Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Jets can't coast to finish

Management must monitor final five games

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RALEIGH, N.C. -- To question a professional athlete's effort is a risky proposition. Only the players and coaches on a team can say for sure if an individual or team as a whole maxed out on a given night.

That being said, there is no question the Winnipeg Jets took it easy on the New York Rangers on Wednesday night.

The Jets showed up with good intentions and had a good start but once the Rangers pushed back there was almost no resistance and the Blueshirts skated to a leisurely 4-2 win. So much for that vaunted Jets home-ice advantage and flashy record when skating in Winnipeg.

So what happened? Were the Rangers that much better? No, in fact, they were well off their game for a good portion of the contest. Did the Jets take the night off? Yup. And will such dispassionate hockey be on the menu the rest of the way? That's the question of day and the answer will reveal much of the Jets' character beginning tonight in a road contest against the Carolina Hurricanes.

The men-against-boys scenario that played out on the ice Wednesday resulted in some hot tempers in the Jets dressing room after the game.

A number of veteran players were steamed following the loss and veteran Tanner Glass at first bit on his words before making statements to the Free Press about the Rangers loss and the games to come this season.

"I think I'd be lying if I said it was anything but not good enough. You prepare to play well but after such a long stretch of the games meaning so much to us I think we had a bit of an emotional letdown," said Glass, who checked in with his usual workmanlike approach, including a second-period scrap where he gave away several inches and many pounds to Rangers thug Stu Bickell.

"Physically the effort was there and the guys were trying to make plays but if you're not willing to support your teammate and support the puck all over the ice you end up with breakdowns and goals against."

Glass asserted the Jets simply don't have the luxury to coast for even a few shifts let alone for half a game and in particular against a superior outfit like the Rangers.

"In this league you can't have a period like that. It's got to be full out every night. We don't have the skills in this room to play at 80 or 90 per cent. It's difficult but it's the way it has to be. Guys are playing for jobs or for pride at this point," said the impending unrestricted free agent.

Jets coach Claude Noel had no interest in piling on his team after the loss but he also wouldn't come to the defence of the effort of his players.

"I'm not going to beat up on our team, let's put it that way. I would rather hold my thoughts to myself in regards to that. I get what's being said. You can look at it different ways," said Noel.

The coach is correct in the fact there are a couple of angles to take when dissecting the Jets' approach right now.

This team has been stalwart in its effort for most of the season. Noel has frequently said they care and they want to win. Agreed. But this team has also come up short and will not make a playoff appearance this year. Sure, there is disappointment after a nice push but a few slow days at the end of the season is the reward for players who meet their goals.

The Jets are, in the purest sense of the word, failures this season. They are not a playoff team. That was the goal and it wasn't met. So there are lessons still to be learned and these final games must be used to that end and not as throwaways.

"As an individual you have to decide how you are going to carry yourself at the rink every day. Are you going to come and give a half-assed effort? Or are you going to come to the rink and prepare like you did for the first 77 games," said Glass.

"If everybody takes that responsibility upon themselves we should have a good finish but if guys start thinking about their summer plans or their own contracts it's going to be a long two weeks."

No doubt, management will keep a close eye on the efforts and comportment of the Jets players over the next 10 days. Floating can't be an option for GM Kevin Cheveldayoff. It can't be accepted and it can't be rewarded.

 

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 30, 2012 C3

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