Monday, February 25, 2013

Week 5: The Winnipeg Road Warriors

Article written by The Comish - Winnipeg Correspondent Sportmentary Online Sports Talk
The Winnipeg Jets embarked on a five game road trip to start week five of the shortened 2012-13 season with their heads buried in the sand after losing three straight at home in front of their adoring fans. The honeymoon appeared over and the unconditional love heaped upon the local club was gone. Moreover, there were very few fans or pundits that gave the Jets any hope on the road. I didn't give them much of a chance because of their inconsistency, lack of intensity,un-special teams play and the cloud of the old Atlanta thrasher mentality hanging over their head.

However, the Jets proved everyone wrong this past week and showed there is a reason you play the games as anything can happen. In fact, if they would not have run out of steam and suffered a third period collapse in Philadelphia the Jets would be 4-0 instead of 3-1 on the road trip. The main difference between this week and last is the Jets found ways to win close games. Anyone who watches the NHL knows that there is little room for error in this tight checking, low scoring league and the difference between winning and losing is razor thin just like a skate blade.

The week got off to a great start as the Jets went into Buffalo beat the Sabres 2-1 and were the straw that broke the Sabres back and resulted in the firing of Lindy Ruff. The only head coach the Sabres had known since 1997 was Ruff. The Jets got strong efforts from Ladd, Little, Wheeler line as both "L's" got goal while Ondrej Pavelic had a solid effort playing in his 200th game as a Thrasher/Jet. The Sabres were buzzing in the last 12 minutes but the Jets shut them down, played smart hockey and proved that you never know which Jets team will show up on a given day.

The Jets headed to Carolina to play their divisional foe but a freak accident resulting in Zac Redmond requiring emergency surgery to repair his femoral artery that was sliced by a skate during practice cast a shadow on this game. The players were all shaken by the situation and as the week progressed more details were released illustrating just how life and death the situation was.

Redmond is out for the season and the club said it is too early to tell what the future holds for him. The Jets somehow picked up the pieces and despite a sloppy start the team pulled off a 4-3 win thanks in large part again to the Little, Ladd, Wheeler line as Blake Wheeler scored two goals and Ladd playing his 500th NHL game set up Wheeler for the winner. Evander Kane scored his first goal in seven games and Pavelic was also in fine form keeping the Jets in the game with his tremendous play.

The club then headed off to play the Flyers for a matinee affair on Saturday. The Jets took a 3-1 lead into the third period but it was erased as they were unable to kill off back to back penalties, and ultimately the Flyers and perhaps the emotion of the Redmond incident coupled with the hectic schedule were too much to overcome. The Flyers walked away with a 5-3 win sealed by a Zac Rinaldo empty net goal with just over a second on the clock. The players and even Coach Noel complained about the work of the men in stripes but it cannot change the outcome of the game and it put the weak special teams play back in the spotlight.

Fortunately, there was no time to dwell on it or practice the penalty kill as the Jets headed to New Jersey for a 4pm game on Sunday. The Jets could have rolled over for this game and no one would have blamed them (they would have just complained at the top of their lungs) as going 2-2 would be more than anyone expected based on the home stand.

However, the stars aligned for the the Jets who pulled off a 4-2 victory as Martain Brodeur getting injured in the warm up, Anthony Puluso getting into an early fight that inspired the squad, Zac Bogosian getting his first goal of the season and Evander Kane scoring the winning goal on a beautiful move. The downside to this game was the injury suffered by big Dustin Byfuglien who smashed his knee into the boards and was unable to play after the incident.

The result in New Jersey was unexpected but welcomed as the Jets are now two points out of first place in their division and two points from a playoff spot. Yesterday's win and this road trip have shown that this team does have heart and character. The team is nowhere near perfect with the problems being readily apparent to the fans, coaches and management but for the moment things are looking up and there are lots of positive things to be taken from the last four games.

Unfortunately, life in pro sports comes down to what have you done for me lately and the next game will be a formidable task against a Rangers team that is looking to get back on track after a 3-0 thrashing in Montreal on Saturday night.The Rangers are 5-3-2 over their last 10 games and 6-3-1 at home. They will be looking for revenge and this could definitely be a letdown game for the Jets who will have to play smart hockey aka staying out of the sin bin.

It will be interesting to see if the Jets are up for this challenge and if Coach Noel can motivate the club to another victory. The Jets also face the Devils and the Capitals at home this week before heading out on the road again to play the Panthers and Lightning.

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