WINNIPEG – More often than not, coach Claude Noel seems to be the kind of guy who looks at his glass as half full.
But even he was forced to admit his Winnipeg Jets were on a path to nowhere judging by the way they lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning this week.
Only the day before, he was talking after practice about signs the team was doing what it needed to start turning things around, after losing three straight on the road.
Then Martin St. Louis and Tampa Bay came to town and any system Noel might have thought his players were buying into seemed to evaporate. They struggled to even get a shot on goal without a power play to help and fell 4-2 to the Lightning.
“Playing like that, we’re not taking steps in the right direction and that’s the concern,” a solemn Noel said after the loss.
“Obviously there’s some things that have to be assessed here. . . I will look at the team and look at the tape and try to figure out where we go from here.”
Where they go right now is down.
With 43 points in 46 games, the Jets (19-22-5) now sit 12th in the Western Conference, ahead of only Calgary and Edmonton and well out of striking distance for a playoff spot. They’re four wins back of teams like the Phoenix Coyotes and Minnesota Wild and both have games in hand.
It’s the first time this season they’ve lost four straight in regulation without at least picking up a point for taking it to overtime.
Neither team had a lot of zip in their game.
Tampa was closing out a road trip and the Jets were just back from one where they lost three straight, but the Jets were particularly flat. Yet, remarkably perhaps, they were still very much in the game going into the third period, thanks to a couple of power-play goals that had it tied at 2-2.
“That’s the most embarrassing part is just it was right there for us and we didn’t wake up all game,” said defenceman Mark Stuart.
Goalie Ondrej Pavelec contrasted the way the Jets played to the more controlled approach of the Lightning.
“They (have a) good system. They stick with the system. All four lines play the right way,” he said.
“We have to realize that people pay (for) tickets for this and see this one?”
Noel says he’ll be taking a look at what he’s doing as a coach as well as he seeks answers.
“My first look is going to be in the mirror. . . We’ve played some good games this was not one of them. I’m going to try and keep this in balance. This is an evening where it feels like there is no balance for me but we’ll keep it in perspective. We’re going to have to move past this and move forward.”
Frustration boiled over in fights and plenty of penalties and even Winnipeg’s top lines were ineffective and using their fists more than their sticks, but Noel refused to throw stones at anyone in particular.
“It would be hard to pick anybody that was good in the game. So I’m not going to sit there and throw our best players under the bus.”
When asked, he did have a few words to say about right-winger Devin Setoguchi, who hasn’t scored a goal since Dec. 2, didn’t spend much time on the ice Tuesday night and who Noel said could give a lot more. But then, who couldn’t?
The Columbus Blue Jackets visit Winnipeg Saturday and conference rival Phoenix will be at the MTS Centre Monday.