By: Adam Wazny | Friday, March 9
There are lots of ways to look at what happened with the Jets in Vancouver last night. On the surface, a 3-2 loss to a team fighting for first place in its conference is nothing to be ashamed of, but the Jets need to be beyond "we gave 'em a good run" to be a serious playoff candidate.
That's just the way it is in the harsh world of the NHL, and the good news for Jets' fans is they are beyond that. From Claude Noel lamenting too many "B" games from his players to Blake Wheeler openly concerned about a team that doesn't play the same on the road as it does at home, this is clearly a group that is pushing to be more than "young with potential."
The Jets have gone 10-6-and-2 since the All-Star Break and have showed more purpose, more often, than any time during the season, except of course for that December to remember. The point is, this team knows what it's capable of and wants to be "that team" much more often than not. That's a big step for a group that's composed of largely carryovers from those perennial also-rans: the Atlanta Thrashers.
Jim Slater recently told me that Claude Noel has provided the players with the structure and preparation needed for success, and suggested he's also helped the players to realize that if they want to play in the playoffs, it's up to them to come together night-in-and-night-out to generate the points needed to find a spot in the top eight.
To me, team leaders (in word and/or deed) like Andrew Ladd, Blake Wheeler, Bryan Little, Mark Stuart, Dustin Byfuglien, and Ondrej Pavelec (to name a few) are eager to be leaders of a winning team and have the will to make it so. Now the challenge is to translate that into results, with so much riding on so few games. I'm not saying this is a championship group; there's work to be done to build that, but a playoff spot - that's doable.
A club is a like a family. And, like any successful family experience, supportive leadership is essential to plant the seeds for success. But at a certain point the kids have to branch out and make their own way - now is that time.