For the first time since December 3, the Winnipeg Jets are once again a .500 hockey club. "We are not happy with that," commented Coach Claude Noel after his short-staffed hockey club dropped a 3-0 contest to the New York Rangers on Tuesday. It was the Rangers' second 3-0 home win over the Jets this season. It also dropped the Jets to 0-8 in the second game of back-to-backs.
The Jets are in a slump with only three wins in the last 12 games. Teams can play through injuries short-term but eventually it catches up to you. Out for the game in New York were Evander Kane, Alexander Burmistrov, Dustin Byfuglien and Tim Stapleton. Bryan Little has not been able to find the offence he had before he had the foot injury and the same goes for Blake Wheeler, who missed a couple games after getting hit in the throat with the puck. Zach Bogosian missed some games but has been terrific since returning. Coach Noel summed up the lack of offence this way, ''finishing doesn't come naturally for us.''
The Rangers' Ryan Callahan opened the scoring, with John Mitchell making it 2-0 after two. Wheeler had one in behind Henrik Lundquist but hit the post and Tanner Glass was robbed by the left pad of Lundquist early in the third.
Other than the first period in Carolina, the effort on the two-game trip was there but one goal in two road games won't get you much. Rangers have allowed the fewest goals in the league and the Jets saw firsthand how the Rangers do it.
''We tried, had chances, played physical, but they are a good team,'' continued Noel. ''They have size, a great goalie, they are a good blocking team.''
Aaron Gagnon played his first game as a Jet as he was recalled due to the injury to Burmistrov. With the All-Star break upon us, what will the Jets lineup look like the next game in Philadelphia on Tuesday (TSN Jets, TSN 1290)? ''I don`t know where they are at,'' said Noel, referring to the injured players. ''Hard to say right now. But we won't lose hope. We'll regroup and get back at it after the break.''
Chris Thorburn had two fights with Mike Rupp as he tried the hard way to spark his team. ''Chris has played three very good games for us. That line (with Slater and Glass) led the way. Their effort was good,'' continued Coach Noel.
Eric Fehr had five shots on goal to lead the Jets and had another three blocked. Kyle Wellwood and Toby Enstrom had their point streaks stopped at five games and Nik Antropov had his stopped at four. The physical affair saw the Jets outhit the Rangers 34 to 32.
The Jets post All-Star Game schedule is not easy. It starts with four more road games, in Philadelphia, Tampa, Florida, Montreal. Then home against Toronto and then three of four on the road again.
On February 17th, they start an eight-game homestand. They have to pick up some road points to be in the playoff battle at that point. The homestand would give them a chance to gain some ground. But winning on the road is proving to be a challenge. A healthy squad in Philadelphia would be a great start to turning that around.