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Jets a bullet short in shootout

Outgunned in Pittsburgh, drop third straight game

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GENE J. PUSKAR / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Pittsburgh Penguins' Evgeni Malkin can't get to a rebound in front of Winnipeg Jets goalie Al Montoya during the first period of an NHL game at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh Sunday. The Penguins won 6-5.

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma wondered Sunday what the heck goes on when the Winnipeg Jets come to the Consol Energy Center.

Since the 2011 relocation, the games have been 8-5, 8-4, 4-0, all in Pittsburgh's favour, and Sunday's addition was a shoddy yet exciting 6-5 Penguins victory.

"Don't know if it's the water, the Jets, the travel. When we play these guys, it seems to be halfway through the game I say that I'm going to throw the (video) out," Bylsma said after his team trailed 2-1 and 5-4 by periods but rallied twice to nose out the Jets.

The explanation really isn't hard, at least it wasn't on Sunday.

The Penguins either took the Jets too lightly or aren't as good defensively as they need to be.

And the Jets, even when they do some good stuff, such as scoring in the final minute of both the first and second periods to take leads, just can't ever seem to find a way to buckle down defensively for long, even though it's what they've made their highest priority all season.

On this three-game road trip, for instance, Winnipeg gave up 14 goals and lost all three outings, falling to 19-21-5.

"You'd like to think (some urgency) is there. It was there; it needs to continue to be there to give us any sort of shot," said Jets left-winger Evander Kane, who scored two goals and added an assist on a Mark Scheifele goal.

"I've said this before. I don't think people understand it. You win three games, whoop-de-do. Everybody's jumping on the bandwagon and we come right back and lose three and it's .500 hockey and it gets you nowhere."

Added captain Andrew Ladd: "You come out with zero wins. It's not a good feeling."

 

Defensive headache

So many mistakes, there's just not much point singling out one or two. From turnovers in their own slot to free paths to the net to assignments blown. It was hard to keep track.

"We came into it to win it and did a lot of good things to create offence," said Ladd. "To me, we just found a way to lose. That's the best way to put it."

The Jets did not abandon their defensive plan during Sunday's game, the captain said.

"I think you want to tighten up," he said. "As the game goes, you have to understand how it's going and make adjustments as you go. I think the good teams do that. I still think we did some good things but when this team... they make your mistakes look extremely big every time."

 

Best defence is not offence

Jets coach Claude Noel confirmed the plan never changed about trying to contain the high-powered Pens.

"You're going to have to defend against this team," he said. "I mean, they gave us five goals, so it wasn't like they were in a clinic either."

Nor was there a move to go all-in on offence.

"No, you don't do that," Noel said. "I certainly don't do that, preach offence, because we've got enough trouble trying to defend. For us, it's important to play the correct way. You can't all of a sudden throw the kitchen sink at them, try to change things up.

"They gave us five goals, we gave them six. Giving up six goals is not the right way to play. We know that."

 

Close calls

As you might expect (the shots were 39-34 Pens), there were chances to the bitter end. After Matt Niskanen's point shot put Pittsburgh ahead 6-5 with 7:22 to play, Ladd came very close to tying it with 2:30 left. He tried to stuff a rebound, but Marc Andre Fleury put a quick right pad on it at the last second.

"I had to get it up," Ladd said. "I was in close. I probably needed to get it up more than I did. He got across quick, definitely. I didn't get it as high as I wanted to."

And with five seconds or so to play, Mark Scheifele found the puck to Fleury's left but just missed when he tried to whack it in the top of the net.

"I just kind of missed it," Scheifele frowned.

"It was close, the guy at the side of the net," Fleury said. "Just missed high and wide."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 6, 2014 C1

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