Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Time for top Jet performers to rise up

Inconsistent play won't cut it: captain

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ST. PAUL, Minn. -- For all their faults, you can at least say this about the Winnipeg Jets: It's rare they leave you with the impression that they're fooling themselves.

Wednesday was the latest chapter, when captain Andrew Ladd stood in front of reporters and told it like it is.

"It's up to our top players to be our top players," Ladd said after the team's practice at the MTS Iceplex prior to a quick flight to Minnesota for tonight's game against the Wild.

"We've got to be there, night in and night out, and when we're not it's not good."

There certainly has been a lot of hit and miss lately, as the team has lurched along in 10th spot in the NHL's Eastern Conference, always seemingly two or three games out of reach of a playoff spot. It has 58 points today, four off the line.

Ladd, for instance, hasn't scored in 11 games. Sniper Evander Kane, who missed seven games with injury, has only one goal in his last 14 and one in 2012. Blake Wheeler is scoreless in six, while Nik Antropov has no goals in 10. And Dustin Byfuglien, while he has scored in two of the last three games, has, let's say, been visiting all corners of the ice.

"It seems like it's something different every game," Ladd said. "As a group, we've got to find a way to rectify all those things, to come together, just to have a good group effort. I think we're getting good efforts from some guys here, some guys other nights. It doesn't seem to be everyone all at once."

And that was drilling to the heart of the matter on Tuesday, when the Jets fell behind 2-1 to the Islanders early in the third period. They tried to push the throttle, and there was nothing there.

"A lot of that had to do with our power play," Ladd said.

Jets coach Claude Noel was troubled, too, by the lack of response on Tuesday.

"I think they can learn it," Noel ventured. "I don't think that's a reflection of our players. I think our players care deeply about results, care deeply about making fans happy here in Winnipeg. They enjoy playing here and enjoy performing here.

"But there are things that happen on a team that you get caught up in. You get disappointed. It's no different than some of the lessons you learn in your life.

"There are ups and downs. You don't want to get trapped into the downs."

One of the downs that's a trap lately is the team's lack of scoring. Tuesday it was 38 shots on goal but just one in the net.

"I think we're a group that's disappointed in our production," Noel said. "I think we recognize we're not scoring that many goals as a whole.

"I think some guys are expecting a lot more from themselves and that's the competitive fire we have. And that's why I like the players."

Noel acknowledged the shortcomings of individual production. But he said it's more important that the group produce together and not get bogged down on this player or that.

"The players, they care," he said. "I think they know who needs to perform but everyone makes a contribution, whether you're offensive guys or defensive guys. You don't just win with scorers. They're part of it but when we had success in December, our scorers weren't scoring any more than we are now.

"I would like to see us do better as a whole. Individually, they'd like to do better and that's the competitive nature of them. But as a whole, I'd like to see the group respond better. That's where we're fragmented a little. It's not because they don't care, it's because that's how groups get formed."

Indeed, when the Jets won nine games in December, they had numerous low-scoring affairs.

One of them was a 2-1 win over the Wild, one of the most intense games at the MTS Centre all season.

Maybe this future rivalry will spark something tonight.

"It was physical, almost like a playoff game," said centre Bryan Little.

"I expect the same thing (tonight). It's going to be a hard game, always a tough building to play in in Minnesota.

"We don't see a lot of each other but for some reason, there's some bad blood there."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 16, 2012 C2

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