Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Fearsome Pens a big test tonight

Jets have a plan, but Crosby, Malkin make habit of abusing opponents

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If you put your ear to the ground and listen closely, you can hear the march of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the distance, closing like an approaching army ready to conquer and pillage.

And it's likely a force in an ornery mood after falling 5-2 to the Toronto Maple Leafs at home Wednesday night.

So, naturally the Winnipeg Jets -- even fresh from a solid road trip in which they picked up three of a possible four points -- were hit upside the head after practice Thursday with questions about this being a measuring-stick game, about how to stop the Pens' star-studded cast that includes Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin while being reminded of the pair of spankings they felt late last year in 8-4 and 8-5 losses.

"I hadn't remembered until now," said Jets defenceman Ron Hainsey. "I pretended like (the two losses) didn't exist anymore.

"(Tonight) is probably the biggest challenge. If (Crosby and Malkin) are not the two greatest centres in the world, they're in the conversation for top three. I assume our work will be cut out for us because they keep coming at you in waves. It's not just one line. It's the reigning MVP and the reigning greatest player in the world who has been injured coming at you.

"(Last night is) a good night to get a good night's rest."

Still, let's not paint the picture of a Jets squad quivering in their skates here, either. The Jets did drop three of four against the Pens last year, but also picked up their first home win of their rebirth way back on Oct. 17, 2011.

More importantly, the recent road trip through Boston and Washington has the Jets believing they have uncovered their road map to a playoff spot, the key signposts being collective team defence and rolling four lines.

And that will apply whether they are on the road or at home, playing the talent-rich Pens or the Columbus Blue Jackets.

"Everybody likes to talk about home and road and all this stuff," said Jets captain Andrew Ladd. "We're just focused on winning every single game, whether it's at home on the road. We know we get a lot of energy from this building and it's a lot of fun playing here and we've got to use that to our advantage, but the focus still has to be on building from the last game.

"We feel that we have a way we need to play to be successful and give ourselves a chance to win hockey games. We've been building on that. The first game was very mediocre, the second one we did a lot of good things and we thought our best game was our last one in Washington."

Ladd also pointed out this: Those two spankings in Pittsburgh aside, the Jets did generally elevate their game against the NHL's elite last year. The problem was...

"We didn't play so well against the weaker teams," said Ladd. "A lot of times that's in between the ears. That's focusing less on the other team and more on what you've got to do."

That was the message head coach Claude Noel tried to hammer home with the media after practice on Thursday -- and undoubtedly to his troops. Namely, play your game, not the one the Penguins want.

"They abused us on the scoresheet (in the last two losses)," said Noel. "But I look at that a different way. We allowed them to abuse us. We were really poor in the games we played, we gave up eight goals twice in the games against them.

"We played out of control. We played like we thought WE were the Penguins and we got spanked because of that attitude.

"That's something we're going to stay away from."

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

A WIN... AND THREE SPANKINGS

 

The Jets vs. The Pens, 2011-12

 

Game 1, Oct. 17, 2011 @ Winnipeg: Jets 2, Penguins 1

The Jets win their first in their rebirth. Kyle Wellwood scores eight seconds in, Tanner Glass scores the winner and Ondrej Pavelec seals the deal against a Pens side missing both Crosby and Malkin.

 

Game 2, Dec. 23, 2011 @ Winnipeg: Penguins 4, Jets 1

The two sides are knotted at 1-1 after 40 minutes before the Pens overwhelm the home side with three goals inside the first five minutes of the third.

 

Game 3, Feb. 11, 2012 @ Pittsburgh: Penguins 8, Jets 5

The Jets score the first two and then get steamrolled as Malkin scores once and adds four assists.

 

Game 4, March 20, 2012 @ Pittsburgh: Penguins 8, Jets 4

James Neal notches three, but Malkin chews up the Jets with two goals and three assists for another five points while Crosby adds four helpers.

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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 25, 2013 C3

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