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Line changes change nothing

Jets' porous defence still the biggest problem

Posted: 01/12/2014 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

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TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
A bevy of Blue Jackets celebrate after Mark Letestu (55)  scores on Jets goaltender Ondrej Pavelec during third-period play at the MTS Centre on Saturday night.

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TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS A bevy of Blue Jackets celebrate after Mark Letestu (55) scores on Jets goaltender Ondrej Pavelec during third-period play at the MTS Centre on Saturday night.

The line changes implemented by the Winnipeg Jets for Saturday night's home game against the Columbus Blue Jackets proved one thing.

It's defence, not combinations, that wins hockey games and the Jets have none of that right now.

The Blue Jackets, entering the game just three points out of the basement of the consensus worst division in the NHL, the Metropolitan, played 40 minutes at the MTS Centre and still had no trouble beating the Jets 6-3.

That's five losses in a row, sinking Winnipeg to 19-23-5. It matches last season's late-season swoon but last spring, the playoffs were amazingly still in sight. Right now, a top-three draft pick seems more likely.

The Jets jumped out smartly to a 1-0 lead on Eric O'Dell's first NHL goal and had their chances to lead by more.

And then ... the crumbling began in the form of Mark Letestu's shorthanded goal just 36 seconds into the second period.

"We had a good start then a few things go the other way and frustration sets in and we let it get the best of us and it continued to spiral after that," said Jets captain Andrew Ladd.

He agreed the team is clearly fragile in this spiral.

"I think you feel like you're in a deep pit and you're trying to crawl and scratch your way out of it," he said. "Maybe panic sets in a little bit. You don't want the puck, you're scared to make a mistake and things start to go the other way.

"The only way we're getting out of this is sticking together."

Jets centre Bryan Little, who snapped an 11-game goal drought with a marker in the third, said the task gets all the more difficult.

"There's definitely been tough times, definitely it's magnified when you're in Winnipeg," Little said. "I've had some tough times in Atlanta where no one seems to care. No one's asking you questions, it's not in the paper and people aren't in the room after the game. There's definitely more pressure right now to get out of this and it makes it a lot harder."

Oh, that defence

In the five-game losing streak, the Jets have surrendered 24 goals. They are quickly moving down the league's goals-against chart and their deficit of goals for vs. against is minus-17.

"One of the things is right now we suffer from (lack of) confidence," said Jets coach Claude Noel. "There are some things we're not doing very well. We're not defending very well but we're not even passing the puck very well. And even on breakout, we have the puck in our zone with full possession and no pressure.

"We're just rimming it to somebody else and it ends up back in our zone again. Right now, adversity is really the enemy and we're not dealing with it very well."

Captain call-out

Ladd pointed the finger squarely at himself after his minus-two game.

"I'll take full responsibility for my play," Ladd said. "I was awful tonight. For a team struggling, probably looking for leaders, I wasn't very good. I need to be a lot better and I will be going forward."

Noel expanded on the observation.

"Sometimes he takes the burden of the team on his shoulders," the coach said. "That's what good leaders do. I've got to try to help Andrew. A guy like him will have triple the effect of other players because of the burden he puts on himself.

"Trying too hard, that's one of the problems you get. Trying too hard, you do more damage."

Line juggler

Every forward line was changed Saturday night with Dustin Byfuglien's move to right wing with Bryan Little and Ladd.

The new combinations didn't do anything terribly special.

Here's about the best thing that could be said, that from Noel: "I thought Buff was OK. He got good support from the fans early, which was good to see."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 12, 2014 B3

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