Evander Kane says the Winnipeg Jets have shown some consistency over the last few seasons, although probably not in a way players, coach or fans find very comfortable.
“You want to look for some consistency? We’re .500 and much the same,” said the forward, a day after a heartbreaking 6-5 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins that capped a winless three-game road trip.
“We are consistently inconsistent,” is how coach Claude Noel summed up the way the Jets have played since he took over in 2011.
Kane was wrong on one point. The Jets (19-21-5) aren’t even quite at .500 after their three most recent losses left them with just 43 points after 45 games.
But after Monday’s practice, Noel said he has renewed hope the Jets can start turning things around, as they prepare for a visit by the Tampa Bay Lightning Tuesday night. And he insists learning the more focused, defensive system he’s been trying to teach isn’t the problem for the team.
“Whether we have a good system, bad system, no system, I’m sure that when you’ve seen us play, like me, you see us, we play very well, we play very poorly. Why can’t they find middle ground? That’s what you’re asking. That’s a good question. That’s what I’m trying to do and I will be relentless in my pursuit to get that.”
The Lightning (25-13-4) are in second spot in the Atlantic Division with 54 points. But the Jets have managed to beat some pretty strong teams this season, then baffle fans as they lose to others that sit lower in the standings.
Kane suggested adding talent isn’t the cure. There have been suggestions that the Jets just don’t have enough elite players to compete with the best in the NHL, as they try to break out of .500 land and make the playoffs for what would only be the second time in franchise history in Atlanta or Winnipeg.
The Jets certainly don’t have a lot of players on the NHL leader boards. Dustin Byfuglien is fourth on the scoring sheet for defencemen but Bryan Little is the team’s top-scoring forward and he sat at No. 38 among his NHL peers.
Kane, who has 14 goals and 11 assists so far this season, still doesn’t think more talent is the answer.
“No. I think we’ve got to find a way to play together and play a way that makes us successful. . . and want to win and want to compete and have everybody on the same page every night,” he said.
Centre Olli Jokinen agrees, pointing to the junior team from his native Finland. It might not be the most talented in the world but still won a gold medal in Sweden on the weekend by making sure everyone played their best game.
There are lessons to be learned, although he also noted the Finnish junior team really only had to deliver when it counted in a few key games.
“Using us as an example, if (Sidney) Crosby is the best player in the game and let’s say he brings 30 per cent of his talent on the ice that night, which is probably not happening often, but then you have somebody who is less talented but he can maximize his talent that current night, you have a chance to compete against players like that,” he said.
Besides hoping to catch stars like Crosby on an off night and actually take advantage of it, the Jets also agree running and gunning with the best perhaps isn’t a path to success for a team of their calibre in the NHL.
Byfuglien, for example, says he recognizes he has to keep things a little more simple to avoid costly mistakes like one that helped hand the Penguins a goal Sunday.
“Slow down and just play the game the way I should be . . . simple and not try to do too much,” he said.
“I think I’m playing a little too fast for myself right now.”
Noel insists it’s not just winning or losing that’s the real measure of how the Jets are performing.
“I think that if we can play up to what I see is our potential, then I would be happy,” he says.
“And we’re not there yet and that’s what gets me worked up.”
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