Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Dazed, confused, beaten

Build 2-0 lead, Jets play like zombies in loss to Blueshirts

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If you were to draw a progress-arrow graph to mirror the Winnipeg Jets' 2011-12 season it would go something like this:

It begins pointing downward in October... trending sharply upward in December... sharply down again in January... another spike upward in February/early March and now this:

An arrow that trails right off the bottom of the page. Oh, and just for added effect, bright red flames would accompany the fall to highlight the nosedive.

Obviously still in an emotional daze after Monday's crushing 6-4 loss to the Ottawa Senators, the Jets built a 2-0 lead against the powerhouse New York Rangers at the MTS Centre Wednesday and then played like zombies for the duration in a 4-2 defeat.

"It's frustrating. Any time you lose it sucks," said defenceman Zach Bogosian. "We're competitive people in here, no matter what... even if we're in first place or last place. It's our job to come out and play hard and win hockey games and we didn't do it.

"Any time you lose there's just a bad feeling that goes around the room, especially against the Senators the other night That was a tough one.

"Obviously playing back here again tonight, I wouldn't say it gives you an advantage, but if you're going to rebound from a game like that, it would have been tonight. We just didn't get the job done."

It was the Jets' third straight loss, third straight at home and means they have now dropped five of their last six.

And that, for the mathematically challenged, doesn't exactly equate to a late-season push to a playoff spot.

The Jets fall to 35-34-8 and remain eight points behind the Buffalo Sabres, who hold down the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

But consider this: their current tailspin now has the Jets closer to last in the conference -- Montreal has 72 points to Winnipeg's 78 -- than to a berth in the post-season.

The Jets build a 2-0 lead early in the second on goals by Spencer Machacek and Bryan Little, but -- in what would be the critical storyline to the contest -- whiffed on four power-play opportunities before the game was 23 minutes old, including a stretch of 1:43 with a two-man advantage.

All told, the Jets were Uh-oh-for-5 on the power play and surrendered a short-handed goal -- just to make it uglier -- to Michael Del Zotto. The Rangers thoroughly dominated on special teams, shutting down the Jets, scoring a shorty and twice on the power play on goals by Ryan Callahan and Derek Stepan. Brian Boyle scored the other Ranger goal.

"It reminds me of the start of the season where we couldn't finish teams off and we couldn't play with a lead," said Little. "That's what we had tonight. We had a good opportunity and we let it slip away from us.

"There's a bunch of teams that are in the same situation we are, battling for their lives, and they're doing all right. I don't think it's fatigue. If anything, we should have a lot of energy to get up for these games."

Head coach Claude Noel's biggest task now, especially as the team heads out on the road for four straight with shoulders drooped and morale at a season low, might simply be to keep his squad from throwing up the white flag. Talking about soldiering on bravely is one thing. Actually doing it is quite another. And that was in full display against the Rangers.

After the game, Noel conceded the strain of the failed playoff push in the last month or so was revealing itself. But when he was told that some of his players had been critical of their own effort, Noel opted to chomp down on his tongue. Hard.

"I'm not going to beat up on our team, let's put it that way," he said. "I would rather just hold my thoughts to myself with regards to that."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 29, 2012 D1

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