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The bottom line: Top line must be a force

Ladd, Little, Wheeler invisible against Sens

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BOSTON -- It's not really a compliment to say the Winnipeg Jets can be a resourceful bunch -- they have found some new and inventive ways to lose close games.

Another new method surfaced on Thursday in Ottawa. The team's second, third and fourth lines all created a goal but the top line of Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler not only didn't score, it didn't have a single shot on goal.

The result was a 4-3 loss to the Senators, and nobody's expecting the Boston Bruins to be any easier to deal with today at TD Banknorth Garden.

"They play an extremely patient game as a group of five," Ladd said, looking ahead to today's matchup. "They wait for their chances, play a strong, heavy game."

The big line and Jets coach Claude Noel weren't afraid to credit the Sens for stifling the No. 1 unit.

"You have to give Ottawa credit," Noel said. "They played a good, strong game, checked us hard. They played the way we played in Colorado and we didn't do enough to counter that game.

"The Little line has faced that dilemma the two-and-a-half years I've been here. They've received that kind of attention from a lot of teams. You can't deny teams like Boston, Pittsburgh -- teams we're going to face (this weekend) -- and other teams don't check the same way."

Wheeler said Thursday's low output will be on the line's mind today.

"We weren't good enough yesterday," Wheeler said. "Not even close. It felt like their game plan was to take us out of the game. We were non-factors yesterday."

Ladd gave ground on that only grudgingly.

"I think we helped them out a little bit by trying to do too much off the rush," the captain said. "That was our fault."

There was a variety of opinion as to whether the Jets again have lost the more assertive drive, especially in the third period, that had shown up in three straight victories over Minnesota, Colorado and Buffalo.

"I don't think we sat back in the third," Ladd said. "They played a very patient game, fast up and back. They take away a lot off the rush."

Added Wheeler: "I don't think we lost that last night. They found a way to get that next one and after that, got another one real quick. That's the key in these one-goal games, to find a way to get that big goal.

"Last night we weren't able to do it. Moreso, our mentality throughout the whole game was that we were trying to make things happen that really weren't there."

If the assertive game had a setback, the team does seem aware that it cannot return to the wait-and-see approach it seemed to take in many close games in the first half. Winnipeg is now a unimpressive 10-9-5 in one-goal games this season.

"You've got to have a mental mindset to do things right," said veteran centre Olli Jokinen, who scored Thursday. "That's the only way. It starts from each guy to get ready. It's not about the talent. It's more about the mindset of what you're going to bring out there.

"It's about team rules and sticking with the plan and believing the guy next to you is going to do the job as well."

And Jokinen said a scolding or in-house ranting isn't going to provide the focus.

"You don't need big speeches," he said. "At the end of the day it's up to each player what they're going to bring. If you can bring close to 100 per cent, you've got a pretty good chance to win. If each guy is playing the level they're capable of playing, you've got a chance to beat any team. It's not easy to have nights like that, where every single guy has their solid game, but you need more guys to have their A games than C games."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 4, 2014 C1

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