Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Creaking Jets need oil

Especially rusty is power play, which has completely seized up

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PHILADELPHIA -- The signs were there that this six-game road trip wasn't going to be featuring a well-oiled machine.

Even the NHL's well-oiled machines have their off-days, of course, but the Winnipeg Jets just haven't been convincing in recent games, even though they've been pretty competitive.

There's usually a big difference.

Their trip started with victories over the New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders, two decent enough teams which haven't been playing with a lot of confidence or verve of late.

So Winnipeg went into Prudential Center and Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum and, while not dominant, managed to get leads, extend them, and nurse home a pair of victories.

They were worthy enough wins. There were ample positives, including never trailing in those games. But also nervous moments in each third period, signals that Jets' confidence is not yet at a high level.

And even knowing that, it still was surprising, the low-quality effort the visitors gave in the first period of Friday's 2-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers at Wells Fargo Center.

Only goalie Ondrej Pavelec determined this would not be a blowout. He had much to do and about the only fault you could pin on him, and we are kidding here, is that he couldn't hide the puck from the Flyers for the entire first period.

From behind, the Jets struggled mightily, which is not abnormal, but they eventually got moving forward and made a close game of it in the dying minutes.

But in the NHL, it's a sure route to the first overall draft pick if you're going to play 10-15 minutes a night.

Of the three games on this trip -- it continues Monday in New York against the Rangers, Thursday in Sunrise, Fla., and Saturday in Tampa -- Friday's substandard stretch was the anomaly.

And even that could have been overcome had another problem not reared its ugly head.

The team's power play is a virtual broken record. And surely broken.

On the trip, it's now zero for 10. Seeing that, many would be pleased with a 2-1 record.

Friday's sins were zero for six, including twice in the third period when the Flyers insisted the Jets have another chance.

And nothing.

Now 11 for 96 on the season, the team has struggled to gain any momentum this way.

It likely remains the biggest single issue that needs fixing on a team that isn't without its issues.

The ebbs and flows of the season will give you bad intervals and generally, it's easy to make the case the Jets have been building, not declining, in the last 10 or 12 games.

Toss away their recent home outing, Nov. 21 against Chicago and most games after Nov. 6 in Chicago have been there to win, good effort or not.

So a team that's getting leads and putting itself in good position to win more often should be poised for another step. Never mind the conference switch, it's a difficult hurdle, one the Jets have always struggled to make.

Jets coach Claude Noel has been hinting around this sticky subject lately.

"There has to be a point here where the players get engaged among themselves," Noel said.

In other words, he's doing what he can to deal with the problems, but eventually, the players have to take some ownership for progress.

"The questions is, how do you get it on track?" Noel said Friday. "You try to do different things but yelling and screaming doesn't do you a whole lot of good. You can pound your drum all you want but it gets old."

So talk about the coach's pluses and minuses all you want, in the end, it's the players on the team who will or won't.

Some parts of their game are improving but as this trip shows, others have a ways to go.

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 30, 2013 C3

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