Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

At least Jets' excuses consistent -- and wearisome

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TAMPA, FLA. -- Consider yourself warned, dear reader. The following story contains Winnipeg Jets themes explored many times before on these pages and quotes -- courtesy the men who pull on the double blue and white jersey nightly -- that everyone has heard 100 times before...

So there were the Jets Friday morning at a practice rink just a few kilometres from downtown Tampa -- a sign overhead at the Brandon Ice Sports Forum reminded everyone to "Tuck Laces in Skates" -- trying to regroup and refocus after Thursday's simply awful performance in a 5-2 loss to the Florida Panthers.

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We can report the workout was spirited and intense. And that coach Claude Noel did some serious yelling and screaming, but was also spotted in quiet conversation with a few individual players afterward.

The whole episode left everyone with a been-there-seen-that feel. Or to steal a line from New York Yankees legend Yogi Berra, "it was like déj vu all over again."

Yes, these 2013-14 Jets don't seem to look or sound a whole lot different than the two previous editions. They tease you just enough to keep you interested and deal with their brief bouts of prosperity the same way they handle adversity: like they are trying to pick up a wet bar of soap.

All of which brings us back to Thursday's loss to the Panthers...

"We talked about it this morning... it's not good enough," said assistant captain Mark Stuart. "The bar we set for ourselves has to be much higher than that. We had a few good efforts and then we go out there and put up that kind of effort. It's frustrating, for sure.

"I can't really put a finger on why that happens, but we know that we need to set the bar higher. The expectations have to be that we play the same way every night and give ourselves a chance to win. If we do that, we're a tough team to beat, we're a tough team to play against.

"It's a matter of finding that consistency, and right now -- well, all year -- it hasn't been there and we need to get over that hump."

And that's what is frustrating so many in Jetville: They followed up arguably their best game of the year in Monday's 5-2 win over the New York Rangers by meekly rolling over against a Panthers side that sports the second-worst record in the NHL.

So, predictably, much of the discussion in the aftermath was to flush Thursday's stink bomb and regroup to salvage the road trip with a win against the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight.

"We want to finish 4-2. Looking at it right now, 3-3 would be a big disappointment," said captain Andrew Ladd. "Hopefully we're pissed off about (Thursday) night and go from there."

But if it's not Ladd talking about being PO'd, it's Evander Kane asking for more of an F-U attitude from the troops. It's Stuart talking about setting the bar higher, it's Olli Jokinen speaking of an everyday urgency.

Now while that kind of internal pressure seems to work on occasion -- the Jets often rally after somebody hops up on a soapbox -- what often follows is a so-so stretch that tumbles them further out of the playoff picture.

And you know what that just about perfectly describes? The .500 hockey club the Jets have been since they relocated from Atlanta (74-69-17 overall).

But that's a big-picture take. And the Jets were in no mood Friday to discuss anything other than tonight's matchup with the Bolts. That's what all teams -- good, bad or somewhere in between like the Jets -- constantly do: Live in the moment.

"We want to get our focus geared toward this Tampa game," said Noel. "We're not looking at how many days we've been on the road; we know what we can come out of this with if we have a win.

"For us, it's about feeling better about yourself. If you end up having a good performance and you work hard... you're not guaranteed results, but if you play the right way and if you play for 60 minutes...

"At the end of the day you want to be able to look in the mirror and say, 'We gave it our all' and hopefully that equates to a win. That way, we're 4-2 going home, and we can live with that." Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 7, 2013 C3

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