EVERETT — Once again, the Everett Silvertips find themselves reshaping their defense on the fly.
Defenseman Mirco Mueller departed for the World Junior Hockey Championships on Sunday morning, meaning the Tips were forced to shuffle the deck on the blue line one more time.
“We’re just trying to adjust every day,” overage defenseman Connor Cox said. “We’ve got guys in and out of the lineup every night, so it’s a little tough to get chemistry going with one guy. So we try to play as good as we can whoever you end up out there with, and just try to talk it out as much as we can in the D zone.”
Everett has undergone all kinds of turnover on defense this season. There was the unexpected return of captain Ryan Murray, courtesy of the NHL lockout. There was the addition of Cox, who was claimed at the overager deadline. That led to a glut on defense, precipitating the move of overager Landon Oslanski from defense to forward.
But then came the attrition. Murray was lost for the season because of a torn labrum in his shoulder. Rookie Griffin Foulk was dealt to Seattle. Nick Walters, one of Everett’s few remaining experienced d-men, missed games because of an injury suffered during a fight.
Now Mueller, who took over for Murray as the team’s No. 1 defenseman, is on duty with the Swiss national under-20 team. He’ll be gone until the World Juniors, which take place in Ufa, Russia, conclude on Jan. 5.
All of which leaves Everett coach Mark Ferner doing his best MacGyver impersonation in piecing a defense together.
“We’re just going to have to cope,” Ferner said. “Someone is going to have to eat those minutes that Mirco and Murr played. If you look at our record after we lost Murr, it’s pretty good (5-6), and we know how valuable Murr is. Guys have stepped up and we’re going to have to do it again.”
Mueller’s departure leaves the Tips with seven defensemen on the roster, provided Oslanski is still classified as a d-man. Those seven include Walters, who missed the previous four games, and Micheal Zipp, a 16-year-old recent call-up who has one game of WHL experience.
The first question is what do the Tips do with Oslanski? Oslanski has played well as a right wing, and Ferner would like to keep him there. But Oslanksi has bounced between forward and defense the past two weeks, depending on the team’s need that particular night. With Murray and Mueller both unavailable, there’s a good chance Oslanski will be needed on defense.
“That’s something we have to talk about,” Ferner said when asked about how Oslanski will be deployed. “I thought he played a real good game last game on the back end. He’s an older guy who’s been around, who’s good back there and good up front. But at what cost? With Micheal, we have to get him into 55 percent of our games (16-year-olds are required to play a pro-rated 40 games), and we need to win some hockey games, too. There’s a line there we have to talk about.”
The good news for Everett is that Walters appears ready to return. The 18-year-old, who is the only NHL draft pick on the Tips’ roster other than Murray, practiced Monday, and there’s a good chance he’ll return for tonight’s game at Tri-City.
But even if Walters is back, Everett will be without its two best puck-moving defensemen in Murray and Mueller. But Ferner wants his d-men to stay within themselves and not try to replace those who are gone.
“It’s just a matter of making sure the guys understand the situation and not try to do too much,” Ferner said. “We need to really pay attention to the details and simplify our game.”
Added Cox: “It’s going to be tough. We just have to play a solid game and not try to fill those roles too much. We just need to play our own games, play simple and keep it out of our net.”
Check out Nick Patterson’s Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at NickHPatterson.