October 17 2011 10:30AM
The only good thing about the scuffling start the Jets have posted is that it's thrown the flaws of the team into a stark enough relief that even the cheerleaders have had to acknowledge the obvious. Giddiness over the return of the club, understandable as it might have been, appeared to obscure the fact that the team that moved north wasn't very good and that the roster hadn't been bolstered in any meaningful way.
So, here we are, a week in and the Jets haven't been able to break an egg. The coach, all sunshine in the run-up to the real season, has chosen a different tack after the first three games, openly challenging his players to get it together. I certainly can understand the frustration Claude Noel must be feeling, since watching the club through the first three games has been a chore.
The errors thus far have been both plentiful and varied in number, but soft, headless-chickenesque defensive zone coverage has been the primary culprit thus far, at least to my eye. All three EV goals on Saturday were directly the result of soft play with the puck or a Jet being late to recognize that a Coyote was headed into a dangerous area. Or both, in the case of Daymond Langkow's opener 34 seconds in:
Sigh. At any rate, the team returns home this evening for a singleton versus Pittsburgh, and beyond the gruesome play in their own end, it's past time for the best players on the club to begin generating some offence. Andrew Ladd opened his account in Phoenix with a nice tip-in, but the actual decent chances have been limited in number, with very few clean looks from the scoring area. Of course, spending the majority of the game in a blind panic in your own end does have a way of suppressing output at the good end of the rink.
Matters might not improve much this evening absent a markedly better effort from the hosts. The Pens spent last season learning how to get by without Crosby and Malkin, as they became a very good defensive club, keeping teams on the outside and turning pucks over in mid-ice to create transition. They're a very difficult team to play against, even at half-strength.
I'm not much for simply presuming that a coach can make something out of nothing, since talent is almost always the overwhelming factor in team performance, but Dan Bylsma's ascension to the top job in Pittsburgh appears to have sparked a legitmate turn in how the Penguins approached the game. They were being outshot as a matter of routine under Therrien, but since Bylsma became coach in the spring of '09, they've done nothing but control play night after night, and that's with Crosby, Malkin and Staal missing serious time along the way.
Pittsburgh's two famous names are on the shelf, but one player that should be watched with a keener eye is Tyler Kennedy. Nominally a winger, he's played some center this year with good effect, often dominating the puck when he's on the ice. Kennedy gets a bit lost in the shuffle of big names on the Penguin roster, but he's a very solid pro, and certainly worth close attention.
(Or not: Kennedy is out as of this afternoon with a possible concussion. The Pens are falling faster than the British on the first day of the Battle of the Somme)
Everything leading to tonight's affair suggests a rather unappetizing evening is in store for the locals, largely since the Jets have been so utterly dire at managing the puck to this point. Another night of soft, sloppy play will result in the Penguins eating Winnipeg in transition, so if the Jets have any hope of getting in the win column, they have to be much sharper in their own end and a helluva lot harder on the puck at both ends of the ice.
They could use a save or two as well. Goaltending has been an issue rather than the issue, but Pavelec and Mason have allowed at least one goal in each game that they should have prevented. Pavelec will likely go this evening, and he, like his teammates, needs to be much better for the club to sniff a decent result.
Gametime is 7:30 CT, with coverage on TSN-Jets.