Presently the symptom he is dealing with is vertigo,” Maurice said. “The positives are our doctors expect him to make a full recovery. I don’t have any timeline for you, we’ll just let the healing happen.”
The Canucks will be playing the second game of a back-to-back. They had an eight-game point streak snapped with a 5-2 loss at Chicago on Thursday.
The Canucks were 5-0-3 during their run. They fell behind 2-0 in the first period Thursday and never caught up.
“No, we weren’t ready to start the game,” said forward J.T. Miller, who scored one of Vancouver’s goals. “We weren’t moving our feet, weren’t executing. Got behind the eight-ball early. It’s hard to come back in this league.”
Jake Virtanen also scored for the Canucks and Jacob Markstrom made 32 saves.
Chicago put the game away with three goals in the final 5:06.
“I just don’t think we were very good,” Canucks coach Travis Green said. “We didn’t look sharp, we didn’t handle the puck very well. … We just weren’t very good (Thursday), some players.
“And we’ve talked a lot about that, our consistency in our game. If 100 percent is your best game, you can’t play a 60-percent game. You have to find a way to play at least 80. We just weren’t very good.”
–Field Level Media