Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Jets no match for Rangers

Dreadful special teams were crucial factor in third straight loss

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Nobody had an explanation, never mind a good one, as to why the Winnipeg Jets did almost nothing right on special teams Wednesday night at the MTS Centre.

And predictably, when you're facing one of the NHL's elite in the Eastern Conference pace-setters in the New York Rangers, it was the entire difference in a 4-2 Rangers victory.

The Jets, handed the first five power plays of the game -- including a 1:43 five-on-three in the first period -- came up empty. Actually, less than empty, since New York's Michael Del Zotto scored to cut into the Jets 2-0 lead during Winnipeg's fifth power play.

The Rangers then benefitted by the last five power plays and scored during two of them.

Game, set and match, taking all four contests against the Jets this season.

"The disappointment in the game for me lie in the power play and special teams," said Jets coach Claude Noel, glum after his team's third straight home loss. "That's pretty much how it went. I think the turning point of the game really was the short-handed goal. They didn't have a lot of life but they got a lot of life after that.

"They took over the game pretty much from there."

The emotional sag that has accompanied the team's three straight losses -- the playoff picture has sailed -- should have been no factor in the special teams, Jets defenceman Toby Enstrom said Wednesday.

"Not at all," Enstrom said. "We're all professionals. It has nothing to do with the last game.

"We haven't been good lately, especially in the five-on-three and I think the best thing to do is to keep it simple and take a lot of shots. I think we're forcing the plays right now and it's tough. They're a tough team to score on, they have a great goalie and block a lot of shots. That sure could have changed the game today."

The five-on-three situation has been a liability far too often this season. The Jets are just two for 12 in that situation, 16.6 per cent. That's actually below their overall power play mark, which is 18.2 per cent.

Which is unbelievable.

"There's a couple of things with that," Noel said. "Sometimes it's an indication of your skill level, not always. But the theories I have I don't care to share."

Jets centre Bryan Little, who had his team's second goal, knew the failed five-on-three was a factor Wednesday but tried to see the positive.

"I thought our five-on-three was a lot better tonight," he said. "At least we had some shots and chances. We seem to be snake-bitten.

"Most teams, that's pretty deadly for them and they take advantage of it. It would have been nice to get one. We tried to shoot more tonight but we just couldn't get one in."

And the cynic in Little about the overall power play tally was reasonable, and almost predictable, given the usual histrionics by Rangers coach John Tortorella after his team was whistled for all the early fouls.

"I think everyone had a feeling we were going to get some penalties after the first period," Little said.

Still, he added, it's not the calls that change the games, it's the actions after the calls that do.

"We have to learn to kill those off and our power play was pretty ineffective tonight," he said.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 29, 2012 D3

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