After getting burned repeatedly by Utica's top scoring line of Valeri Zelepukhin, Brian Sullivan and Neil Brady in a 4-2 loss Saturday night, Jacks coach Robbie Laird had seen enough.
It was time to call in the specialists.
In previous seasons, his first choices probably would have been Steve Seftel, who is out until February with a leg injury, and Tim Bergland and Jeff Greenlaw, who are with the Washington Capitals.
Little did he realize that the shadow defensive unit he needed was in the locker room all along.
Laird paired wings Steve Martell and Brent Hughes with Tim Taylor and in no uncertain terms explained the mission for the second meeting in as many days with the Devils.
"It was simple," Taylor said. "He wanted them shut down."
Taylor, Hughes and Martell accomplished their goal, and even managed to score one of their own, as the Jacks defeated the Devils, 4-3, last night at the Arena.
"They didn't get too many chances outside of their power play and that's what we wanted," said Laird, whose 6-4-1 team is in second place in the Southern Division. "They played hard and held them down."
Hughes, whose score at 9:25 of the first period was the only even-strength goal of the game, was a little shocked when Laird gave him the assignment yesterday but said he'll do whatever is necessary to help the team.
"I'm pretty much a utility man here," Hughes said. "It's a little tough to take. I'd rather be scoring goals, but you've got to do the job you're given. Right now it's defense."
With the game tied 3-3 early in the second period, Jacks center Simon Wheeldon beat goalie Chad Erickson (34 saves) for what would prove the game-winner as the teams each put forth strong defensive efforts late in the game.
"I've said it before and I'll say it 10 times over -- specialty units win games in this league," said Wheeldon, the catalyst of the Jacks' extra-man attack, which has three power-play goals for the season. "If you can capitalize on those situations -- power plays especially -- you're going to be successful."
Last night the Jacks were 3-for-9 with the extra man, but allowed Utica's Mike Bodnarchuk a short-handed goal when Mark Ferner failed at pinching the puck in the zone when the Jacks had a 3-2 lead. Bodnarchuk took the puck and went the length of the ice, beating Byron Dafoe (26 saves) to his left to tie the game 44 seconds into the second period.
The overtly offensive design of this year's team seems destined to move even more to the defensive side with the emergence of this line and the return of goalie Jim Hrivnak.
Tomorrow, when the Jacks face Halifax (5-4-4) at the Arena, Hrivnak will re-emerge as the Jacks' No. 1 goalie.
The new plan, unveiled by the Caps brass last night, calls for Hrivnak to be the No. 1 goalie for the Jacks, with Olaf Kolzig and Byron Dafoe platooning with the backup position month-by-month between here and Hampton Roads of the ECHL.