Sunday, 10.16.2011 / 5:19 PM
The NHL's return to Winnipeg was embraced by the hockey-crazed city after a 15-year absence. Now that the games have started and the struggles are mounting, the novelty is beginning to wear off.
The Jets are still looking for their first victory, which they'll try again to earn Sunday night when they host the depleted Pittsburgh Penguins.
Winnipeg (0-3-0) has been outscored 13-5 and is the only team in the league without a point. The Jets were outshot 34-19 in a 4-1 loss in Phoenix on Saturday, two nights after blowing a two-goal, first-period lead in a 4-3 defeat to Chicago.
and Jim Slater
leads the Jets with two points apiece, and the club is 0 for 13 on the power play after failing to convert on four chances Saturday.
The Winnipeg/Atlanta Thrashers franchise last dropped its first four games during a six-game skid to start 2007-08.
"I'm not frustrated, I'm disappointed," coach Claude Noel said. "I'm not sure what we're waiting for. It looks like our team thinks we have a free pass to fail."
A victory would begin to change that, though it may not be easy to get against Pittsburgh (3-1-2), which has outscored the Winnipeg franchise 50-27 in winning 12 of 13 meetings.
Despite the absence of Sidney Crosby and another injury to Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins are off to a solid start with the help of James Neal's five goals, which tie him for the league lead.
Malkin has a goal and three assists in three games, but he's missed three of the last four contests with a sore right knee and will not be on this two-game road trip. The injury is a lingering effect from a torn ACL that caused him to miss the final 39 games and the playoffs last season.
Pittsburgh, also without forward Tyler Kennedy (concussion-like symptoms) Monday, may need Neal to stay hot. He has scored in three straight games, including a 3-2 loss Buffalo on Saturday.
Neal also leads the league with 24 shots on goal.
"Just putting pucks on the net," Neal said. "When things are going good, you get bounces like that."
Neal has scored two of the Penguins' six power-play goals, which are tied for most in the league. The left wing was playing for Dallas when he scored two goals - one with the man advantage - in a 6-1 victory over Atlanta on Jan. 15.
Pittsburgh has played the most games of any team and hasn't had more than one day off between contests. Neal, though, dismissed the notion of fatigue having an effect at this point in the season.
"It's early in the year. We should be fresh no matter what," he said. "We do feel good, it's just a matter of executing our systems."
Marc-Andre Fleury has gone 10-1-0 with a 1.89 goals-against average in his last 11 starts versus the Jets franchise.
Winnipeg's offensive problems this season have been compounded by poor play in net. Chris Mason
and Ondrej Pavelec
have combined for a 4.33 GAA and league-worst .852 save percentage.
The franchise's lone win over Pittsburgh in the last three-plus years came April 10, 2010, when Bryan Little
scored in a 1-0 victory.