Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

'They're going to go in'

Top line looks to light lamp more often

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They don't have a lot of points -- exactly five between them in eight games -- but the Winnipeg Jets' so-called top line of Bryan Little, Andrew Ladd and Blake Wheeler at least has faith.

"It's the same old thing," Wheeler said after Wednesday's practice at the MTS Iceplex. "Nobody's really having much success putting the puck in the net, so it's just one of those times, and sooner or later it's going to go through. You just can't get caught up in it.

"The media, people outside the team, that's their job to get caught up in it. We play the game and go out there and do the same things we've been doing, and sooner or later it's just going to turn around."

While they don't like the numbers, none of the line's members appears too stressed or frustrated, though they've had their moments of anxiety on the ice.

"I have felt good all year," said Wheeler, who has two assists so far. "I'm not caught up in the numbers at all. I feel better now. If had numbers, then there'd be sunny skies. But I think sooner or later I'm going to keep playing the same way and the puck's going to go in the net and this will all be a memory."

Little, who has one assist as the Jets head for game 9 of their season tonight in Philadelphia (6 p.m., TSN Jets, 1290), said what was true about the chemistry and compatibility of the line still holds true.

"It was pretty fast; we found it," Little said of Wheeler's arrival late last season in Atlanta. "I think for me it was easy to play with those two guys. They're both big guys who protect the puck and they're both skilled guys.

"Throw those combinations together and it's pretty easy, especially that they're good in the corners and they'll come out with the puck, but they're skilled enough to make plays. If you're a centreman, it's pretty easy to play with guys like that."

Going on the road for seven games, beginning tonight, might not be a bad thing, the centreman said.

"I think if we're feeling any pressure, it's the pressure we put on ourselves," Little said. "We want to win, and we want to win for the city and the fans, and this is definitely not the start we wanted, but we know there's time to turn it around.

"We also know if we have a good road trip, it could be a lot different after this."

Ladd, the captain, isn't likely to endorse any shortcuts. He's the only one of the trio who's scored so far -- twice, once via deflection and once via the strangest of bounces last Saturday -- and on Wednesday sounded a little like he wants the pressure to stay on the trio.

"Obviously it's on us to start producing," Ladd said. "I think it begins with us, and a lot of times when things aren't going your way, you start pressing and maybe gripping the stick a little too much.

"We've just got to find a way to figure it out and get going in the right direction."

For a brief time last Saturday, Jets coach Claude Noel broke up the three in a search for some production.

The change, putting Wheeler over with Nik Antropov and Alex Burmistrov, yielded nothing, but when the lines were switched back, the Jets erupted for their biggest offensive night of the season -- five goals.

"It's the way it goes," Wheeler said. "Any time teams are having trouble putting pucks in the net, lines are going to get shuffled. You can't change your game. You've got to play the same way and let it go from there.

"I think it's one of those things where you go through a rough patch and you get a little frustrated and it just seems to carry over. The biggest thing is that you can't let it affect your game, and if you're still creating scoring chances, that's how you judge yourself. Then they'll go in.

"How many more games, 74? It's a long season. They're going to go in."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 27, 2011 C3

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