Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Top line not performing

And that's the bottom line on Little, Ladd and Wheeler

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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Inspection of the Winnipeg Jets scoring statistics reveals an exact split -- nine players with points and nine without.

It's not an eye-catcher given the team many expect to be offensively challenged has played only two games.

But it'll put a grimace on more than a few fans' faces because among the list of zeroes is the team's No. 1 line of Bryan Little, Andrew Ladd and Blake Wheeler.

Zero points among them and a collective minus-four, that's among the factors as the Jets have struggled out of the gate with two losses and just four goals scored.

Ladd's 59 points last season, along with Little's 48 and Wheeler's 44 do not suggest they lit the NHL on fire, nor that they should be doing so in 2011-12.

"They're good players, all three of them," Jets coach Claude Noel said after Friday morning's practice in Chicago before the team departed for Arizona. "I don't see an urgency to panic, that's for sure."

The Jets, the NHL's only pointless team to this moment, meet the Phoenix Coyotes tonight (6 p.m., CBC, TSN radio 1290).

While Noel has tinkered with the makeup of his second and third lines in practices since the team's historic opening home game last Sunday, he said he has not even spoken to his top unit about production.

"They've played pretty well," the coach said. "We've said here that it's everybody's responsibility to score, it's everybody's responsibility to defend. You can target and look at those three but there are others that we look at and see as offensive players. And you could say we're not getting much there."

Little, Ladd and Wheeler were all off the mark in the opener, much like the majority of the team, but skated better and were more engaged in Thursday's 4-3 loss in Chicago.

"Obviously we'd have wanted a better start than that," Little said Friday. "It's kind of tough when the team is 0-2 and our line hasn't put a point on the board yet.

"We know it's early. There's lots of the season left and we've been getting chances lately, so it's just a matter of time before it's going to go in."

In Game 1, the trio had just five shots on goal against Montreal. Thursday, there were opportunities and the shot total rose to nine.

"In the first game, it was definitely a bit faster and more intense than the exhibition games," Little said. "I think as a team, we didn't play very well in the first game so it was tough to get our scoring chances. It was just a tough game for us.

"They (Montreal) were the sharper team and that made it hard for us."

In Thursday's first road game, another element of the No. 1 line's challenge was apparent -- skating against the opposition's best defenders.

"Last night, we played against (Dave) Bolland and (Brent) Seabrook," Little said. "They did a good job but I still thought we had a lot of chances and we just couldn't finish.

"I was used to it last year and it's definitely tougher playing against guys like that. But our line, we know what to expect when we're playing against the best players on the other team."

Little said that drawing the most attention from the opposition, especially on the road, can have its pitfalls if one's not careful.

"I think you just have to try to stick to your game as much as you can," he said. "When you try to do too much or try to get away from (your game) because you're against the better players, that's when you'll make more mistakes and you'll give them chances.

"You try to play your game the same way against anyone. You have to know every night you're going to be playing against the best and that you have to bring your best game."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 15, 2011 C4

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