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Winnipeg Jets

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By Tim Campbell

Jets can't stand pat with their defence

It's Season No. 2 for the new Winnipeg Jets as the city's relatively limited sourness over the lockout fades into memory and the honeymoon resumes.

Finally, the season opener is near and fans are anxious to know where their team is headed after pulling up 11th in the NHL's Eastern Conference first time around.

Winnipeg blue-liner Mark Stuart (left) separates right-winger Kyle Wellwood from the puck during Wednesday's training camp workout at the MTS Iceplex.

JOHN WOODS / THE CANADIAN PRESS

Winnipeg blue-liner Mark Stuart (left) separates right-winger Kyle Wellwood from the puck during Wednesday's training camp workout at the MTS Iceplex.

To better places, they certainly hope. But how much better?

Depends where their chemistry takes them, some say.

Can Ondrej Pavelec be more of a difference, many ask?

Will the team's road record improve?

Will Evander Kane shuffle aside all the distractions and remain on the upward production curve?

Is Olli Jokinen just the centrepiece the team was lacking?

Can 19-year-old Mark Scheifele make the jump?

All good questions, but none of them will be relevant without the central improvement the Jets must have.

Their goals-against total in 2011-12, all 246 of them, was in the NHL's bottom five.

If many or all of the above questions were answered in the positive and the 2013 goals-against number stays the same, there is no realistic path for the Jets to the playoffs.

What level of improvement is required?

That's a little more difficult to say.

A quarter of a goal per game, down to 2.75, would be a good start. In an 82-game season, though, that's just down to 226. It's still a crapshoot on the playoffs from there but that average wouldn't hurt the cause.

If you take the 2011-12 numbers, you can make a pretty certain judgment.

An improvement to 2.50 -- a half a goal per game -- would almost guarantee a spot in the bid for the Stanley Cup. Last season, all 10 teams who made that grade made the post-season.

There's a hesitation to sell the Jets short before they even start, but that number doesn't seem realistic in Winnipeg. There's nowhere to hide in a shortened 48-game season. Teams rarely change their stripes overnight and in the case of one that hasn't made drastic personnel adjustments or a coaching change, it seems unlikely.

Further, the Jets are less on defence to start the campaign, with Zach Bogosian sidelined for several weeks, and relatively inexperienced personnel on the depth chart from No. 5 down.

Centre Jim Slater, who gets plenty of responsibility on the defensive side of things, doesn't see this as a six- or eight- or even 10-man job.

"Every line has to be defensively responsible," he said. "There are teams that have better skill than us and they're going to score more. So if we want to take it to the next level and get into the playoffs, we definitely have to cut down the amount of chances we give to a team."

So embrace your fascination with peanut butter and jam, burgers and fries or chips and dip or however you want to view line combinations.

How the defence fits together is decidedly more like Bran Flakes and skim milk. You know, the stuff that might not taste great but is good for you, the combo that makes you healthy.

The breakfast of playoff teams.

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 17, 2013 D1

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