Winnipeg Jets co-owner Mark Chipman likes to describe his city as a "collective act of will" because it has overcome so much. Well, his team had better take note.
The Jets practised Tuesday morning for the first time after losing Sunday's opener 5-1 to the Montreal Canadiens. The game not only deflated the noisy crowd and the adoring city, which had been gearing up all week with parties and concerts, it also exposed some striking weaknesses on the Jets. They included a lacklustre presence in front of the Canadiens' net, miscues by veteran defenceman Johnny Oduya and a dismal power play that couldn't score once on seven tries.
Head coach Claude Noel organized a vigorous practice and at one point admonished his players with a string of swear words. Noel played down the outburst afterward saying he was just trying to provoke the players. "It's just the way it happens with the season," he said.
He added that some players' minds weren't focused after the day off and he was just trying to get them back on track. "We practised like we played. We're doing the same things in practice that led to the same stuff in the game."
The coach seemed almost baffled by the team. They had a strong scrimmage Friday, he said, and he thought they were more than ready for Sunday. Now he said he was still trying to find out "what their A games are."
When asked about forward Evander Kane, who did not impress on Sunday, Noel said: "I just wanted a little bit more out of him. I would have liked his performance to be better." However, Noel said he was not singling out Kane as many other players also didn't do very well.
As for Oduya, who made mistakes that led to two Montreal goals, Noel said: "He's a veteran. He knows and we talked to him."
Oduya said the day off was almost worse for him.
"I could have played right away. You want to get back out there and do it over," he said after practice.
He said he tried to put the game out of mind Monday.
"You can't sit around and think about it too much... These things are going to happen. It's happened before, it's probably going to happen again. Obviously it's unfortunate it happened in a game like that."
Jets goalie Chris Mason missed practice today because his wife went into labour. That led to a call last night from the Jets to Joe Caligiuri, who plays goal for the University of Manitoba Bisons.
Caligiuri skipped geography class to stand in goal during practice today.
"It was fast," he said afterward with a smile.
"It's a dream growing up to play at this level and have a chance to do it, even for a day."
Caligiuri won't get paid for his one day of professional play, saying he can't under Canadian college rules, but he added: "I don't care. I'll do it for free, any time.