They've only won two games, both at home, and are about to embark on their longest road trip of the season, but Winnipeg Jets head coach Claude Noel remains undaunted. The Jets, he believes, can still make the playoffs.
"I think you have to have targets," Noel said this morning a day after the Jets lost to the New York Rangers 2-1, the team's sixth loss of the season. "I think that they are still reachable and I think our group believes that they are."
The Jets have yet to win an away game in four tries, although the team came close with an overtime loss in Toronto. Overall the Jets have just five points, good enough for second last in the Eastern Conference (at least they are not Montreal) . The Jets have also scored 17 goals in total, also putting them close to the bottom of the conference.
Now the team heads out on a seven game road trip that starts in Philadelphia Thursday and continues with games against the Tampa Bay Lightening, Florida Panthers, New York Islanders, New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers and Buffalo Sabres.
Noel said he was encouraged by Monday's game because the team played well on just about every front. "If they continue to play pretty much like that we'll have some success. It takes time," he said.
He acknowledged that going on the road won't be easy. "There's a comfort level at home, the fans are here, they encourage you and they support you," he said. "If we are going to be a playoff team, which I think we are capable of doing, we're going to have to win on the road, there's no question and your target has to be being a .500 team [on the road] We are a little ways away from that. We've got to win one and then we go from there."
One area of concern has been the lack of production from what was supposed to be the Jets top line of Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler. They have just two goals in total and three assists. That's fewer points than the seven points young forward Alexander Burmistrov has alone. Burmistrov's line, with Nik Antropov and Kyle Wellwood, has also generated 18 points in total including seven goals.
Noel tried to mix up the top line Saturday in the Jets win over Carolina by replacing Wheeler with Kyle Wellwood. But it didn't work and by Monday the same trio returned.
"They care about their game and they are trying," he said today about the top group. "My job is to try to help them. We'll eventually figure it out. It will eventually come around. It doesn't last forever."
He'd better hope not.