Most observers realized this year's version of the Skipjacks' defense would never be confused with any of the fine backliners the Washington Capitals' organization had produced in the past.
And that was when the season began and the entire unit was healthy.
A patchwork effort at best, last night's crew against the New Haven Nighthawks at the Arena was without its top three players -- Kent Paynter, Chris Felix and Mark Ferner -- and featured four rookies, a brawler and a 13-year NHL veteran.
Despite its obvious liabilities, the corps held together and played one of its finer games this season, holding the Nighthawks at bay in a 6-3 victory.
Coach Robbie Laird was quick to praise the entire unit for the gutty win, but was especially impressed with the play of veteran Joel Quenneville, 32, who has stepped in to lead the unit.
"It's no secret we're a little inexperienced on defense, but Joel has been very eager to help the younger guys out," Laird said. "It's not the best team we've put on the ice this year, but we seemed to do just enough to win."
Quenneville, who was a team captain in Hartford of the NHL last season, said his biggest role since joining the Jacks in November has been leadership.
"I've always tried to play the stay-at-home kind of game and there's no sense changing now," Quenneville said. "We're not trying to score goals back there because we've got plenty of guys up front who do that for us."
Rob Mendel, one of the rookies, called it "textbook defense."
"We're not making the risky play or trying to do too much," Mendel said. "Too much passing or fancy work will get you in trouble. We just dig it off the boards and get it out of the zone any way we can -- even if it means icing the puck."
Defense and the fine play of goalie Olaf Kolzig, who also starred in a 4-1 win over Hershey Friday, the Jacks have been able to keep a share of first place with Rochester in the AHL Southern Division.
Still, Laird wants more.
"I keep looking at the standings and it's two points up, two down," Laird said. "I'd like to see us get on a roll with these home games and put some distance between us and everybody else."
The Jacks got two goals from Alfie Turcotte and one apiece from Tyler Larter, Tim Taylor, Ken Lovsin and Reggie Savage. Steve Seftel, who played with Turcotte and Jeff Greenlaw last night, had three assists in one of his strongest games of the season.
Jim Thomson, Scott Harlow and Rene Chapdelaine scored for the Nighthawks.
Ferner missed last night's game due to a match penalty he received in Friday's game for having his wrists taped too high after getting in a third-period fight.
He will return to the lineup when the Jacks play a rare afternoon home game tomorrow at 4:30 against the last-place Capital District Islanders.
Laird said he would hold a morning practice today and wasn't too concerned about the early holiday start.
"There are no curfews for the holiday or anything like that," Laird said. "Even though the start is a little unusual, the team will be ready to play."