The Winnipeg Jets had a wonderful December. The team went 10-3-1 and got as high as sixth place in the East.
Last night, however, the Jets were beaten 4-0 by the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre and now Winnipeg has lost two straight on the road, fallen behind Toronto into 10th place in the East and watched their road record fall to 5-10-4 on the season.
It’s January. It’s the time in an 82-game National Hockey League season when the good teams start to make some noise and the mediocre teams fall by the wayside. Winnipeg head coach Claude Noel knows that now is the time for his players to step up.
Unfortunately for the Jets, all the things that coach Noel, the Winnipeg media and the Jets’ staunchest supporters feared before the start of a very difficult January have already come to pass in just two road games.
The Jets were beaten 7-3 on Wednesday night in Montreal and then 4-0 in Toronto on Thursday and now the Jets have gone 0-2 in January and been outscored 11-3. A team that is so very good, playing in front of its "seventh man" at home, has a real problem winning on the road.
After Thursday night’s game, live on TSN Jets TV, Noel used his scrum to quietly, and insightfully, make his frustrations known.
"They’ve (Toronto) got a fast team and they played a good game," Noel said. "We didn’t handle their speed very well. They’re a hard team to handle. I didn’t like the penalties we took, it was like we were back, four or five weeks ago, but our real problem was clear, I thought. Whenever they had the puck, we were chasing it."
As usual, Noel was asked by a member of the media who has never played a single hockey game, let alone a game at the NHL level, if playing the second game of a back-to-back situation was the reason the Jets lost. Noel looked disgusted.
"That would be a poor reason for me," he said. "They skated harder than we did, they were stronger on the puck. We had pockets of speed, but we got bogged down when we didn’t move the puck. We created most of our own problems. We seem to play better at home just like them.
"We gave up 11 goals in two games, we have to be concerned about that. I thought we were ready to go tonight but we didn’t manage the game very well. Remember, the opponent had a game plan, too. When our opponent had the puck, we were chasing them. Pretty simple stuff."
Noel was asked one very good question, by CJOB radio’s Kelly Moore. To paraphrase, "Why did you shake up your lines tonight?"
"For me the lines were a little stuck," Noel admitted. "I thought, ‘We’ve been down that road.’ I had to see something different. We miss (Bryan) Little. I just wanted to see something new.
"Look, this isn’t going to be an easy stretch. Teams are coming. We don’t have the comfort level of home and we have to find a way to work through it. We just have to find a way. Right now we average just 2.7 goals per game. Obviously, we have to defend better."
And there, in a nutshell, was the frustration. Noel is a sharp guy and he knows he’s been handed a hockey team that can’t score. He won’t say anything publicly, but it’s starting to sound as if Noel would really like a scorer.
The Jets have people to trade: Johnny Oduya (whom insiders suggest has already been offered up because he’s making $4 million this season and is an unrestricted free agent this summer), Dustin Byfuglien, Eric Fehr (although it’s unlikely anyone would trade for him) and a load of prospects. It would appear there are also going to be scorers coming available. Especially in Anaheim. And while Ducks GM Bob Murray has said Teemu Selanne is an untouchable, he might not be so untouchable, if the Ducks continue to tank. In fact, at 41, you might be able to get Teemu for a bag of pucks by trade deadline day. That is, if he’ll accept a trade to Winnipeg.
If the Jets can’t score some goals on Saturday in Buffalo and Tuesday in Boston, GM Kevin Cheveldayoff is going to have to, at least, start thinking about getting his coach a scorer. After all, the Jets points leaders, Evander Kane and Blake Wheeler, are 51st in scoring in the NHL.
And as we saw on Thursday night, that’s not good enough.