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, for the life of them, seem to manage more than a goal a game lately.
And good for them. Any theory is worth exploring right now, especially after watching a lifeless, mistake-prone Jet 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 their name and jersey colours and set them up in front of a rabid and 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 — on their top two lines.
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 they 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 in a contest that was excruciatingly painful 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 and there goes the result of no goals and they scored three. 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 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 later. Alex Burmistrov scored in the first, but the play was ruled dead 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."
MONTREAL – They are facing a reeling opponent in the critical conclusion to a road trip. Now the question is whether the Winnipeg Jets can deliver a knockout punch to the Montreal Canadiens.
The Jets face the Habs at the Bell Centre this afternoon (1 p.m., CBC/TS Sports Radio) in the last of a four-game road trip this week that has taken them to Philadelphia to Tampa to Sunrise, Fla., and now to hockey’s mecca. A win today would improve their record on this swing to 3-1 and keep them in the Eastern Conference playoff fight.
A loss and they will fall further back of the eighth-place spot, currently held by the Toronto Maple Leafs. Winnipeg is 24-23-6, good for 54 points and 10th in the East.
"Montreal hasn’t won in three games, so they’re going to be wanting to win, no question about it," Noel told a media throng at the Bell Centre this morning. "I know it’s a back-to-back game for them, but they’ll be ready to play. We’re not going to change the way we’re playing, we’re playing fairly well defensively, but we need to play 60 minutes compared to the 40 or 45 minutes we played in our last game."
The Jets fell 2-1 to the Florida Panthers on Friday; the Habs were booed during Saturday afternoon’s 3-0 loss to the Washington Capitals.
"We have to continue to play the way we’ve played in the last three or four games," Noel said. "The game in Florida, we didn’t start. We started the game, but we were sluggish. I only had about eight players actually playing. We turned pucks over, we weren’t intense… It really wasn’t a good 20 minutes of play and it turned out we were down after the first period 1-0 and it ended up being the difference in the game."
Ondrej Pavelec will start in net for the Jets while Carey Price is expected to get the start in the Habs net.
The Jets are making one notable lineup change, adding forward Spencer Machacek and benching Eric Fehr, who has one goal in 29 games this year.