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Can Kane raise the offence?

Jets anxiously await return of team's leading goal scorer

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Jets coach Claude Noel, amid the disappointment of his team's just-completed 2-4 road trip that surrounded the NHL All-Star Game, offered a glimmer of hope on Monday when he met with reporters.

The coach said the team's leading goal scorer, left-winger Evander Kane, could be ready to return to the lineup as early as tonight when the Toronto Maple Leafs visit the MTS Centre.

Kane, who has 18 goals, has missed seven games with a concussion. He has not scored, however, since Dec. 29, a period of 10 games without a goal before he was hurt.

"He's feeling better," Noel said Monday. "He'll be a game-time decision. He's close. If it's not (tonight's) game, potentially Thursday."

Kane did skate on Monday, as did forward Tim Stapleton. Noel said Stapleton (lower-body injury) is close to returning to the lineup as well.

As for other lineup decisions for tonight's game, Noel was less forthcoming.

He scratched right-winger Eric Fehr, who has one goal in 29 games this season, on Sunday.

"We'll wait for tomorrow and see," Noel said about Fehr.

-- -- --

Noel was expecting to be grilled about the matter of the team's lack of offence on Monday so he began his noon-hour session in a more lighthearted mood than over the weekend when he called a question about concern over scoring one goal per game "dumb."

He joked with reporters on Monday that he'd take one question on the subject, and so it came first.

"Some things have to change a little bit," the coach responded. "We have to be better on our power play."

Winnipeg had no man-advantage goals during its six-game road trip, it's longest power-play drought of the season. The Jets have power-play goals in just two of their last 13 games.

"We really have to dig into (that) today, the coaches... and we have to execute a lot better," Noel added. "It's kind of a reflection of the way we're executing and playing.

"There is a point where I think it will come but you can't just rely on it. You have to coach it."

One other area of sub-par performance: the team misses the net a lot.

Sunday, losing 3-0 to Montreal, Winnipeg had 23 shots on goal, 24 shots that missed the net and 12 shots blocked.

Defenceman Dustin Byfuglien, went without a single shot on goal for the first time in the 38 games he's played this season.

"You can go up and around and all over the place. It's not just Buff," Noel said. "In today's game, it's not always easy to hit the net because sometimes you've got to miss the first guy."

-- -- --

Defenceman Derek Meech, who was sent to the AHL's St. John's IceCaps a little over two weeks ago, will miss most of the rest of the regular season with another knee injury.

Meech is out six to eight weeks after being hit late and from an awkward angle by Scott Howes of the Bridgeport Sound Tigers in his third game back from an earlier knee surgery.

Meech played just games for the Jets before having the surgery in the fall.

-- -- --

The Jets and their .500 record (24-24-6) have a ways to travel now if they are to participate in the NHL's post-season.

Noel talked Monday about having to win two out of every three games from here to the finish.

"Five hundred doesn't cut it, you're not going to be there," he said. "We have to do better."

He then said the next six or eight games will tell the tale.

"We have a two-week window here that we have to make things happen," he said, noting the NHL's trading deadline of Feb. 27 was not only fast approaching, but also hinting that it will be a factor in what might happen.

"You're either going to play with that line or you're not," Noel said. "There's a difference. It's really hard, this time of year, to make up points."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 7, 2012 C3

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