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Jets Set for a Sunday Must-Win in Pittsburgh

The Boston Bruins were simply too big, too fast and too good on Saturday afternoon. Now, to simply survive a huge three-game road trip, the Jets must win a game in Pittsburgh. That won’t be easy.

The legendary Torey Krug had two goals and an assist and was a plus-three as the Bruins whipped the Jets 4-1 in Boston. The Jets had some chances but Boston was just too big and too in control. Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec watched his goals against average soar to 3.06 (41st in the NHL) and his save percentage fall to .901 (42nd in the NHL). On the road, the Jets are now 9-12-1

The Jets hung in there in the fights, at least. Chris Thorburn took on Zdeno Chara.

The Jets hung in there in the fights, at least. Chris Thorburn took on Zdeno Chara.

Again the Jets had more shots (37-29), dished out more hits (28-22) and stood up to the Bruins in three fights, but Winnipeg barely won a faceoff and the back end wasn’t good enough as the Jets fell to 19-20-5 and now have 43 points in 44 games. Based on recent NHL history, the Jets probably need 51 points in their final 38 games to reach the playoffs. That’s going to be difficult.

However, on the bright side on Saturday, both Dallas and Phoenix lost, so the Jets remain only six points out of eighth place in the West. Trouble is, both Dallas and Phoenix have played three fewer games. With a 5-3 come-from-behind win over Washington, the Minnesota Wild moved to 49 points and also lead the Jets by six. Minnesota and Winnipeg have both played 44 games.

On Sunday afternoon, the Jets face the Pittsburgh Penguins in Pittsburgh — a team that is 30-12-1, first in the Metropolitan Division, first in the East and 18-3-0 at home.

In Boston on Saturday, the Jets had 37 shots on goal, 19 from the defense. The only goal was scored by Dustin Byfuglien, who had seven shots on net and might have been sending a message to the people who chose NOT to put him on the U.S. Olympic team roster. He’s the best forward playing defense in the National Hockey League.

Regardless, the Jets lost their second straight and fell below .500 again.

Before the Winnipeg Jets left town on New Year’s Day, it was pretty much decided by their most fervent fans that The Beloveds were off on a crucial three-game road trip. Weekend games in Boston and Pittsburgh were going to be tough, but a below-.500 Ottawa was ripe for the picking on Thursday night. Getting off to a good start was important. Beating Ottawa was considered one of the keys to a successful trip.

The Bruins score, the Jets hang their heads.

The Bruins score, the Jets hang their heads.

In Ottawa, the Jets certainly had every opportunity to win. Heck, they hit three posts and a crossbar. That crossbar put an end to a potential Gordie Howe hat-trick for Anthony Peluso (he’ll never get a better chance to score against a real goaltender any time in his career).

Trouble with three posts and a crossbar, however, is a comment that was once made to a media scrum at the old Winnipeg Arena by usually-snarly Flyers goaltender Pete Peeters.  The Jets hit a couple of posts in a home-loss to Philly and one of the reporters (who is no longer with us) asked if Pete felt “lucky” to have been “saved by the goal post.” Peeters, who hated just about everybody in the media, smirked and said, “You’re an idiot, right? The post isn’t even a shot on goal. Do you want me to stop all the shots that are wide, too?”

His point was taken. Posts are close. And we know where and when that counts.

Still, on Thursday night, the Jets were substantially better than Ottawa. At least, for the most part. Trouble is, they made too many dumb mistakes defensively, Ottawa scored one seeing-eye goal and suddenly the Jets were on the wrong end of a 4-3 outcome.

After the game, head coach Claude Noel told the TV cameras that he couldn’t blame goalie Al Montoya and he didn’t think his team played a bad game. The Jets didn’t get a power-play and after the Scheifele-Kane-Frolik line (they had 12 of 35 shots) and the defense (the six defensemen had 19 shots, a goal and three assists), the other three Jets lines had a total of four shots on goal and Olli Jokinen had three of them. Andrew Ladd and Blake Wheeler had zero shots and Bryan Little had one. That’s not good.

“You’ve got to force the other team,” said Noel on TSN Jets TV. “When you go to the net, you put a lot of pucks to the net, it forces teams to check you a lot closer. I didn’t think we did that enough with all the lines.”

Thursday night the Jets had more shots, more hits and dominated territorial play, but a couple of big mistakes, no power-plays and a few bad breaks put the Jets back behind the eight-ball. On Saturday, they remained behind that eight ball after getting kicked by a team that was obviously better.

Do they have what it takes to beat the Penguins in a Noon (CST) start in Pittsburgh? They’d better.

Dustin Byfuglien, the best forward playing defense in the NHL.

Dustin Byfuglien, the best forward playing defense in the NHL.

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