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Winnipeg Jets leaning on AHL to boost sagging season

Winnipeg Jets' Chris Thorburn (L) fights with Columbus Blue Jackets' Jared Boll during the second period of their NHL hockey game in Columbus, Ohio November 12, 2011. REUTERS/Matt Sullivan

Matt Sullivan/Reuters

The Winnipeg Jets are turning to their farm team in an effort to find some kind of spark to end a prolonged losing skid. Maybe they should bring up the whole team.

While the Jets are 5-9-3 and in the midst of a five-game winless streak, the St. John's IceCaps are leading the American Hockey League with a record of 10-2-3 and have won six straight. And, while the Jets have scored 43 goals and allowed 58, the IceCaps have scored 62 and allowed 45.

Of course the AHL is nowhere near the NHL in competitiveness, but the Jets have started relying on the Newfoundland club more and more. Four IceCaps are now on the Jets roster including forward Jason Jaffray who was called up Sunday after scoring a hat trick in an IceCap game Saturday night.

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"I'd just jumped into bed and was told I had to be at the airport by 5:30 or 6:00, so it makes for a long night," Jaffray said Sunday after the Jets practised. "But life could be worse, for sure."

Three other call ups, all defencemen, have also joined the Jets in the last few days to fill in for injured players. A fourth defenceman, Paul Postma, was returned to St. John's Sunday after playing three games with the Jets. Jaffray is the first IceCap to join the Jets not as a replacement, but as a potential scorer.

"He's a smart player," said Winnipeg coach Claude Noel, who coached Jaffray last year with the Manitoba Moose. "He knows his way around the ice."

Jaffray on his own isn't likely to turn things around for the Jets. He's 30 years old and bounced between the NHL and AHL for 10 years, playing 36 NHL games in total with four goals and six assists. But his very presence will send a signal to other Jet players, said team captain Andrew Ladd.

"Obviously things need to happen, we need some sort of spark," Ladd said Sunday. "We've got to get this thing going in the right direction somehow. So [Jaffray's call up]should serve as notice that we're not happy with what's going on here and there's pressure coming from the bottom."

Noel was still searching for answers Sunday to his team's recent performance, which included a 2-1 loss to the lowly Columbus Blue Jackets Saturday. "That was a team we were hoping that we could pounce on a lot easier," Noel said. "They scored right away which was exactly what you didn't want."

He added that "some things we did last night, we looked like a very limited skilled team."

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The Jets play at home Monday against Tampa Bay, who beat the Jets 1-0 a couple of weeks ago in Tampa. The Jets played well in that game, something Noel hopes they can repeat Monday.

Lightning coach Guy Boucher arrived in Winnipeg declining to answer questions about his team's 1-3-1 system, something that has become controversial in the wake of a Lightning game against Philadelphia last week in which the Flyers basically stopped playing almost in protest to Tampa's defence. For now, Boucher is more worried about his team's poor play on the road. The Lightning are 5-1 at home, but 3-5-2 on the road, including a 3-0 loss to St. Louis Saturday.

"Everybody knows that [Saturday]we didn't show up again, on the road," Boucher said Sunday after giving his players the day off in Winnipeg to reflect on their play.

"It's ice and boards, I always say it. On the road or at home, there's no difference. It's in your mind. And right now our minds are not in the right place."

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About the Author
European Correspondent

Paul Waldie has been an award-winning journalist with The Globe and Mail for more than 10 years. He has won three National Newspaper Awards for business coverage and been nominated for a Michener Award for meritorious public service journalism. He has also won a Sports Media Canada award for sports writing and authored a best-selling biography of the McCain family. More

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