Penguins win 3-1 over Jets

By: Adam Wazny | Saturday, February 16

Pittsburgh Penguins' Joe Vitale (46) drives for the net against Winnipeg Jets' Dustin Byfuglien (33) during second period NHL action in Winnipeg on Friday, February 15, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Before addressing the hockey, let's start with everyone's favourite subject: math.

Please forgive the simplistic, rather clumsy explanation, but if you take 12 different numbers and arranged them into different combinations of three, using each number only once, you would get several different groupings. There are 12 different options for position one, 11 different options for the second position, and 10 different options for position No. 3. Multiply those options (12 x 11 x 10), take that number (1,320) and divide it by six (which reduces how many ways the numbers can be ordered; 1 x 2 x 3 is the same as 3 x 2 x 1) and you get 220.

This is called a distinct combination without repetition. Whatever you want to call it, it doesn't change the final result: 220 different combinations of three.

Coincidentally, that's the total number of combos the Winnipeg Jets head coach Claude Noel can go to if he takes his Top 12 forwards, throws their jerseys in a giant hamper and randomly pieces together lines each night.

The Jets aren't quite there yet, but if things continue to sputter along like they have over the last nine days, Noel might want to consider holding a line lottery before each game. Who knows? Maybe the hope of finding chemistry up front might be better served when left to chance.

Winnipeg (5-7-1) dropped a 3-1 decision to the Pittsburgh Penguins Friday night. The team has lost three of its last four, scoring -- get ready for this -- just six goals in that span and overall, Winnipeg has 33 goals for; in the Eastern Conference, only Florida (30) has filled the net less.

Prior to Friday, Noel shuffled his forward combinations (again) slightly, moving Evander Kane to play with Alex Burmistrov and Nik Antropov, while putting Olli Jokinen with Kyle Wellwood and Eric Tangradi, a former Penguin who now fills the skates of the recently traded Alexei Ponikarovsky. The Andrew Ladd-Bryan Little-Blake Wheeler trio and the fourth line, featuring Chris Thorburn-Jim Slater-James Wright, remained status quo.

Ladd scored the Jets only goal Friday. Yes, the more things change, the more they stay exactly like they were the game before.

This latest round of tweaks produced a slight bump in effort and in scoring chances (truth be told, the Ladd-Little-Wheeler line -- the non-checking line that wasn't touched by Noel -- created the best opportunities) but when the Zamboni doors opened at the end of the game, the results on the score sheet read all too familiar for Jets fans:

  •  The Jokinen line mustered up a grand total of two shots. No points.
  •  Kane, a 30-goal man a year ago, was held to a couple shots by the Pens and is now goalless in eight straight games.
  • Burmistrov had a chance in the first period when he beat a defenceman with a nifty move and found himself with a clear lane to the Pittsburgh net. Unfortunately, in a play that sums up the Jets offensive woes perfectly, the slick Russian lifted a shot over the goal and into the protective netting above the glass.

Knowing the offensive shortcomings, Noel has little choice but to preach hard work and effort to his players. The coach will tinker with the forward combinations to search for a positive match, and eventually, somewhere down the line, the scoring drought will end. With little depth in the organization, and no expectation of a major roster shake-up via trade, that's all the club can do to break this offensive slump.

There are no numbers to crunch, no magic equations that lead to immediate solutions. At least Noel is nowhere near the 220 distinct combination mark, which suggests that productive player arrangements could still be available within this forward group.

From what we've seen over the last four games, though, it's hard to envision that mathematical possibility becoming reality any time soon.


Adam Wazny is a Winnipeg-based freelance writer who has covered sports in the city for over a decade. He has worked as a reporter for both the Winnipeg Free Press and the Winnipeg Sun, and now spends most of his time checking his Twitter. Did someone say Twitter? Find him here: @wazoowazny.

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