It’s a question he is asked almost every day, and Winnipeg Jets coach Claude Noel has tried to address it with terseness, humour and exasperation.
The question is simple: Why can’t the Jets score goals?
The numbers are bleak. Winnipeg has 127 goals this season, 23rd in the NHL. Take away the Jets’ wild 9-8 win over Philadelphia in October and Winnipeg has 118 goals, 28th in the league, one spot below the lowly New York Islanders, who have 122.
The lack of scoring has worsened lately. Winnipeg has just four goals in regulation time in the last six games. The team won just two of those games, with both victories coming in extra time – a 2-1 shootout win over the Flyers and a 2-1 overtime win against Tampa Bay. On the power play, Winnipeg is 0-15 during those same six games.
How does Noel respond?
Last Friday he looked exasperated and told reporters curtly after a 2-1 loss to the Florida Panthers: “Don’t ask me the same dumb question again, are you concerned about the one goal. Do I like the one goal that we get every game? No. Would I like to see it changed? Yes. Do I coach that way? No, that’s what we have.”
By Monday, a day after the Jets lost 3-0 to Montreal, Noel seemed to have more perspective and he started his daily press briefing by saying with a smile: “You can only ask me one time about the lack of scoring goals, just once, all right.”
Noel acknowledged that solving the issue won’t be easy and it’s something the coaches have to figure out as much as the players.
“It’s kind of a reflection right now of the way we are kind of playing and executing,” Noel said Monday. “We’re not scoring goals five on five. We’re not scoring on the power play. There is a point where I think it will come, but you can’t just rely on that. You have to coach it and that’s what we have to do now.”
Advice for how to set things right has been coming from all sides. Winnipeg forward Bryan Little, who has been struggling to score, has said the solution lies in shooting more. Goaltender Chris Mason suggested getting in front of the net more “and just try to bang them in.” Others have recommended moving big defenceman Dustin Byfuglien to forward since he seems to spend much of his time in the offensive zone anyway.
But it’s not that simple. As Noel noted, the Jets have started shooting more, but now they are missing the net. For example, he said the team had 24 missed shots in Montreal. Byfuglien, one of the team’s most prolific shooters, had no shots on goal in that game and missed the net six times. Noel said it’s the team’s overall game that needs improvement, from positioning on the ice to creating scoring chances.
Several players also just have to find their way. That includes Antti Miettinen, whom the Jets acquired on Dec. 13 off waivers from Tampa Bay. In the 21 games he has been with the Jets, Miettinen has yet to score. Last year he had 16 goals in 73 games. “I’m expecting more [from Miettinen]and I think he’s expecting more,” Noel said.
There is some hope. The Jets might get back their top scorer, Evander Kane, this week. Kane, who has 18 goals this season, has missed the last seven games because of a concussion. Noel said Kane skated Monday and might be ready to play against Toronto on Tuesday. Another injured player who has found his scoring touch, Tim Stapleton, could also be back for that game.
The Jets don’t have much time to get things straight. Winnipeg went 2-4 during the team’s recent six-game road trip, leaving the Jets with 54 points and out of a playoff spot. “We have a two-week window where we have to make things happen,” Noel said.
It won’t be easy. Over the next two weeks, Winnipeg has three home games (Toronto, the Islanders and Boston) and three road games (Washington, Pittsburgh and Minnesota). Noel said the team has to win at least four of those games.
“If you play three games a week, you have to win two of three,” he said. “That’s the winning percentage you’ve got to get to. You can’t go to .500, you can’t play to .500, doesn’t cut it. You are not going to be there. So you have to win two of three, three of four, however you want to slice it.”