It did not look good when Winnipeg Jets defenceman Nathan Beaulieu took a John Tavares-shot off his left hand early in the second period of Tuesday Night’s 4-3 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Beaulieu could not grip his stick with his injured hand while play continued on. And when there finally was a stoppage in play, the veteran blueliner skated straight to the bench and never returned.
Following Wednesday’s practice, Jets head coach Paul Maurice confirmed Beaulieu will be out for “weeks” and would be going on injured reserve.
“It’s going to be probably more than one or two (weeks), but I don’t think it’s in the four to six range,” said Maurice when asked for a little more detail. “It’s in that midweek range we believe, but it’s all going to be about healing and we’ll see where it goes from there.”
It’s a tough break — at least figuratively speaking — for the 28-year-old former first-round draft pick of the Montreal Canadiens. The six-foot-two, 200-pound rearguard had played in all 25 games this season after missing 33 games last year as a result of three separate broken bone-blocking shots.
“It bothers you because Nathan’s a guy that over the last few years of his career has come in on one and two-year deals. I mean this is his livelihood, and he’s selling that — his willingness to do that is clearly on display,” what Maurice said after being asked how bad he felt for his player. “And every time he does, and he takes a big injury it impacts his ability for the next year, unfortunately.”
Maurice was the second team member on Wednesday to use the term “heart and soul” to describe Beaulieu. Dylan DeMelo also chose those words when asked about seeing his current defence partner have to leave the ice before Tuesday’s game had even reached the midway point. “Tough injury for Nate. He blocks a lot of shots, sacrifices his body, takes a lot of hits, obviously steps up to fight. So to see him take one and miss the rest of the game … we hope he’s OK.”
That was before Maurice shared the update — and his own take on why the nine-year pro carries the respect he does throughout the Jets organization.
“He’s not getting out of the lane of a shot,” said the head coach about Beaulieu. “The price he paid for that is injuries that impact him personally. And then he’s willing to do that. So there would be a really good example of why we value his character and the importance of him in our room.”
The fact that Beaulieu is not counted on much for offence — he has 1-13-14 in 81 career games with Winnipeg since coming over from Buffalo for a 6th round draft pick in a 2019 trade deadline deal — won’t have much of an effect on a defence corps that is already among the lowest-scoring in the NHL this season.
Josh Morrissey’s game-tying goal on Tuesday night was only the fifth scored by a Jets blueliner this season.
DeMelo says part of that is how the team is structured. “We definitely have some skill on the back end where we can get some goals, but I think the strength of our team is our forward group, and I think that’s no surprise,” said the former Shark and Senator. “That’s not a slight to the defense or anything like that — I think it’s just how good our forward group is. You know I’ve been on some good teams in San Jose and I really think this is the best forward group I’ve ever played on. Top to bottom there’s some skill and you know it’s evident every night. There’s some plays that you’re like ‘Holy … boy that’s a really good play.’”
The same can be said for the collection of talent up front for Toronto, and DeMelo says he and his teammates are well aware of the challenge they face in games two and three of this series on Thursday and Saturday. “They’re a team that they improvise very well. They have really good players with offensive instincts that nothing is too structured on how they play,” explained DeMelo. “Yeah, they go to the net, they have a guy in the slot all the time. But you know their best plays are usually their creativity that comes out — and that’s the skill set that they have.”
DeMelo says ideally, the Jets won’t subject their netminding tandem to the same volume of Grade A chances Connor Hellebuyck faced among his 36 saves in Tuesday’s victory. “We’d like to have it shut down a little better, but that’s a heckuva team over there and the next two games will be a lot of fun, that’s for sure.”
Still to be determined is whether it will be Sami Niku or Logan Stanley who will be “next man up” to take the place of Beaulieu. And Maurice might have given a bit of a hint that it would be Stanley, who last saw action in a heartbreaking 2-1 loss to Ottawa back on Feb. 13 to end a stretch of 13 consecutive games played.
“We have two lefthanded defensemen that have both played this year. It may mean that we’re going to have to get some penalty killing out of that guy,” Maurice said.
Niku was in the lineup for the first three games of the season and also played the final three games of February in place of an injured Tucker Poolman.
Thursday’s broadcast on 680 CJOB begins at 4 p.m. CT with the Anchor Products Pregame show. The play-by-play team of Paul Edmonds and analyst Jamie Thomas will call the action starting at 6 p.m.
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