Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Jets are what they are -- Thrashers north

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MONTREAL -- Somebody, no doubt, is crunching numbers right now. They are plugging 'X' factors into heretofore unexplored mathematical formulas that will spit out the answer as to why the Winnipeg Jets can't seem to manage more than a goal a game.

Good for them. Any theory is worth exploring, especially after watching a lifeless, mistake-prone Jets squad crash and burn in a 3-0 loss to the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre Sunday afternoon.

Well, here's another to discuss today among yourselves...

You can pick up a franchise and move it 2,075 kilometres north from Atlanta to Winnipeg, you can change the name and jersey colours and set them up in front of a passionate fan base. But you can't change this -- the Thrashers/Jets have come exactly as advertised. They are a goal-starved lot lacking a finisher -- especially with Evander Kane out of the lineup.

The goaltending is decent, the defence corps is passable. But no team -- not any of the Canadiens dynasties, the present-day Boston Bruins, the Edmonton Oilers outfits of the 1980s or the Mario Lemieux-led Penguins -- is going to win games when it can't consistently put the puck in the net. We've certainly seen that a lot this season and it was evidenced again Sunday as the Jets, for the 20th time in 54 games, was held to one goal or less.

And Sunday it was another oh-for, as the Jets were shut out for the seventh time this year and the second time in their last five games. It was a contest that was excruciating to watch for Winnipeg fans. And their head coach.

"We didn't do a lot of things well," said Claude Noel. "We didn't win battles, we looked mentally fatigued and it looked like we were worn down. We didn't play very well."

So a road trip that began with so much promise -- a shootout win in Philadelphia, an overtime victory in Tampa -- has finished in disappointment with a loss to Florida and now the Canadiens. The Habs, we should add, had dropped three straight before this one -- the third a 3-0 embarrassment to the Washington Capitals in which they were booed off the Bell Centre ice.

But what did anyone expect? The Jets lineup Sunday featured two guys called up from the AHL in Aaron Gagnon and Spencer Machacek -- neither with an NHL goal this season -- and two other guys who have yet to score in Antti Miettinen and Ron Hainsey. Eric Fehr, projected as a Top 6 guy when the Jets traded for him this summer, has one goal, and was benched.

The lineup included just four players, Kyle Wellwood, Bryan Little, Blake Wheeler and Andrew Ladd, who have hit double-digits in goals this year. The Canadiens, by comparison, had seven.

"It's frustrating... we can't score goals," said Wheeler. "Our goalie was phenomenal again and when you lose 3-0, what can you say? It's not like we lost 3-2 or we had a chance to win the game."

On Sunday the Jets had their chances, especially early, but as has been a common theme this year, couldn't finish. Miettinen couldn't flip the puck over a down-and-out Carey Price in the third and then had one bounce off the top of the net. Alex Burmistrov scored in the first, but the goal was erased when a Jets player was ruled to have come off the bench too early on a delayed penalty.

That kind of afternoon for the Jets. That kind of weekend for the Jets. And, on many nights in 2011-12, that kind of season.

"Obviously it's frustrating getting the chances we're getting and not being able to put anything in the net," said Ladd. "That's where the frustration level comes from: We get those chances and we have to bear down. It seems like we're fanning on pucks or the puck's jumping... we get a goal there and maybe momentum shifts and re-energizes us. But we just can't seem to do that right now."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 6, 2012 C3

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