Claude Noel had one of his most detailed and interesting post-game press conferences after what would be his last contest Saturday night against Columbus. He had confirmed for all ears in the days leading up that a Tuesday night drubbing by Tampa had been the season low point for the Jets, and his roster in his final contest as the Jets coach reflected him throwing his hands in the air at the whole mess.
But after losing 6-3 to the Blue Jackets, Noel was a broken record about how the team made mistakes they’d never made previously. He got specific about the team’s intended formations, and how the players failed to execute. It was a moment of transparency that comes only when coaches lose the energy required to maintain the veil of a united front and trying hard. Yet it showed something Noel didn’t intend – that he wasn’t being honest with himself about the problems on the team.
Most interestingly, Noel insisted that the team had made mistakes they’d never made before. The sixth goal he wrote off as a fluke.
"Take the sixth goal, for example. The guy shoots the puck from the point… it’s shootin’ wide, Enstrom goes to block it, it hits the heel of his stick and goes right on their tape, in the open net. So, like, we’ll give up the point shot. We’ve done that all year. That’s how we do things. But it ends up on their tape, in our net."
Travis has been tracking Pavelec’s performance throughout the season, and his mid-season update showed that Pavelec gives up nearly 15% of his goals against on rebound plays. That’s more than twice the rate of rebound goals against Montoya. We know anecdotally that Pavelec doesn’t manage his rebound well, and when we interviewed goalie scout Justin Goldman about Pav, he noted that his over-active playing style meant he was rarely set for proper rebound control.
The coach who has been watching this goalie for three years has chosen a passive man defensive system that allows that point shot. As well, something Byfuglien gets criticized for constantly but is actually a taught part of the system, Enstrom was floating next to his check and not tying him up off centre in front of the net. Yes, it was an unlucky bounce off Enstrom’s equipment at the end of a long shift. But the system is designed to let Pavelec take the point shot and for no one to tie up their check prior to the rebound. It’s a bad bounce created by a particular structure.
Noel was clear that he didn’t think all the goals were lucky. About their first goal (a short handed 2-on-1), he had this to say:
"Their first goal: we got an offensive zone faceoff, we go in, we decide we’re going to forecheck, we don’t lock the middle, the centre, which we’re supposed to do, they come down on a 2-on-1."
He insists they’d never made that mistake before (which we know is false) and that they’ve never even talked about it (with the presumption that it’s automatic). His use of the pronoun ‘we’ makes that a bit confused. Let’s look at the tape.
The faceoff formation for the right handed centre at the left circle has Bogosian on his strong side with no support, and both wingers on his weak side, which is also the outside in this case. The play is obviously to push the puck behind the Columbus centre for a winger win as Frolik jumps into that gap. But Letestu manages to win it straight back to the goal line.
The ‘we’ in Noel’s comment is just Bogosian and Scheifele. And at the moment Bogo makes a decision to forecheck, things look like this:
Tyutin (51) is going to be the first one on the puck and Bogosian (44) correctly reads two things: 1) the pressure will push Tyutin to go behind his net, and 2) Bogosian is the only one who can cut him off there. So he jumps.
What he doesn’t seem to read is that Derek MacKenzie is already breaking out behind him and Tyutin isn’t going to skate this puck at all.
The problem with blaming Bogosian is that Wheeler is in no man’s land and never had a defensive job. If they won the faceoff, he was presumably a passing option for Frolik one layer up, but no one can guess what he was supposed to do when things turned out like this. If he’d lined up on the inside, Bogo wouldn’t have had to jump to force the play.
As well, Scheifele reads the whole thing late but can’t hold Letestu any longer than he does. He had to win a foot race. So yes, they forechecked and didn’t lock up the centre. But the coach set his team up to fail defensively.
Noel is fooling himself if he thinks this is the fault of a bad read. Everyone is making the best of a bad faceoff design.
Looking for "The Look"
Asked whether Pavelec gave Noel a "look" after the 6th goal against, Claude Noel chuckled gently and delivered a perfect summation of his tenure as the bench boss in Winnipeg.
"Well, I’m not quite sure about The Look. You know, I don’t look for The Look. Let’s just put it that way. I just coach by [pause, shrug] the way I coach, you know what I mean?"
Sadly, Claude, most of us do know what you mean. You won’t be tamed by common sense or obvious errors.
The follow up question was about whether the 30-second time out had the desired effect of releasing frustration. Noel continued to expound on his coaching philosophy.
"Well, you never know if it’s going to have an affect, in anything that you do."
A verbal misstep emblematic of a coach without answers.
On the Performance of Players
Claude Noel defended his team well during the presser, and displayed his gentle and personable side. He called everyone by their first names, and noted that he had to help Andrew Ladd, who was taking too much on himself. He called getting out of position, chasing the play, and over-handling the puck ‘human nature’ in periods of frustration. He even said Ondrej Pavelec is a "real good" goaltender and will be again in this league.
It was a bit touching to see him so familiar with the group, so paternal in his intincts toward them. At the same time, his treatment of the core group has never been at issue. Setoguchi played awkwardly on his off-wing in the game. Frolik had a tremendous game and was the team’s likely MVP, but Noel said that no one had a ‘good’ game while making a motion like it was a stunted effort, or there was a threshold of good that no one quite crossed. Eric O’Dell scored his first NHL goal. None of those players were mentioned. Byfuglien was described as "okay" upon moving to making an unwanted and much publicized move to forward, as though basic encouragement wasn’t something Buf might appreciate.
It was Noel’s final post-game press conference and it showed every side of the man we’ve come to know for three seasons. He was gentle and thoughtful about trying to help the people inside his locker room. Though he was heavy on forgiveness, he was stingy with praise and never mentioned players outside his core group, even on a night where Eric O’Dell scored his first NHL goal and his whipping boy Devin Setoguchi was put in an awkward position by Noel’s own decision.
He talked about breakdowns, but diagnosed the problems incorrectly, and ultimately decided that there was no blame involved. The mistakes were human error and nothing more or less. He started a sentence with a grand narrative – I coach by – and couldn’t or wouldn’t finish it. No clear identity. No clear gameplan. Just a series of moments, a series of choices. Execution over planning, territory over possession. Results over process. Noel has rightly earned a bit of warmth from media and fans as a sort of fatherly figure and the team’s first coach in the 2.0 era. But in his final moments on the job, he simply did not have the answers to move forward.