Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

No time for Jets to come unglued

Won't right ship by having confidence slip

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Panic can seep into a dressing room and infect it, with disastrous results. The Winnipeg Jets recognize this, as well as the situation they are in right now, and so far the antidote has worked.

The club seems determined not to compound its latest losing streak by falling apart as a group. Staying positive may seem like a trite refrain, but it's all the Jets have these days.

"It's OK to be angry right now, but you have to make sure you use that anger in the right way," said captain Andrew Ladd. "You can't start to blame one another and come apart. That can happen and we need to pull together. We have to be positive right now. I believe that and I believe in what we're trying to do and how we're doing it."

With two of the their best players -- defencemen Zach Bogosian and Dustin Byfuglien -- on the injured list and having lost five of their last six games, the Jets are in danger of slipping into perilous territory.

The wrong tack in the dressing room -- too much screaming and not enough encouragement -- and the Jets could implode.

Ladd, who was his team's best player and only goal scorer in Saturday's 2-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils, understands this all too well.

"We have to come and have that same work ethic and tempo every day," he said. "We have to play the right way and try to set the right example for one another. Getting down on one another won't help. We have to support one another."

Coach Claude Noel knows the dangerous ground his team is treading on, but is confident his leaders have it under control.

"There was a point with our group where we weren't very happy, and our leadership group did some things before this game and it shows to me they care. They care about each other and the results," Noel said.

"They're doing the best they can right now with what we have. We wanted to play a game with more will and they battled and battled to the end. I'm certainly not going to beat up on my team. I'm happy with the way the guys have played and responded and I'm happy with the way the guys have managed the room. They've played with purpose and a will to win."

The Jets have lost three straight games since losing Bogosian last week, and his absence, coupled with Byfuglien's, has been crippling. The Jets just don't have a physical answer to other teams' big players without these two defenders in the lineup.

"The problem you have with our team when you lose players with weight, they're hard to replace," Noel said. "It is what it is. You have to play with the hand you're dealt. You have no choice. You play with what you have to the best of your abilities. The door opens for other players and it's not like they're not trying."

The losing has had an effect on the Jets' playoff chances as they've gone from as high as sixth place in the conference to sitting 10th and out of the playoffs right now.

If that sounds familiar, it's because it's what happened to this roster last season when they were known as the Atlanta Thrashers and fell out of a playoff spot in the second half of the season.

Worrying about the past and coming unglued isn't the answer. Focusing on the present and sticking together, though it might not work, is the only chance these Jets have.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 15, 2012 B2

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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