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Here it is: the good, the bad, the ugly

Some home truths after away games

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IT was Tanner Glass, camped out near the Winnipeg Jets dressing room in Nashville late Saturday night, who offered what will undoubtedly be the team's rallying cry.

For the next few days, at least.

Asked where Saturday's 3-1 loss to the Predators left the squad in its pursuit of a playoff spot, Glass shrugged and said:

"We're in the playoff hunt. We've got to win to keep going. There's still a lot of games left here."

If seven qualifies as "a lot," then yes, Glass & Co. still have life.

But as the squad returned home from Tennessee after a critical three-game road trip in which they went 1-2 and slipped further from the Eastern Conference playoff picture, some harsh realities have to be examined.

It was head coach Claude Noel, after all, who suggested just over a week ago that the trip would ultimately define his hockey team.

So, given those stakes, what exactly did we learn about the Jets?

The easy answer is this: not a whole lot that we didn't already know.

So while the task of conducting an autopsy on a still-breathing creature can be a bit gruesome, here are six facts that were hammered home in Pittsburgh, Washington and Nashville:

-- The Jets still stink on the road. Winnipeg is now 12-21-4 while away from the MTS Centre. Worth considering here is this: The Jets emphasized at the start of the year that a .500 road record would be necessary to be playing meaningful hockey come April. On that point they were correct -- of the 16 teams in playoff positions at the start of play Sunday, only three -- Detroit, Buffalo and Chicago -- had losing road records.

Only Tampa and Columbus have fewer points than the Jets on the road.

-- The Jets still haven't solved their nightmarish back-to-back issue. Winnipeg's loss to the Preds Saturday dropped them to 1-11 in the second game of back-to-backs.

Several factors are at play here, from travel fatigue to maturity to depth. But most of all, questions about mental toughness scream out from those numbers.

-- Ondrej Pavelec is the team's MVP. Sure, he was yanked in the loss to Pittsburgh, but in the dramatic win over Washington, he made some key saves to set up the comeback, and without him Saturday in Nashville, that would be a 6-1 loss.

-- Dustin Byfuglien and Toby Enstrom are just plum tuckered out. A number of Jets looked like they were running on fumes in Nashville, but none more obviously than the team's No. 1 defensive pairing. A tired Byfuglien is a mistake-prone Byfuglien. And a tired Enstrom is a defensive liability.

-- There is grit galore. It jumped out, in particular, in the Washington game when Jim Slater scored and dropped the gloves and when Mark Stuart dived to block a shot.

-- There is not enough top-end offensive talent. This was especially obvious in the final two games of the trip. Some math here: In the Jets' last four games, three of which were losses, the fourth line produced eight of the team's 12 goals -- Nik Antropov (1), Antti Miettinen (2), Tim Stapleton (3), Spencer Machacek (1) and Ben Maxwell (1). Jim Slater also had one of those 12 goals, meaning with the season hanging in the balance, the bottom six forwards scored 75 per cent of the goals.

The other three, for the record, were all scored by the same guy -- No. 1 centre Bryan Little.

The absence of production from the second line of Evander Kane-Alex Burmistrov-Kyle Wellwood really stings with the No. 1 unit facing top defensive pairings or matching up against the opposition's best.

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

And four more things

A few other non-Jets observations, from a week on the road:

The Pittsburgh Penguins are frighteningly good if Sidney Crosby stays healthy. They're deep, they've got good goaltending and are exceptionally well-coached.

The Washington Capitals are a dysfunctional lot. This we already knew, of course. But their finish to the game against Winnipeg -- outshot 17-2 in the third period and invisible in overtime -- just about sums up their season. If they make the playoffs, they look like first-round fodder. And you wonder how long Dale Hunter will want to be part of this mess or bolt back to London.

No crowd we've seen this season comes close to matching Jets fans at full throat. Predators fans are as rowdy as advertised, but not nearly as rowdy as in Winnipeg.

Now, while every fan base has some cool shticks, we do like this one from the Preds: When the visitors' starting lineup is introduced, Preds fans yell, "Sucks!" after every name. When that was followed by the introduction of head coach Claude Noel, the whole building shouted, "And he sucks, too!"

And finally, there was this scene we'd like to pass along after the Nashville game. It happened just a couple of blocks from the Bridgestone Arena while walking through a crowded downtown...

We spotted a middle-aged woman -- all gussied up in her best jeans, weighed down by a ton of jewelry and sporting a pair of high heels that could have doubled as stilts -- hurriedly crossing the street before the light changed.

At which point, her boyfriend/husband shouted this as she delicately pranced across the intersection:

"Careful, honey... you don't want to lose your tooth!"

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 26, 2012 C1

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