Ben Chiarot will be a top pairing defender for the Jets in Friday’s game against the Predators and the rest of the defense will be shuffled after Toby Enstrom left the team to attend to a personal matter.
The Jets are dealing with six injuries to lineup regulars and the situation isn’t getting any better — at least not on the blueline — as Toby Enstrom has left the team for personal reasons as Winnipeg gets set to close out a five-game road trip.
Enstrom, 32, was absent from the team Thursday as they headed into their Friday meeting against the Nashville Predators, and following practice coach Paul Maurice said that Enstrom was attending to “a family situation” in Sweden with the organization’s support. When he’ll be back, Maurice couldn’t quite say.
"We're hopeful that he comes back and it's a positive result, and we get him back real soon,” Maurice said. “But I don't know when he's going to be able to return.”
Maurice did, however, say that there was a possibility the Jets could know as soon as Friday exactly how long Enstrom would be out of the lineup. No update has been given, though.
Enstrom’s often one of the forgotten men on a backend that includes Dustin Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba and the presently injured Tyler Myers, but the 32-year-old remains a constant in the top four on the blueline and he’s often skating some of the biggest minutes among the Jets rearguards. Through 22 games this season, his 22:22 average ice time is third behind on Byfuglien and Trouba, and Enstrom’s goal and seven points rank are the second-best mark among blueliners in Winnipeg.
“Obviously, Toby is a big part of this defense,” defenseman Ben Chiarot said. “He’s a leader on the team, he’s a big-minute guy for us on the back end. It’s a big hole. But everyone will pick up the slack and try to pick those minutes up.”
And Chiarot is one of those players who will likely be seeing his minutes jump. With Enstrom out of the lineup, it appears Chiarot will jump up to the top pairing alongside Byfuglien, while Trouba will skate with Josh Morrissey on the second pairing. For Chiarot, it could lead to a massive minutes increase. To this point in the season, he’s averaged less than 14 minutes of ice time per game, with Paul Postma being the only other lineup regular who has skated less per game.
Postma’s another player who could see his ice time jump, though, especially if Maurice decides to give heavy minutes to his top two defensemen, Byfuglien and Trouba, and spread the minutes rather evenly across the bottom four throughout Friday’s game. But regardless of who steps up, the Jets need to find something that works to stop their current four-game slide.
“When anyone gets out of the lineup, everyone steps up and obviously tries to play their best,” Postma said. “Hopefully we can turn this thing around and finish off this road trip in the right way.”
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