WINNIPEG – It’s not like Saturday was the first road game the Winnipeg Jets have lost this season.
But coach Claude Noel is still stunned at the way his team managed to drop its 17th game away from the MTS Centre, a 8-5 beating at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
He had a sort of fixed glassy-eyed stare when asked about the game Monday, and with tightly compressed lips and carefully chosen words left few in doubt about his feelings.
“I didn’t like the game for a lot of reasons,” Noel said, a day before the Jets were set to welcome the New York Islanders. “I wasn’t quite sure what we were doing. I didn’t get it there. You just watch a game like that and you wonder ‘You’re kidding me, what is this?’
“It’s perplexing to a degree but I think I understand it, so I’m trying to solve it and I’m not going to tell you what the solutions are. Games like that send you over the deep end.”
The Jets (26-23-6) largely abandoned the controlled, five-on-five defensive play that has provided a number of one-goal victories this season as the club battles for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
They were up 2-0 after the first 10 minutes in Pittsburgh—something the players suggested proved they at least started well—but Noel said even at that point he didn’t think so, adding: “It was not a good plane ride home.”
Meanwhile, the Jets’ players were defensive, contrite and confident they can bounce back.
Defenceman Zach Bogosian conceded it was probably a bad idea to get into a shootout with a team that has two of the top goal scorers in the NHL in Evgeni Malkin and James Neal.
“I think we could have told you before the game that we shouldn’t get in a shootout with them and we did, I don’t know why,” he said. “I think it’s more of an embarrassment that a setback.”
Goalie Ondrej Pavelec refused to point fingers at the lack of defensive help he received against the Penguins but he added the Jets need to know who they’re play against.
“You have to realize you’re facing probably one of the best lines in the NHL,” Pavelec said. “We didn’t play well, me either. It’s not about one or two guys … the effort was unacceptable.
“We have to learn from that game and stay positive.”
The Jet were outshot 39-25 and took penalties in the second and third periods that both produced goals, striking out on their lone power-play opportunity.
“I’ve seen us play well and I’ve seen us win games in the right way,” said Noel, who still thinks there is enough talent in the Winnipeg locker-room to keep the Jets playing hockey past the end of the regular season.
“I’d like us to get 96 or 97 points.”
With 58 points from 57 games, it would seem something has to change for that to happen.
Most teams have played fewer games, giving them more room to gain ground on the Jets. Florida, which is now leading the Southeast Division with 65 points, has played only 55 games. So has No. 2 Washington.
“I think we can be (in the playoffs),” Noel said. “But time is running out.”