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Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION

Jets Notebook — March 30

Posted: 03/30/2013 9:26 PM | Comments: 0

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It guarantees nothing, but can be somewhat telling.

So here’s the dirt: when the Winnipeg Jets score first this season they are a solid 11-4-1. The trouble is, getting on the scoreboard first has not been happening enough during their topsy-turvy ride of late and it cost them again Saturday afternoon in a 3-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. In the process, a Southeast Division crown that was theirs for the taking as recently as a week ago now has a few more challengers.

Hurricanes winger Alexander Semin opened the scoring 66 seconds into the game, marking the third straight game the Jets have surrendered the first goal — and eighth in the last nine games. Over that stretch Winnipeg is 4-5.

What does that tell us? Not only are the Jets not particularly adept at counter-punching, they’re having trouble slipping jabs early.

"We gave up a goal the first shift. What do you want me to say?," bristled Jets coach Claude Noel when asked about his team’s start. "You’ve got 59 minutes to play the game. The start is the start. Things are going to happen in the game. Does that mean we weren’t prepared? I don’t think so."

Added Olli Jokinen, the lone Jets’ goal scorer: "It’s a 60-minute game. A couple of good shifts is not going to cut it."

The Jets were down 2-0 after the first period after Jussi Jokinen scored just after a power-play had ended and then whiffed on several chances in the second — as Jokinen did cut the gap to 2-1 early in the second — before a parade to the penalty box killed any momentum they were building.

"We had the bad start, that’s for sure," said goaltender Ondrej Pavelec. "They scored first and then I think we played a good game. We had our chances, we just didn’t score. We were lucky it was 2-1 after the second... we had some penalties. We’ve just got to be better in our zone next time. We didn’t know who covers who.

"We talked about this a lot. But I saw a few times... we didn’t score first against Boston and we still won the game. It’s just you have to play the same way. Sometimes they score and we panic and it took us awhile to get back. Always, of course, you feel better when your team scores first but it’s not easy. Both teams want to win, both teams want to battle hard and they want to do the same thing. They want to score first as well."

That’s especially true at the MTS Centre where an early goal can stoke an already-rabid fan base. But the Jets are now just 8-9 at home, so the slow starts can also work in reverse for a home side trying to keep their fans stoked.

"We wanted to make sure we were showing them and showing ourselves that we were ready to play," said Canes’ captain Eric Staal of the opening goal. "We got on them aggressively on the forecheck, were able to work it down low pretty good and were rewarded with a nice little bounce that Alex (Semin) buried. That’s big to get that first one and get that good feeling on the bench and the excitement and energy level up."

FIVE HOLE OR BUST? The Jets seemed to be targeting a perceived weakness in Carolina goaltender Justin Peters’ game on Saturday, repeatedly blasting pucks at his pads in an attempt to beat him between the legs. But the Carolina netminder — who is filling in because of injuries to Cam Ward and Dan Ellis — was solid in kicking out 34 of 35 shots.

"We noticed that the last time we played against them, that he was kicking a lot of pucks out and today he gave some rebounds but at the same time we were just hitting him," said the Jets’ Olli Jokinen. "I don’t think he needed to make that big of saves there. He played well. He looked a little bit nervous maybe but he played pretty well, made some big saves there in the second."

ON THE ROAD AGAIN: The Jets now head out on the road for a three-game trip with stops in New York against the Rangers and Islanders — both those games coming before Wednesday’s NHL trade deadline — before finishing up in Montreal on Thursday. Following that, the Jets will play six in a row, and seven of their final nine at MTS Centre.

"Next week is going to be tough," said Blake Wheeler. "We’ve got another tough four games (including a home date against Philadelphia next Saturday) and we’ve got to get back on track here."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca

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