Jets lose third straight to Blackhawks

- November 22nd, 2013

The captain called out his teammates for not being ready and head coach Claude Noel wasn’t about to disagree with Andrew Ladd, who said matter-of-factly that “you need everybody to show up and play hard. I don’t think we had that. To me, that’s the biggest thing” — when asked what was the biggest thing his team could do to close the gap against the defending Stanley Cup champions.

Noel said he was concerned that the Winnipeg Jets, who entered the games on the heels of consecutive defeats, didn’t have enough players ready to go against the Chicago Blackhawks, a Central Division rival that was hungry after dropping two of the past three games.

“Andrew is right, we didn’t have enough good players,” said Noel.

What do you do (to solve the concerns)?

“That’s a good question, what do you do? That’s what I’ll be thinking about tonight,” said Noel. “How? Why? I don’t know. It’s something I’ve got to figure out. It’s part of the job.”

If you happened to be watching closely, there were a couple of occasions when Noel paused after questions and presumably bit his tongue, knowing it was best to pause and take a deep breath, rather than provide an honest answer that may have long-term ramifications.

One of those questions was about whether the Jets were at a point where they could need a personnel change to help solve the problem?

“I’ll let you decide those things, I’m not going to answer that,” said Noel. “I’m not going to sit here and say ‘we have to do this.’ I need to take a step back and take a look at this thing and see.”

What else is Noel going to say, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff is responsible for making trades or recalls and you can bet there could be discussions about one or the other during the coming days.

If you were Noel, you’d have be losing sleep trying to solve the problems that are currently plaguing the team right now as well.

There were times on Thursday — specifically during the second period when the Jets scored three times to erase 2-0 and 3-2 leads to even the score — when it looked like Winnipeg might actually have what it takes to hang with the big boys.

There were others, like during the first period when the Blackhawks put on a puck-control clinic and held the Jets to just two shots on goal, and later in the third period when they outscored the Jets 3-0 to turn a tie game into a route, where bad habits crept in and the better team simply took control and never looked back.

Noel and goalie Ondrej Pavelec were frustrated by the defensive coverage, or lack thereof. Tough to blame them there. It’s an area the Jets have struggled with for much of their time since relocating to Winnipeg and it’s something that needs to be addressed or the team is going to continue to have issues with consistency.

Make no mistake, the Blackhawks top-end players turned up their collective games when they needed to.

* On the Blackhawks first goal, Patrick Kane took the puck along the wall, skated into the high slot with his head up the entire time and waited until the perfect moment before unleashing a wrister through traffic that Pavelec never saw for a power-play goal at 17:26 of the opening period.

* On the ‘Hawks second goal, Marian Hossa (just back from injury) outworked Olli Jokinen in the corner before finding Brandon Saad for a blistering one-timer that made it 2-0.

* After the Jets tied it, Winnipegger Jonathan Toews made an outstanding individual effort along the boards, beating Keaton Ellerby to the net during a 4-on-4 situation before banking his shot off the post and in to make it 3-2 at 11:03 of the second.

* Then in the third period, Toews made an outstanding backhand saucer pass over the stick of Ellerby and right onto the tape of Hossa, who buried his 10th goal of the season for the eventual game-winner.

* Just over two minutes later, Marcus Kruger’s shot was stopped but Ben Smith jammed home the rebound as the Hawks fourth line got in on the scoring action.

* Patrick Sharp closed out the scoring with 54.1 seconds left, taking a pass from Toews and depositing his shot into the empty net.

The mood in the Jets’ dressing room was dour and there was no talk of silver linings. There was genuine disappointment and Noel expressed similar sentiments during his post-game address.

The Jets are 10-11-3 on the season and how they respond to this three-game losing skid could be a watershed moment.

Yes, there’s lots of season left, but with only 23 points, the Jets find themselves in the basement of the Central Division and a lot of teams to leapfrog if they want to make the playoffs.

Noel challenged the Jets earlier this season and they responded with stronger play.

It will be interesting to see if some players respond with a big effort after Ladd’s pointed comments.

There were some good things the Jets managed to do during the second period:

* The power play struck twice, once at 5-on-4 (on an Ellerby one-timer that snapped a 103-game goal-less drought, which I wrote about in Friday’s Sun and online at www.winnipegsun.com) and once during a 5-on-3 (Dustin Byfuglien scoring his sixth of the season and six in the past six games).

* For those of you scoring at home, the Jets are now 3-for-3 on two-man advantages this season after going the entire lockout-shortened season without one. It should be noted that Noel called his timeout to draw up a play and get his top unit some rest before they delivered the marker.

* Ladd himself was involved, scoring his sixth goal of the season and adding an assist while adding six shots on goal, three hits and three blocked shots — I gave him third star in my picks, edging Byfuglien, who also had a goal an assist and six shots on goal while playing a game-high 28 minutes and 20 seconds.

* Bryan Little had two more assists and continues to lead the Jets in goals (12) and points (23) in 24 games. He’s producing like a first-line centre, no doubt about that.

On the flip side, both Evander Kane and Blake Wheeler saw their slumps extend to 10 games without a goal. Wheeler picked up an assist and has seven points during the drought. Kane has four assists during the same stretch.

After playing a great game Monday, Kane struggled and finished minus-3.

Noel was asked afterward if it was up to Kane to adapt to his linemates and not the other way around?

“I’ll let you guys solve that one, I’m not going to be touching that,” said Noel.

Jokinen also finished minus-3 and Devin Setoguchi, who started the game on the second line, played a season-low 11 minutes and 1 second and was benched for nearly 15 minutes (late in 2nd until his only shift of third that started with just over seven minutes left).

Noel was asked why Setoguchi was so limited?

“It was a combination of different things,” said Noel, failing to expand on his answer.

The Jets close out this three-game homestand on Saturday afternoon against the Minnesota Wild before heading out on the road for an important six-game road trip, the longest of the season.

In case you’ve forgotten, the Wild have already beaten the Jets twice this season, by identical 2-1 scores at Xcel Energy Center.

Categories: Hockey

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