Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Coach’s challenge

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PAUL Maurice is stepping into a tough gig here in Winnipeg, trying to take a Jets squad that began the season with a playoffs-or-bust mantra but is now instead spiralling downward.

Here are six things that must be atop his to-do list:

 

1. Defence, please

The Jets have given up 24 goals in their five-game losing streak and have surrendered 145 goals in 47 games this season. This from a team that over the past five years has finished 25th, 26th, 29th, 23rd and 27th in goals against.

 

2. Big Buff: forward or defence?

From the big man's debut up front Saturday against Columbus we saw he can be a handful and he's not afraid to get to the hard areas in front of the net. Some would counter he can be more of a difference maker -- in a good way -- working from his position on the blue-line.

 

3. Confidence issue

This is a fragile bunch right now. As Olli Jokinen said Sunday in the aftermath of Saturday's loss to Columbus: "You can see we played a little bit scared... You've got to have confidence to play this game otherwise other teams, they see that. I think last night, Columbus saw that. They were down one goal but they (saw), 'They're a little scared,' so they just came after us and they scored four in the first nine minutes."

 

4. Who's No. 1?

At the beginning of the season it wasn't a stretch to suggest if the Jets were going to evolve into a playoff team, goaltender Ondrej Pavelec would have to emerge as their MVP. But Pavelec is now 11-19-4 with a 3.14 GAA and .898 save percentage while Al Montoya's numbers are considerably juicier: 8-4-1, 2.31 GAA with .921 save percentage. Pavelec is on a long-term deal, Montoya's contract runs out this year.

 

5. Up-and-down PP

There have been stretches this year when the Jets power play has been solid. But then there's this: Only Edmonton (seven) and Philadelphia (eight) have surrendered more short-handed goals than the Jets, who have given up six.

 

6. Holes in the bottom 6

The Jets threw out a fourth line Saturday night that featured James Wright (zero goals), centering Chris Thorburn (zero goals) and Eric Tangradi (one goal). The third line features a sniper in Devin Setoguchi who has now gone 18 games without a goal. Granted, sick bay features some decent pieces in Matt Halischuk and Jim Slater, but the contributions from the third and fourth lines have to be more significant on a team whose top two lines get a lot of attention.

 

-- Ed Tait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 13, 2014 C2

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