Some coaches might be frustrated or even angry if their team was winless and had the worst record in the NHL. Not Winnipeg Jets coach Claude Noel.
“I’m not frustrated,” Noel said after the Jets lost for the third time Saturday in Phoenix. “I’m disappointed.”
Whatever his mental state, Noel did make it clear he has been unable to figure out his young club. “It looks like our team thinks we have a free pass to fail,” he added. “I’m not sure what the wake-up call is.”
It has been a miserable start for the Jets, despite overwhelming fan support that carried all the way to Phoenix on Saturday. Hundreds of Winnipeggers made the trek to Arizona and helped fill the Jobing.com to capacity, a rare event in the desert.
By any measure the Jets have been woeful. They are the only NHL club yet to record a single point, putting them firmly at the bottom of the standings. They haven’t scored on any of their 13 power plays, which included one two-man advantage. They have allowed 13 goals in total and scored just five. Their best line of Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler has two points in total and only Ladd has scored a goal.
Noel has tried to shake things up. He has changed goalies, juggled lines and had private chats with players, including teenage forward Mark Scheifele, who had an outstanding preseason with eight points but has not contributed much since the season began.
“I’d like to see us get more production from what we might call our offensive guys,” Noel said Saturday. “I think that would lead us to a win.”
Things don’t get any easier for the Jets. They play Pittsburgh Monday in Winnipeg, then have three away games in five days, against Toronto, Ottawa and Carolina. Another stretch of seven road games is looming as well. That leaves little time to fix whatever is wrong. And it’s a long list of issues.
Noel has pointed to turnovers – “free pizzas” as he calls them – and cited far too many errant shots where players simply fire the puck, only to see it end up on an opponent’s stick. Then there are faceoffs, something most Jets lose regularly, and defensive miscues.
Some of his players said the root issues were more cerebral. “It’s a mindset more than anything,” defenceman Mark Stuart said. “The things that we need to work on are pretty simple. We are aware of them. I think every guy knows what we are doing wrong.”
Veteran defenceman Ron Hainsey said the team’s inconsistency has been hard to pin down. “We got off to a good start in Chicago and couldn’t hold it,” he said Saturday, referring to the two-goal lead the Jets generated in the first period during last Thursday’s game in Chicago before losing 4-3. “Then we got off to a bad start [in Phoenix]and couldn’t recover.”
Noel agreed. “These results are a little bit strange,” he said.
He also did not feel more practice would necessarily do much good. “I’d be a fool to think one day of practice is going to change things,” he said.
The team’s preparation during the preseason was fine, he added, and he hadn’t overlooked anything as far as getting the team ready. But he did put the players and coaches back to work on Sunday, which was supposed to be a day off.
For now Noel is trying to take a long-term look, saying he’ll have a better read on the team after 20 games. “I believe we are a little bit better than [the current record] but we haven’t proved that to ourselves yet. I’m not sure what we are waiting for.”
When Hainsey was asked when would be a good time to panic, he paused and said: “I don’t know the exact time. The bad news is we have lost every game we played. The good news is there are 79 more.”