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Transformation week for Jets

Road trip, trade deadline will change what team looks like by Friday

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What will the Jets look like when they return to Winnipeg sometime early on Friday?

It's a double-barrelled question, given they have just 12 games remaining in this frantic dash of a 48-game regular season.

-- At 18-16-2, the Jets remain in the lead of the NHL's Southeast Division and in the third seed of the Eastern Conference playoff picture as they start a three-game road trip tonight in New York against the Rangers. They also play the New York Islanders on Tuesday and both teams are close behind in the conference standings.

-- Wednesday marks the NHL's trade deadline and while much of the player-movement speculation swirls away from the Jets, the team does have seven players who are unrestricted free agents at the end of this season and would technically fit the definition of "rental players."

On the ice, the Jets have taken on a decidedly more inconsistent air since their quality 10-3-1 run between Feb. 19 and March 16.

They've lost their last two and four of the last six as the standings, both in the Southeast and the conference, grow a little tighter with each stumble.

"The first two (games this week), obviously, Rangers, Islanders, we'd like to put a little more space between us," Jets defenceman Ron Hainsey said Sunday. "Because those are teams right on the line as well. Two wins would leave us 10 games to go after that and would go a mighty long way in putting ourselves in a bit better position than we currently are in."

Jets captain Andrew Ladd was asked if his team has had enough desperation in recent outings.

"Some games we have, some games we probably could have used more," Ladd said. "Last night (a 3-1 Saturday home loss to Carolina) I thought we gave ourselves a decent chance to win. We could have been better in a few different areas but at the end of the day we didn't capitalize on our chances or capitalize on our power plays and that was the difference."

Jets veteran Nik Antropov, among those who skated Sunday at the MTS Centre, said fans can rest assured the team is focused on the task.

"Any game is an important game at this time of they year," he said. "We're trying to get in the playoffs, maintain that division lead and the third spot in the conference so that's our goal.

"They're big games. The Islanders are playing really good and the Rangers are always dangerous at home. We'll take one at a time, go from there."

Antropov and Hainsey are the most-mentioned summer UFA's in trade speculation.

Neither had much to say about what may happen this week.

"I'm not really going to have any comment on this area," Hainsey said.

Why?

"Mostly because it just creates distractions that you guys are experts at making worse," he replied. "We've got a lot of games this week. Everyone in the room is aware that there's a trade deadline Wednesday."

Antropov was less terse about the deadline.

"No, absolutely no worry about it," he said. "That's something I can't control so why worry about it? If it happens, it happens. If not, great, I'm still here. That's all I can say about it."

He said the dressing room is affected little by the gossip and chatter about the deadline.

"It's normal days," he said. "Nothing. I don't think anybody's thinking about it. It's something out of our hands, out of the players' hands, so if it's going to happen, it's going to happen and nobody can do anything about it."

Ladd said upcoming games are a much higher priority.

"We haven't talked about it much, honestly," he said of the deadline. "There's been so much importance placed on all these games so we don't have time to worry about that."

 

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 1, 2013 C1

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