WINNIPEG - In his 30 years of playing and coaching in the NHL, Charlie Huddy has rarely seen anything like it.
Due to a rash of injuries, the Winnipeg Jets have used 12 different players on defence through just 23 games of the NHL season.
Huddy, a former Edmonton Oilers blue-liner who now coaches the Jets defence, isn’t amazed at the number of players as much as he is at the job the peacemeal group has done.
Though the Jets are tied for 25th in the NHL in goals against with an average of 3.17 per game, Huddy believes it could be worse, if not for the blue-line depth in the organization.
“You always run into issues where you never have enough defencemen that can actually come in and play and you get into some trouble, but we’ve been lucky that way,” Huddy said Monday as the Jets prepared for Tuesday night’s game against the Ottawa Senators (7:30 p.m., MTS Centre).
“It’s a good job by the organization of having enough defencemen. We’ve been lucky that the guys we’ve put in have done a real great job for us.”
The Jets started the season with eight defencemen but four of those players — Tobias Enstrom, Ron Hainsey, Randy Jones and Derek Meech — have missed significant time with injuries.
Almost since the beginning of the season, it’s just been plug and play.
Four players have been called up from St. John’s of the AHL and two of them — Mark Flood and Arturs Kulda — have seen regular ice time the last couple of weeks. They’ve done so well, the Jets defence has actually looked more composed than it did early in the season.
“I’m very happy,” Huddy said. “Anytime you lose three defencemen out of your lineup, it could turn ugly. We’ve been fortunate to have guys step in and not miss a beat and just carry through.”
Flood, 27, has been particularly effective for the Jets, with three goals, two assists and a plus-2 rating so far. Kulda has no points, but has been responsible in his own end and is plus-2 as well. Flood’s averaging 16:38 in ice time per game, Kulda 11:12.
“It’s tough for young D to come in and play at this level, you know, things happen quick out there,” Huddy said.
“Flooder has done a great job for us. He’s contributed offensively, he’s been great defensively and he’s been killing some penalties for us too. Arturs has come in and played solid. They’ve been playing together as a pair and I haven’t had any problems with them, they’ve just done a real good job for us.”
Defenceman Zach Bogosian, who has stepped up in the absence of veteran players like Enstrom and Hainsey, doesn’t think many teams would have been able to weather the storm this well.
“It’s definitely something I’ve never been around for before,” said Bogosian, who lead active Jets in ice time with 24:08. “It’s big when guys get called up from the American League and chip in the way they are.
“Our defence has responded pretty well as far as how many guys are coming up and down, in and out of the lineup and having different D partners all the time.”
Enstrom, who is out with a broken collarbone, is back skating and Hainsey is day-to-day with a lower body injury, so it’s possible the Jets will have their top six defencemen back together relatively soon.
But the organization could be better off on the whole, with so many blue-liners getting NHL experience and showing what they can do in big-time situations.
“It’s just a good sign of the depth in the organization,” said Flood, who has a case to stick around even after the aformentioned starters get healthy. “There’s a lot of capable defencemen here and we’ve proven that.
“There’s always injuries. It’s an unfortanate part of the game but sometimes it’s an opportunity for other guys.
“We’ve done a pretty good job and hopefully we can keep it going.”