WINNIPEG – The Winnipeg Jets have two home games this week to recover from their most recent case of road rash and coach Claude Noel is showing signs of frustration.
At the MTS Centre, before sold-out crowds of screaming fans, the team has taken on some of the NHL’s best and won.
Going into Thursday’s game against San Jose, Winnipeg’s home record of 14-6-1, including wins against the Boston Bruins and Minnesota Wild, who were both at or near the top of the standings when they lost to the Jets.
But something happens when the former Atlanta Thrashers squad gets on a plane. Their dismal road record of 6-11-4 includes a loss to Columbus, which currently sits in the league’s basement.
Before their latest trip, Noel was sounding hopeful that might all be in the past.
But in their four most recent games away from the Manitoba capital, the Jets managed just one win in overtime over the slumping Buffalo Sabres to fall to 10th in the Eastern Conference.
The culmination was a 5-3 loss in Boston, a game where the Jets led 3-2 in the third period.
“To me that third period was a big moment for us,” Noel said Thursday, as the Jets prepared to take on the Sharks.
“We could really have established a lot of things for our team and for ourselves and we give up a goal eight seconds in. That’s what was really demoralizing.”
And it wasn’t the first time the Jets have started well but failed to finish.
“We have to prepare ourselves to give just as big a push emotionally in the third period,” said Noel. “For me that’s one of the things we hoped we learned off of that.”
Noel has also let it be known lately when he isn’t happy with how individuals are contributing—benching star forward Evander Kane for a good chunk of the Boston game, or publicly scolding Eric Fehr.
Noel says he prefers to deal with players one-on-one rather than in the media.
“You guys are very good at provoking emotions,” he told reporters Thursday, when asked to explain his remarks if they weren’t intentional.
At the same time, Noel said he didn’t regret his actions and, in both cases, the desired effect seemed to be achieved.
“I don’t like to sit on the bench,” said Kane. “I need to do better, I know I can do better and I will do better … I think the message was pretty clear.”
Fehr, a native of Winkler, Man., who scored his first goal of the season against Boston, also said he got the message.
“Calling guys out in the media, that’s one way to get guys thinking they’ve got to play better … and I think it might have worked for me,” he said. “I’m playing a lot better the last couple of games and I’m feeling a lot better on the ice.”
Fehr missed a good chunk of the season due to injury and injuries are another problem still plaguing the Jets, who are currently without defencemen Dustin Byfuglien and Zach Bogosian.
Byfuglien was named to the NHL all-star squad Thursday but it still isn’t certain he’ll even be able to make the game. Noel would like to see him on the ice in a Jets uniform first.
But with players of his calibre out, Noel says it’s more important than ever that the team follow his book on “defend by committee.”
And that doesn’t mean hanging back when they have a lead and not being aggressive.
“Get pucks deep, keep moving forward,” Noel added.
Captain Andrew Ladd says the players know what needs to happen and that they failed to execute on the road.
“I think we were disappointed with the effort we put forth,” he said. “But at the same time, going through a season, it’s an 82-game schedule, you’re going to have highs, you’re going to have lows.
“I think the key is trying to get back on track quickly here, back to the way we need to play.”