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Jets miss boat in Toronto

Utterly ineffective for second-straight game on Eastern road trip

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TORONTO -- That sound you hear is the wind that follows the teams blowing by the Winnipeg Jets.

Tied for sixth in the NHL's Eastern Conference just last weekend, the Jets are back to 10th after Thursday night's inept 4-0 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre.

The Leafs were good at home and goalie Jonas Gustavsson picked up his second career shutout with 24 saves. If he had three difficult ones to make all night, it would be generous grading.

"He did his job but I don't think we made it too difficult on him," said his opposite, Jets goalie Chris Mason, who was left to defend back-door plays and high-quality slot shots. "I thought we made it easy on their whole team.

"We had a few good stints there, but that's not good enough to win."

After losses in Montreal Wednesday and Toronto Thursday, the Jets at 43 points are now behind Toronto (45), Ottawa (47), Washington (44) and New Jersey (44).

And after Winnipeg's sterling December of 10-3-1, the unsettling evidence has piled up quickly in two road games this week.

The team is a lousy 5-10-4 on the road. It doesn't have a win in any of its six episodes of games on back-to-back days (0-5-1). And trailing 2-0 through two periods Thursday, the tally is now up to 0-13-2 when behind after 40 minutes.

"I think the best thing to do is get pissed off," said Jets captain Andrew Ladd. "We can't be happy with how we've been on the road and how the last two games have gone.

"I think when we're at home it's easy to find that excitement and legs. That's a big part of our game, speed both ways. It seems when we get on the road, we stop. We have to find a way to get our excitement back and get our legs going and play 200 feet."

The Jets didn't show any life at all until late in the second period but it looked almost futile by then. Toronto's Mikhail Grabovski then scored early in the third, making the rest of the game mostly a formality.

Jets coach Claude Noel was circumspect after another troubling performance.

"There's no easy way around these things," Noel said. "You hit a bump in the road, it's how you're going to respond to it (that's important). Teams are coming. We knew this. I spoke about it before.

"There are different levels that get raised at different times of the year and this is what you're starting to see. And now we're on the road. We play nine (road games this month). It's a level where you don't have the comfort level of home and you've got to find a way to get it done."

The goals against in the last two games seemed to bother Noel.

"For us, we've got to find a way to get it done from a defending standpoint because we score about 2.7 goals per game, road or home," he said.

And for those who want to judge the successes or problems in black or white, Noel always has some grey suggestions for the middle ground.

Like Thursday, when he acknowledged the Leafs' strengths.

"They've got a fast team," he said. "We didn't handle their speed real well. I didn't like the penalties we took. We're almost back to five weeks ago. Not quite that level.

"But if you give them a little space, they can turn it into a lot. They were good, better than us."

And the coach would not consider the back-to-back nights as a discussion point on Thursday.

"That would be a poor reason for me," Noel said. "They skated harder. We didn't have the puck enough."

And even after a poor outing, the coach had one little amusing needle for reporters.

He was asked about the moment in the third period when Gustavsson lost his stick and catching glove and was playing with a bare hand.

"I would have wished he'd have lost both gloves," Noel said. "Maybe we would have got one then."

It was that bad a night.

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 6, 2012 C3

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