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Jets don't pass 'click' test

Noel laments lack of chemistry during latest homestand

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In most cases, Winnipeg Jets coach Claude Noel has seen his players' A games.

The tricky part now is to keep them on the ice, a chapter of coaching that always proves more time-consuming than expected.

After alternating wins and losses for six games now, Noel mused after Tuesday's 3-2 shootout loss to the New York Islanders that in the area of team play, "We don't have the chemistry we had before. It's maybe because of new people in, but it's not like it was before, clicking-wise."

The Jets were able to rally off a 5-9-3 start with some important discoveries and nights of execution in November, all of which stoke the impatience which has started to reveal itself in December.

"Our execution, you mean," Noel said Wednesday, asked to address again the area of the team's sharpness heading into tonight's home game with the Montreal Canadiens (7:30 p.m., TSN Jets, TSN 1290). "That's one of the reasons we practised today, just to try to get sharp. It's difficult.

"It's a real task right now. There's a lot of distractions here.

"People have family in for Christmas. It's such a short break. Your routines are all out of whack. You don't have the same freedom to do things.

"I don't have a direct reply to how I'm going to... I don't control the execution factor on the ice."

The 15-13-5 Jets are in a better place than they were five weeks ago but there is a clear sense that all cylinders aren't firing quite as right as during that heady week in which Winnipeg soundly defeated Tampa Bay, Washington and Philadelphia in the MTS Centre.

One of the factors has been line adjustments.

Centre Bryan Little, who had recently caught fire after a personal slow start, missed Tuesday's game with a sore foot, and there was no sign of him on Wednesday. Alex Burmistrov continues in that spot.

Add to that the introduction of right-wigner Antti Miettinen to the lineup on Tuesday, and you have three lines with altered makeups.

"Really, it shouldn't take too long," said left-winger Tanner Glass, Miettinen's new linemate.

"It's part of the game, that when you get new linemates, it's about communicating a lot early on. And then yeah, just practice time you have together, the more time you have out there together, the faster it's going to be.

"I think you have to talk amongst yourselves, just to learn the intricacies of each other's games and what a guy wants to do in this situation or that.

"And just get to know him, really. And on a personal level, too. That's important."

Glass sees some differences beyond personnel from last month's positive push.

"I think we've been a little too cautious playing against other teams' top lines," Glass ventured. "I think we've been too defensive at times and then once we do try to get going, that's a few games ago... and myself personally I think I've been trying to hang onto the puck in situations where I shouldn't instead of getting it out and I've been surprised by pressure a few times."

Veteran forward Kyle Wellwood, on this week's only intact unit with Nik Antropov and Andrew Ladd, went through this very thing recently when Antropov was out six of seven games.

"The season's so long, you know you're going to have at least half the games where you're going to be in spots where you're going to have to be productive even though it's not the perfect situation," Wellwood said Wednesday. "You've got to find a way as a line then, to get things done."

In many cases, players' worth in the NHL is a function of being able to adapt to such situations.

"It's not just sharpness," Wellwood said. "There are maybe things you're not accustomed to, like (Evander) Kane and (Blake) Wheeler were playing with Little for a 10-game stretch and they were getting just a ton of points and they seemed to win us all the games.

"Then if one of the three is out, they play the same way but it's just a different chemistry. So it's a challenge to find a way to get things done with the change of personnel.

"Sometimes it takes three or four games and enough shifts where you have something good that happens or something that you find that works."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 22, 2011 C3

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