WINNIPEG - It was late Tuesday morning, and Winnipeg Jets head coach Claude Noel was talking about his Christmas shopping.
Or rather, the lack of it.
“It’s not easy going out there, trust me,” Noel began. “For a lot of reasons. It’s quite a challenge.”
Thing is, Noel wasn’t talking about the things that drive most of us crazy at this time of year: the traffic, the wall-to-wall people in the mall or the obscure item your wife wants that you just can’t find.
Seems the man in charge of the Jets can’t go out without getting the Justin Bieber treatment.
“People want to take pictures,” Noel said. “And then I don’t shop. I have to go hide in the corner of the store if I do that.”
Such is life as the leader of the hottest band in the land.
Some nine hours later, I’m thinking Noel’s players were probably looking for a place to hide, after the Jets played Santa during much of Tuesday night’s first period against the New York Islanders.
The only thing the Jets didn’t do as they allowed the Isles to bare down on goalie Ondrej Pavelec over and over again was wish them a Merry Christmas.
If the Islanders hadn’t had so much trouble taking the bows off, they’d have grabbed more than a one-goal lead in what was pretty much a one-way exchange of gifts in that opening 20 minutes.
“He had to make way too many odd-man-rush saves,” Jets captain Andrew Ladd said.
The Jets actually got out of the period all even up, but the holiday madness sale — “We’ve got so much stock, we’re giving it away!” — continued in the second, when former Manitoba Moose Michael Grabner was left all alone for an easy tip-in and the 2-1 New York lead.
If you were taking pictures of the Jets in their own zone, they wouldn’t have made Noel’s Favourite Christmas Moments album. They were stills, in every sense of the word.
“Way too many turnovers,” is how Noel put it.
Considering they were playing the offensively challenged Islanders — nobody had scored fewer goals in the NHL, going into Tuesday — the generous approach was hard to figure.
The Jets might not be the league’s Scrooge, but they had become more miserable to play against in recent weeks, at least at home.
Going into the game, Noel even went so far as to say they’d found themselves this month.
“We seem to be a team that plays with speed. We’ve got good goaltending. We’ve been responsible defensively. We want to be team that’s hard to play against, and we look like we are,” he said. “It looks like that has become our identity.”
On this night, they weren’t nearly hard enough to play against.
When a bottom-feeder like the Islanders comes to your barn, you don’t ruffle up the hay, leave a blanket and a dish of water.
You take away the pillow, make ’em sleep on the floor and wish they hadn’t bothered coming.
Instead, the Isles got so comfortable, they decided to prolong their stay.
Overtime settled nothing, thanks in large part to Pavelec, who stared down more quality chances than he probably has in weeks.
“He can steal the games for us, but not four, five, six in a row,” forward Nik Antropov said.
In the end, the Jets got exactly what they deserved, losing, 3-2, in a shootout.
And Noel was left wondering where the chemistry he’d seen earlier has gone.
His team is healthier than it’s been in weeks, yet it’s not playing as well.
Trying to make too many nice plays, he figured.
“We got better as the game went on,” he said. “We were way better in the third.
“It was a point, when we could have used two.”
These are the things that drive coaches crazy.
Christmas time, or not.