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Posted On Friday, 01.20.2012 / 1:18 PM

By Patrick Williams -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Jets not far off division lead despite recent struggles

WINNIPEG -- Against all mathematical logic, the Winnipeg Jets are somehow within three points of third place in the Eastern Conference.

A 4-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday night earned the Jets their third victory of the month, but a 3-6-0 skid in January has taken much of the luster off a franchise-best month in December in which the Jets spun off a 10-3-1 mark. The Jets' effort in December had them sitting in sixth place in the Eastern Conference at one point before they tumbled down to their current 10th-place slot.

Thursday's win pulled the Jets to 49 points, putting them just three points behind the third-place Washington Capitals and eighth-place Florida Panthers. After meeting Chicago, the Panthers will visit Winnipeg on Saturday night in a game that suddenly has major implications for the races unfolding in the Southeast Division as well as the Eastern Conference.

"It's a big game for us," Jets goaltender Ondrej Pavelec said of beating Buffalo, "but now every game is going to be like that. It's going to be kind [of like] playoff games."

With Buffalo behind them, the Jets now must turn their attention toward the Panthers. Saturday's game will be the Jets' last home date before a six-game road trip that will include visits with the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers. With just seven wins in 23 road outings this year, home games have taken on an even greater importance for the Jets.

"They're not too far in front us," Jets captain Andrew Ladd said of the Panthers. "So they'll definitely be in our sights. Every game is huge right now."
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Posted On Friday, 01.20.2012 / 1:15 PM

By Patrick Williams -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Sabres still seeking answers as road skid hits 12

WINNIPEG -- If the answer to their problems are found in the Buffalo Sabres' dressing room, coach Lindy Ruff's club has yet to find it.

A 4-1 loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday night hammered one more nail into the Sabres' rapidly closing playoff hopes. Buffalo now sits nine points behind the eighth-place Florida Panthers in the Eastern Conference playoff race and faces a meeting with the St. Louis Blues on Saturday night that threatens to extend its road losing streak to 12 games. If the Sabres are not out of the playoff race, they are at least precariously close to seeing their season come completely undone.

If one shift summed up the Sabres' night, it was a second-period failed penalty kill on which the Jets scored the game-winning goal. On a power play set up by a puck that clipped Drew Stafford on his way to the Buffalo bench and cost the Sabres a bench minor, Patrick Kaleta took a shot off his foot moments before Tobias Enstrom fired a puck past Buffalo goaltender Ryan Miller to break a 1-1 tie.

Kaleta's night ended with the goal as he hobbled to the Buffalo bench.

"Well, he couldn't play," Ruff said. "The X-rays were negative from blocking the shot, but he can't walk right now, so it doesn't look good for him."

Everything from a firesale at the trade deadline to replacing Ruff has been proposed by Buffalo media and fans, but no answers have been found so far. Just a few days after Miller shot down the idea of a trade helping the Sabres, defenseman Tyler Myers concurred.

"No," Myers said of whether a trade or a coaching change would jolt the Sabres back into contention. "That's not the problem. Everyone in this room believes in each other."

Whatever the answer may be, the Sabres need to find it fast if they are to have any chance of salvaging their season.

"It's just a matter of working through this," Myers said, "but the clock is ticking. We need to work quick."
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Posted On Thursday, 01.19.2012 / 2:42 PM

By Patrick Williams -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Jets return home needing to collect points

WINNIPEG -- Which Winnipeg Jets team will show up when the Buffalo Sabres visit the MTS Centre tonight remains to be seen.

Will it be the Jets club that spun off a 10-3-1 record in December, with nine of those wins coming on home ice? Or will it be the team that owns a 2-6-0 record in January, the most recent loss a dismal 5-1 showing at New Jersey on Tuesday night?

The Jets (21-20-5) sit in 10th place in the Eastern Conference, five points out of a playoff spot, and desperately need to collect points at home this week. After tonight's visit from the Sabres, the Florida Panthers visit Winnipeg on Friday before the Jets play eight of their next nine games on the road over the next three weeks.

The Jets received some good news on Thursday with the return of Blake Wheeler to the lineup. Wheeler missed two games after taking a puck to his throat last Saturday at home against New Jersey. Defensemen Zach Bogosian, Dustin Byfuglien and Derek Meech all remain out with injuries.

Ondrej Pavelec will return to the Winnipeg net after veteran Chris Mason received consecutive starts on the Jets' two-game road trip through Ottawa and New Jersey.

Here are the projected lines and pairings for Winnipeg:

JETS
Evander Kane - Bryan Little - Blake Wheeler
Andrew Ladd - Nik Antropov - Kyle Wellwood
Tanner Glass - Jim Slater - Chris Thorburn
Antti Miettinen - Alexander Burmistrov - Eric Fehr

Tobias Enstrom - Ron Hainsey
Mark Stuart - Randy Jones
Johnny Oduya - Mark Flood

Ondrej Pavelec
Chris Mason
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Posted On Thursday, 01.19.2012 / 2:40 PM

By Patrick Williams -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Sabres aim to snap 10-game road losing streak

WINNIPEG -- A 10-game road losing streak has left the Buffalo Sabres' season barely clinging to life.

What has been a disastrous week for the Sabres (19-22-5) continues tonight in Winnipeg. The Sabres followed a 5-0 loss to the Detroit Red Wings with a 6-2 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks before heading to Winnipeg having lost three consecutive games. With just two wins in January and in the midst of a seven-game road trip, the Sabres are nine points behind the eighth-place Florida Panthers in the Eastern Conference race.

Injures have battered the Buffalo lineup. The Sabres’ blue line is missing three regulars in Christian Ehrhoff, Brayden McNabb and Robyn Regehr. Up front, Tyler Ennis and Colin Stuart both have missed 14 games.

The Sabres did not hold a morning skate in Winnipeg, but Ryan Miller is expected to return to the Buffalo net.

Here are the projected lines and pairings for Buffalo:

SABRES
Thomas Vanek - Jochen Hecht - Jason Pominville
Drew Stafford - Derek Roy - Nathan Gerbe
Luke Adam - Brad Boyes - Ville Leino
Matt Ellis - Paul Gaustad - Patrick Kaleta

Andrej Sekera - Tyler Myers
T.J. Brennan - Jordan Leopold
Mike Weber - Marc-Andre Gragnani

Ryan Miller
Jhonas Enroth
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Posted On Friday, 01.13.2012 / 1:28 PM

By Patrick Williams -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

No sophomore slump for All-Star pick Couture

WINNIPEG -- San Jose Sharks coach Todd McLellan will have company in Ottawa later this month.

Sharks center Logan Couture, a former standout with the Ontario Hockey League's Ottawa 67's,will join McLellan for the 2012 Tim Hortons NHL All-Star game in Ottawa on Jan. 29.

Couture's 18 goals lead all Sharks scorers this season, and he celebrated his ticket to Ottawa with a game-winning goal against the Winnipeg Jets in a 2-0 win on Thursday night. Couture set a franchise record last season for goals by a rookie with 32. On a roster packed with veteran stars like Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau, it is Couture who will be en route to Ottawa.

"I still find it hard to believe that he is as young as he is," McLellan said of his 22-year-old star. "Give him credit for establishing himself in the National Hockey League and maintaining it."

Couture's nomination to the event comes two days after McLellan cinched his trip to Ottawa by virtue of the Sharks having owned the Western Conference’s best points percentage as of Jan. 9.

"There's nobody in our room debating whether Logan Couture is an All-Star, not one bit," McLellan said. "He deserves to go to that game, and he will represent our organization, and even more importantly, our city."
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Posted On Friday, 01.13.2012 / 1:22 PM

By Patrick Williams -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Noel waiting to see how Jets respond to adversity

WINNIPEG -- The Winnipeg Jets have officially hit turbulence.

Just 1-4-0 to start 2012, the Jets followed up a third-period collapse on Tuesday night in Boston with a 2-0 home loss to the San Jose Sharks on Thursday night. With eight of their next 10 games on the road, a club with just six wins in 21 road games this season faces a difficult path over the next month that will determine whether it is a legitimate playoff contender. Last season's second-half collapse doomed a promising start by their predecessors, the Atlanta Thrashers, and that memory remains fresh in the Winnipeg dressing room this season.

"Certainly we've hit a bump in the road now," Jets coach Claude Noel said. "This is going to be interesting to see how we do. It will be a good task for us, a good test for us, because we're going to face adversity straight-square in the face.

"For me, it's going to be more about dealing with the morale of the team now," Noel continued. "The team isn't going to be feeling very good. It's one of the issues that we're going to have to deal with."

Injuries to defensemen Zach Bogosian and Dustin Byfuglien have left the Winnipeg blue line struggling to generate much in the way of offense. The Jets will also be attempting to save their season against elite competition that is digging in for the Eastern Conference race, and Noel is all too aware of that reality.

"What happens at the 40-game mark is that you can see the teams with experience, they have winning experience, and our team doesn't have that experience," Noel said. "Somehow we have to find a way to get ourselves over the hump and re-energize and re-charge ourselves. It's a tough task."
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Posted On Thursday, 01.12.2012 / 2:34 PM

By Patrick Williams -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Jets hope return home cures recent woes

WINNIPEG -- When the Winnipeg Jets last skated before their fans at the MTS Centre, life was good.

The Jets (20-17-5), who meet the San Jose Sharks tonight at home, finished a packed December home schedule with New Year's Eve win that concluded a 9-2-1 mark at the MTS Centre for the month.

But then the Jets embarked on a 1-3-0 four-game road trip in which they were throttled in their three losses. On Tuesday night in Boston, the Bruins stomped the Jets in the third period in which the visiting club blew a second-intermission lead and lost 5-3.

Defenseman Zach Bogosian and checking winger Tanner Glass exited Tuesday's loss with injuries. Bogosian will not dress for tonight's game. Glass is questionable, as is Alexander Burmistrov, who has missed Winnipeg's past two games due to injury. Dustin Byfuglien and Derek Meech remain out with injuries.

Goaltender Ondrej Pavelec is expected to start in net for the Jets. Here is a look at the projected lineup for Winnipeg:

Evander Kane - Bryan Little - Blake Wheeler
Andrew Ladd - Nik Antropov - Eric Fehr
Tanner Glass - Jim Slater - Antti Miettinen
Kyle Wellwood - Alexander Burmistrov - Chris Thorburn

Ron Hainsey - Tobias Enstrom
Mark Stuart - Randy Jones
Mark Flood - Johnny Oduya

Ondrej Pavelec
Chris Mason


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Posted On Thursday, 01.12.2012 / 2:34 PM

By Patrick Williams -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

McLellan seeking better effort from Sharks

WINNIPEG -- A 5-4 shootout loss on Tuesday night at Minnesota figures to leave the San Jose Sharks a hungry bunch leading into tonight's date with the Winnipeg Jets.

The shootout loss ended the Sharks' four-game win streak as they started a four-game road trip that continues against the Jets before winding its way to Columbus for a game with the Blue Jackets on Saturday.

"We were actually quite disappointed with a number of our players," Sharks coach Todd McLellan said. "We didn't get the effort that we needed.

"We'll probably talk about a 10-minute game and a 50-minute game," McLellan explained when asked what he expects from the Jets. "We'll have to be on our toes early. I think they're going to be an energized team."

Antti Niemi, who has started 15 of the Sharks' past 16 games, is expected to be in net for San Jose. Ryan Clowe is expected to skate for the Sharks tonight after being banged up in Minnesota. The Sharks will be without defensemen Jim Vandermeer and Colin White as well as Martin Havlat.

McLellan also indicated that there could "potentially" be lineup changes after Tuesday's game. Here is a look at the projected lineup for San Jose:

Patrick Marleau - Joe Thornton - Joe Pavelski
Ryan Clowe - Logan Couture - Benn Ferriero
Jamie McGinn - Michal Handzus - Torrey Mitchell
Brad Winchester - Andrew Desjardins - Tommy Wingels

Dan Boyle - Marc-Edouard Vlasic
Jason Demers - Brent Burns
Douglas Murray - Justin Braun

Antti Niemi
Thomas Greiss
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Posted On Saturday, 01.07.2012 / 1:29 PM

By Patrick Williams -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Jets need improvement away from home

BUFFALO – Whether the Winnipeg Jets can resolve their road woes figures to go a long way toward determining just exactly where they fit in the Eastern Conference playoff mix.

The Jets will hit the halfway point of their season Saturday night when they visit the First Niagara Center to meet the Buffalo Sabres. They will do so fresh off consecutive losses in Montreal and Toronto in which they were outscored by an 11-3 margin. Those losses come right after the Jets had outlined much better road play as a key goal for the second half of the season.

“We’ve got to find a way,” captain Andrew Ladd said after a 4-0 loss Thursday night to the Leafs.

Those two losses may have taken a bit of the luster off a franchise-best month of December in which they ran off a 9-2-1 mark in 12 games at MTS Centre. The Jets’ 14 home wins are third-most in the League, tying them with the likes of Chicago, Washington and Boston.

“You’re always going to be a bit more comfortable in your own arena,” injured center Bryan Little said. “It definitely helps with the energy.”

On the road, however, the Jets just 26th in the NHL with a 5-10-4 road mark. Away from Winnipeg, the Jets have only two wins since Nov. 3 when they had just won their third consecutive game in the midst of a seven-game road trip.

“I think that it’s just a matter of trying to bring that energy and that work ethic to the road,” Little said. “It’s hard. You play in front of your own fans and you’ve got 15,000 loud fans right on your back. We’ve got to find a way to play like that on the road, too.”

With seven of their remaining 11 games in January on the road, the Jets will need to rectify their road difficulties in order to mount a serious push toward a playoff spot. Veteran goaltender Chris Mason believes that a much more concerted approach toward road hockey is needed.

“We have to sit down and look at ourselves,” Mason said.

After an optional practice on Friday afternoon at the First Niagara Center, coach Claude Noel attempted to frame the Jets’ road woes as one more obstacle that needs to be addressed in the long NHL season.

“To me, there is no panic, there is no crisis, there is no nothing,” Noel said. “You guys can determine that. This is all part of the season. If you look at it, we’ve played 40 games. You’ve got 82 that you’ve got to play. This is how the ebb and flow of the season happens.”

Rather than focus solely on the road problems, perhaps the Jets can take solace that they are still in the playoff mix even with their poor road play, to hear Noel’s perspective.

“How do we manage this?” Noel asked rhetorically. “Is it adversity? How do we deal with it? Those are the challenges, and that’s great. That’s why you have the big rewards when you do make the playoffs, and if you can win in the end, because you invest so much.”

“There is no manual,” Noel continued. “There is no right way. There is no wrong way. It is, ‘Does it work?’” That’s what our job is, and that’s what makes the job really interesting.”

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Posted On Saturday, 12.31.2011 / 1:04 PM

By Patrick Williams -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Bozak game-time decision for Leafs

WINNIPEG – The Toronto Maple Leafs arrive in Winnipeg to meet the Jets on Saturday night while lugging a two-game losing streak in the midst of an inconsistent December.

The Leafs blew a two-goal lead in the third period Thursday night at Carolina and lost 4-3 in overtime to the Hurricanes. The Leafs have a 4-5-3 December mark and are in a four-way tie with the Jets, New Jersey Devils and Ottawa Senators at 41 points in the Eastern Conference.

The Leafs did not hold a morning skate, but center Tyler Bozak fell awkwardly in the Leafs’ afternoon practice Friday at the MTS Centre and will be a game-time decision on Toronto’s top line. Colby Armstrong, Mike Brown, Mike Komisarek and John-Michael Liles are all out with injuries. Philippe Dupuis and Matthew Lombardi could be possibilities for the Leafs.

James Reimer will start in net for the Leafs in front of family and friends in his native Manitoba. Reimer’s start will be his sixth consecutive nod and 11th in the Leafs’ 13 games this month.

After Saturday night, the Leafs return home for four-game homestand that begins this coming Tuesday against Tampa Bay. The Leafs begin the new calendar year with nine of 10 games at the Air Canada Centre.

Here are the projected lines and pairings for Toronto:

MAPLE LEAFS

Joffrey LupulTyler BozakPhil Kessel
Clarke MacArthurTim ConnollyNazem Kadri
Nikolai KuleminMikhail GrabovskiMatt Frattin
Darryl BoyceDavid SteckelJoey Crabb

Dion PhaneufCarl Gunnarsson
Luke SchennKeith Aulie
Cody FransonJake Gardiner

James Reimer
Jonas Gustavsson
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Quote of the Day

For us it's a little bit different. I've never been in front of this much media. This is more than we've ever had to deal with in Tampa. I guess we're on a little bit bigger stage now. It's nice, you have to enjoy it. This doesn't happen too often.

— Lightning forward J.T. Brown after his first Media Day experience on Tuesday in preparation of Game 1 on Wednesday