Winnipeg Jets' new head coach Paul Maurice met his players Monday and said for the first time in his coaching career he had to look up.
"And I like that," he said, adding the Jets are a big, young, fast team.
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"I like some of the pieces and some of the parts … [but] there's a big hill to climb," he said.
"There's not a lot of meat on the bone and not a lot of time on the clock. This team is as good as its record — we got what we earned."
He called the players passionate and said they can show signs of dominance at times "then you question where that goes."
The big challenge will be to get better at defence "in short order," Maurice said.
He was named the new coach on Sunday after the team fired Claude Noel.
The Jets lost their fifth straight game on Saturday, a 6-3 decision to the visiting Columbus Blue Jackets, and dropped 10 points behind the last playoff spot in the Western Conference.
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Along with Noel, the Jets also fired assistant coach Perry Pearn.
Maurice is a veteran bench boss with an NHL coaching record of 460-457-167 with the Hartford Whalers/Carolina Hurricanes franchise and Toronto Maple Leafs from 2006–2008.
He'll get his first mark in the win-loss column with the Jets on Monday night, as the team hosts the Phoenix Coyotes.
Scott Oake at CBC's Hockey Night in Canada said the Jets players are in for a change in coaching style.
“When you get a nice guy like Claude Noel and the players tune him out or whatever happened with the Jets, the next coach is usually the tough task master," Oake said.
"I don't know if that description entirely fits Paul Maurice, but he's a very good coach and he'll get things done and figured out here pretty quickly.”
Jets forward Bryan Little said after practice on Monday there were a lot of nervous players and he couldn't remember the last time he's seen that.
Speaking to reporters, Maurice echoed that remark.
"It's not a confident group out there," he said about the players. "They're trying to pass the puck … maybe they're nervous because the new guy's out there."
He said he has two immediate goals:
- Make the playoffs
- Build confidence
"I want to create the foundation of a game they understand and have faith playing," Maurice said.
While expecting things to improve, Maurice also said he'll "give these guys a chance" because it's not only up to them. It falls on the coach, as well.
"We need to both be good. We're entwined."
He calls it an honour to be in Winnipeg and said he is excited to get behind the bench for tonight's game, but Maurice said the fans can't expect a sudden, magical turnaround.
"The wand's not coming out tonight."