Claude Noel could only shake his head in wonder.
The head coach of the Winnipeg Jets was trying to come to grips with his team getting hit with 14 penalties in their 6-5 overtime loss Tuesday to the Buffalo Sabres. That was the second-highest number of penalties any NHL team has taken in the 420 games played so far this year heading into the league’s schedule Wednesday. Only the Boston Bruins had more, 16, in a game against the Carolina Hurricanes last month.
The Jets committed almost every infraction possible Tuesday night from holding and hooking to fighting, cross checking, charging, interference, high sticking, roughing and one 10 minute misconduct. Winnipeg was short-handed two players on three different occasions during the game. In total, the Jets amassed 39 minutes in penalty time, more than half the entire game which ran 64 minutes 35 seconds long because of overtime.
And the penalties hurt. The Sabres had 12 power play chances and scored on four of them. That included one goal late in the third period that tied the game at five and one with 24.5 seconds left in overtime that won it. The Jets actually led the game four times, but couldn’t hang on because of penalties. By contrast, Buffalo took six penalties for a total of 15 minutes and Winnipeg did manage one power play goal.
“We end up shooting ourselves in the foot,” Noel said after the game “Spend half the time in the box, you end up with a short bench and it doesn’t help you. We could have won, we were in a position to win it.”
He added with some frustration: “I thought we played a good five on five game. We didn’t play enough of it and that was the key.”
By any measure penalties are punishing the Jets. The team has piled up 83 penalties in total so far this season, the third highest in the league. They have played short handed 72 times, more than any other team, and given up 16 goals while killing penalties. Crunch the numbers further and the Jets have given up more than one goal a game on average because of penalties. That’s one third of their total goals against a game, which stands at 3.33. Not great for a team that only manages to score 2.6 goals a game on average.
Noel has been exasperated about penalties for weeks, urging his players not to lead with their sticks while fore-checking since that often leads to bad penalties. He regularly invokes the name of long-time New Jersey Devils coach Jacques Lemaire, saying Lemaire’s teams were known for giving up just one or two power plays a game. Noel would be happy if the Jets took just three. So far, Winnipeg has only done that in two games.
The team had been getting better at taking fewer penalties, lowering the total per game to four during parts of a recent seven-game road trip. But that ended Tuesday in Buffalo and Noel will have to find a new solution.