Winnipeg Jets head coach Claude Noel has had to reach a long way back to find some inspiration for his NHL team, which has won just two games and is about to go on its longest road trip of the season.
How far back? All the way to the Old Testament and the story of David and Goliath. If young David could take down the giant Goliath with just one smooth stone and a sling, then surely the Jets could make the playoffs.
“There’s always ways to win games and I don’t care who you play, you just find a way,” Noel said Tuesday. “Whether it’s David and Goliath, there’s always a way to do it and you just have to find a way to do it.”
David, arguably, had the easier task.
The Jets are 2-5-1 and sit second last in the Eastern Conference with just five points. The team ranks in the bottom third of the NHL in just about every statistical category and has scored just 17 goals (including only two from what is supposed to be the top line of Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler). The immediate future doesn’t look any more promising.
The Jets have yet to win on the road and they play their next seven games away from the friendly crowds at the MTS Centre. The trip starts Thursday, in Philadelphia and continues with games against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers, New York Islanders, New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers and Buffalo Sabres. Good thing the players had Tuesday off, they’ll need the rest.
“We don’t fear going on the road,” Noel said bravely. “We just have to continue doing things the right way and playing the right way. These things will work themselves out.”
The coach takes some comfort from the Jets’ effort Monday in a 2-1 loss to the Rangers. The team outplayed New York for much of the game and got decent goaltending from backup Chris Mason. A bad break cost them the game, when a puck bounced off Jets defenceman Zach Bogosian and ended up in the net.
“I thought they were pretty good. I have no reason to fault them or blame them,” Noel said of his team. “If they continue to play pretty much like that, we’ll have some success. It takes time.”
Noel is sticking to his target of making the playoffs and producing 96 points, meaning the Jets have to get 91 more in the remaining 74 games.
“I think you have to have targets. You have to have your team reach,” he said. “I think that they are still reachable. I think our group believes that they are.”
He did offer this caution: “The cautionary area there would be that you have negativity and frustration and poor values that come into play. And when those values come into play, they are negative distractions and that’s where you try to get them steered in the right direction.”
And Noel isn’t about to change his coaching style. When asked about people who say he should be yelling and screaming at his players, he replied: “It’s just a different way of handling things. You just handle things the way that you think that you need to. I don’t question my way. I have experience. I’ve won before and I don’t lack confidence and I don’t beat myself up.”
David became king of Israel years after killing Goliath.
Noel? He’ll just be happy to stick around as coach if Jets make the playoffs.