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Penguins back bus over Jets

Jets little more than speed bumps in 8-4 loss

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PITTSBURGH, PA — They knew the bus was coming. They saw the bus coming from miles away. And then the Winnipeg Jets stood still and watched the black-and-gold Greyhound that is the Pittsburgh Penguins plaster them all over the highway.

And just to hammer home a point to the rest of the National Hockey League, the Pens backed up over the Jets and drove over them all over again.

Yes, in a contest the Jets were absolutely desperate to win, they were little more than speed bumps in an 8-4 loss to the Penguins that opened even more eyes as to Pittsburgh’s firepower and Winnipeg’s continuing inadequacies on the road.

As a result, the Jets’ playoff dream is slowly fading as they remain 10th in the Eastern Conference with a 34-31-8 record — four points behind the eighth-place Washington Capitals and two back of ninth-place Buffalo Sabres with just nine regular-season games remaining.

Just to keep things juicy for a few more days, the Jets are in Washington on Friday.

"It’s demoralizing, but we don’t have time to be demoralized," said coach Claude Noel. "We’re going to have to find a way to get our self esteem up and re-energize to play Washington. That’s a huge game for us. That’s really going to define where we are."

What the Jets are, however, continues to be more and more evident. They are awful on the road — now 11-20-4 — and when it comes to playing star-studded squads like the Penguins, simply don’t have the firepower to match.

And the evidence is all over the scoresheet:

— Evgeni Malkin, two goals, three assists for his fourth five-point game of the season. Malkin, we should add, has three goals and eight assists in three games against the Jets this season.

— James Neal, three goals in the first two periods, giving him 35 of the season.

— And Sidney Crosby — remember him? — set up four goals in his first home game since early December while centring the Pens’ THIRD line.

"Obviously their depth is their strength," said Jet captain Andrew Ladd. "Right down the middle it’s tough to play against that. At the same time we knew that coming into the game, we knew it was going to be a challenge and that we needed to play our top game and we needed it out of everybody.

"It just seem like they scored every chance they got. It doesn’t make it any easier. It’s tough. But we’ve got to regroup quick here and get ready for Washington."

Interestingly, the only Jets with a plus-rating were fourth liners Ben Maxwell (+1) and Tim Stapleton (who scored once and was +1) and recent call-up Spencer Machaek (two assists, +2).

"It’s really frustrating," said Jim Slater, who had the first goal of the night for the Jets. "They’re a pretty dominant team offensively and they showed it tonight. They kind of had their way with us and put up some key goals and key times.

"It’s not easy to shake off a loss like that, especially with where we’re at in the season. Obviously we have a big game against Washington coming up, but this one definitely hurts."

The Jets also got two goals from Bryan Little, his 20th and 21st of the season, but that was of little solace to the centre afterward. Like most of the Jets who spoke afterward, he spit out the same party line: let this one linger for a spell and then get ready for the Caps.

As the old saying goes, when it’s do or die, there’s no in between.

"We’ve got to learn from it, playing against one of the better offences in the league," said Little. "We’ve got to learn how to play better defensively and take time and space away. But, at the same time, you can’t be moping around. We’ve got a big game coming up against Washington. We’ve got two days to get this out of our heads.

"Tonight probably wasn’t desperation mode but now I think we realize we only have so many games left. It’s a big one against Washington coming up. This road trip could determine whether we’re in or we’re out."

 

 

Game Preview

PITTSBURGH, PA – The numbers are stacked against the Winnipeg Jets as they face a star-stacked Pittsburgh Penguins squad that is not only rolling along, but also has a history of regularly beating the Jets/Atlanta Thrashers franchise to smithereens.

But a cornered animal fighting for its playoff life can be scary, too, and that’s what makes tonight’s matchup between the Jets-Pens (6 p.m.; TSN Jets/TSN Sports Radio) so intriguing.

“If you didn’t have a chance here we wouldn’t come here, we wouldn’t play the game,” said Jets coach Claude Noel after the team’s game-day skate at the Consol Energy Center. “I think it’s very clear in this league you have a chance to win every night and games are not easy to win. You can’t take an opponent lightly, whether that’s them or that’s us… we won’t be taking them lightly, we know who they are. They’ve got a whole good roster. But there’s always a way to win games and you’ve got to find a way to win games. We are just as able to win this game as they are. We know the challenges. They’re at home, they’ve been playing very well lately so bring it on.”

 

Coming off a crushing loss to Carolina on Sunday, the Jets are now 10th in the Eastern Conference – two points behind the Buffalo Sabres and four back of the Washington Capitals, both of whom won Monday. Winnipeg is 34-30-8 and playing the first of a three-game road trip that will take them to Washington Friday and Nashville on Saturday.

The Penguins are an amazing 23-4-2 in their last 29 games and have won 10 straight home games against Winnipeg/Atlanta. The franchise’s last win here came on Dec. 27, 2006 as the Thrashers at the old Igloo.

When asked if he knew of those numbers, Blake Wheeler interrupted his inquisitor with: “Don’t tell me. The answer is no and don’t tell me the answer.”

The Jets will play seven of their final 10 games on the road and their 11-19-4 record away from Winnipeg is still THE issue plaguing the team’s push for a playoff spot. Only Columbus and Edmonton have fewer points on the road than Winnipeg.

“The biggest part for me is just the compete level,” Noel said. “We have to be a lot better competing, we have to be a lot stronger on pucks. We have to pay a way heavier price getting net front (presence) and that includes power-plays, special teams and all the gritty hard areas. That has to get done.

“We can’t sit here and worry about what we haven’t done in the last 70 games home and away. We’ve got a game to focus on, so whether it’s at home or at Mars it doesn’t matter for us. It’s a game we need to win. It’s very clear for us. We’ve got seven road games, three home games and it’s pretty clear what we have to get done.”

Ondrej Pavelec will start in goal for the Jets while the Pens will counter with Brad Thiessen, who makes just his third start of the season.

The Jets called up Ben Maxwell from St. John’s to replace Nik Antropov (lower-body) injury and while Eric Fehr is here with the team, he remains doubtful.

 

Ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPEdTait

History

Updated on Tuesday, March 20, 2012 at 5:22 PM CDT: Prepares story for live blog.

6:15 PM: Updates with Penguins goal

6:18 PM: Adds Winnipeg equalizer

6:36 PM: Updates with Winnipeg up 2-1

6:43 PM: Updates, 2-2

6:52 PM: Updates, 2-2 after one period

7:09 PM: updates

7:19 PM: Adds Winnipeg equalizer

7:26 PM: Updates

7:34 PM: Updates, Crosby has four assists

7:38 PM: Updates again

7:43 PM: Updates with Pgh goal

8:01 PM: Updates

8:12 PM: Updates

8:31 PM: Updates with another Pgh goal

8:44 PM: Updates with game-over wrap

10:17 PM: Final wrap

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