Winnipeg Jets' road woes resurface

By: Adam Wazny | Friday, February 1

Florida Panthers center Jonathan Huberdeau, foreground, of Canada, scores a goal against Winnipeg Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec (31), of the Czech Republic, and defenseman Tobias Enstrom (39), of Sweden, as right wing Jack Skille (12) looks on during the third period of an NHL hockey game, Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013 in Sunrise, Fla. The Panthers defeated the Jets 6-3. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

The scene after the game Thursday night was telling, not that much was said.

There stood a visibly steamed Winnipeg Jets head coach Claude Noel giving his post-mortem with the travelling media and television cameras following a troubling 6-3 loss to the lowly Florida Panthers. The Jets (3-3-1) had just dropped their second straight game, so the coach wasn't exactly warm to queries from reporters.

The burning question -- the area where plumes of smoke are screaming into a grass fire out of control: why his team insists on taking bad penalties at the arguably worst possible moments of the game and what he was going to do about it.

"You tell me," Noel said at one scribe looking for ideas on how the coach would rectify the re-emerging problem. Ah yes, the 'you tell me' response is an old coaching deflection: snap the thought back at the media and increase the tension in the room when you don't want to give a response.

Or when you don't have an answer.

Regardless, it wasn't a question pulled from thin air. A lack of discipline speaks to a lack of maturity, and the Jets were guilty of poor penalty timing at times last season. They were guilty of it in a 4-3 loss in Montreal Tuesday (the game was won on a third-period power play) and they were guilty of it against the Panthers.

Two careless penalties in the third period wound up as power play goals for the Panthers, erasing a 3-2 Winnipeg lead and ultimately the good start to the season, when the Jets did an excellent job of staying out of the box. Florida scored three times on six chances with the man advantage, pushing the Jets 27th ranked penalty kill down to last place in the NHL (63.6 per cent).

Noel eventually expanded on his thoughts about the game, going down a bizarre path where he chastised the media for "singing praises" of the Jets in its reporting of the positive signs the club showed during a 3-1-1 start after the first five games.

That was interesting. If his team keeps playing the way they have this week, the coach won't have to worry about anyone breaking into song.

Winnipeg's not-so-special team's output was compounded by the injury status of defenceman Dustin Byfuglien, who is day-to-day with a lower body injury. Byfuglien came up lame Thursday morning and is likely a game-time decision when the club takes on the Tampa Bay Lightning (5-1-0) tonight (6:30 p.m.).

Add his noticeable absence to the fact Zach Bogosian (wrist) is still at least 2-3 weeks away, and Noel is left with a ultra-thin defensive corps that featured Ron Hainsey on the top pairing with Toby Enstrom and names like Grant Clitsome, Paul Postma and Zach Redmond, who played a staggering 21 minutes in his NHL debut, bringing up the rear on the depth chart.

There's more: the offence failed to sustain pressure on a weak Florida defence, goaltender Ondrej Pavelec didn't have his best night and Kyle Wellwood's mug is starting to appear on milk cartons.

Other than those shortcomings, Claude, your team looked terrific.

The Jets still have major issues, specifically when it comes to their play on the road. Winnipeg has one win in four tries as the visitor and last year's lazy habits are starting to creep back into the effort. When they don't out-work their opponent behind both goal lines, success on the scoreboard is difficult to come by, and when success does eventually come, the players have yet to demonstrate an ability to handle it or grow from it.

Thursday showed the Jets have some work to do.

Guessing no one has to tell Noel that.


Adam Wazny is a Winnipeg-based freelance writer who has covered sports in the city for over a decade. He has worked as a reporter for both the Winnipeg Free Press and the Winnipeg Sun, and now spends most of his time checking his Twitter. Did someone say Twitter? Find him here: @wazoowazny.

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