Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

You could almost see this thing coming

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It stuck out from the press box like a bad dye job under klieg lights. There was no missing the varied flaws of the Winnipeg Jets on this night.

They turned the puck over at both blue-lines and failed to stick to their simple formula of playing straight-lines hockey. There was very little action behind the opponent's goal line and far too much time spent in their own zone. The result was a fairly easy win for the visiting Washington Capitals and one might argue the 4-0 final was flattering to the Jets.

Jets defenceman Derek Meech summed it up simply, just seconds after the final buzzer.

"We didn't play the way we expected to, and we need to sit and think about that and figure it out before (Friday) night," said the Winnipeg native, one of the few Jets able to call his game acceptable.

Jets coach Claude Noel looked for answers throughout the game, juggling lines and double-shifting his best players, but none of it worked. The Jets just weren't very good, including their most important players -- Dustin Byfuglien and Andrew Ladd.

"Couldn't make a pass, couldn't make a play. Spent too much time in the D-zone and then couldn't make a play in the offensive zone when we got there because we didn't have energy," said Noel. "This is what drives coaches crazy and gives the media something to write about. We have to change something, and we will."

Expecting the Jets to run the table would be foolish. Expecting them not to produce a clunker or two down the stretch is also a little unreasonable. This version of the Winnipeg Jets isn't the 1977 Montreal Canadiens. They're not even close to perfect.

The schedule has been busy and they've had enormous highs and lows. This dip was almost predictable.

Certainly the Jets had a lot to play for in this game, but that can and will be said every night until they have either clinched a playoff berth or been eliminated. Winnipeg isn't alone in this. There are only five points separating 14th and eighth place in the Eastern Conference.

The Jets are among a clump of 10 teams grouped between 27 and 34 points. Nothing is certain in the East, including the play of most teams from night to night.

The Capitals came into the game with just 25 points and needing a win in the most desperate of ways. They played hungrier and with more will than the Jets. Satisfied is a word Noel has used at times when his club has not performed up to standard. This effort smacked of contentment.

Thursday's loss was mitigated by a Carolina Hurricanes defeat, leaving the Jets atop the Southeast Division and third in the conference.

But that's an anomaly this season. Usually a defeat will create more havoc for a team stuck in the pack such as the Jets. How they respond is what matters, because there's no room for a slump.

The Jets are still a mystery and nothing's been solved.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 22, 2013 0

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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