January 25, 2012
What did you expect, Jets fans?Team is long on character, short on talent
By PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency
WINNIPEG - They canít score to save their lives, they still have too many defensive brain cramps and theyíve won just three of their last dozen games.
And while theyíre five points out of the last playoff spot in the NHL East, theyíre also five points out of last place.
So no, it hasnít exactly been a wildly successful return for the Winnipeg Jets, at least not outside of the cash registers ringing at Portage and Hargrave.
To which I have one thing to say.
What, exactly, did you expect?
We got Evander Kane and the Atlanta Thrashers, not Jonathan Toews and the Chicago Blackhawks.
We got the íHawks assistant GM, Kevin Cheveldayoff, not Stan Bowman, the big boss.
We got Claude Noel, the head coach of the Manitoba Moose, not Claude Julien, head coach of the Boston Bruins.
The Thrashers didnít come in a package that read Instant Stanley Cup Contender ó Just Add Ice.
This was going to be slow-growing, not something you stick in the ground in the fall and watch shoot up in the spring, like some bulb on steroids.
Truth is, the Jets arenít likely to peek their heads above ground past April 7.
If they do, itíll be a minor miracle. Because it wonít take anything less to solve this teamís biggest problem: a lack of scoring.
The Jets have already been shut out six times this season, three in the month of January, alone. Of the NHLís 30 teams, only the New York Islanders have fired more blanks.
Overall, the Jets attack ranks 22nd in the league in goals, down two spots from where the Thrashers finished a year ago. Problem is, this was supposed to be a young team on the rise, offensively.
The offensive numbers could be much worse. If that early, nine-goal outburst in Philadelphia, an anomaly if there ever was one, had been, say, three goals instead, the Jets would be in 27th place for scoring.
That has to be the single, biggest disappointment ó and the single, biggest knock on Noel.
But their team defence has improved, and Noel has to get the lionís share of credit for that.
As the Thrashers, this group was one of the league sieves, ranking 29th in goals against in 2010-11.
Today, itís cut those down nearly half a goal a game (from 3.20 to 2.80) and is comfortably in the middle of the pack, ranked 17th.
But enough statistics, already.
Thereís another side to the Jets thatís just as important, and thatís good, old-fashioned want-to.
Itís not there every night, from nearly every player.
But based on the last couple of games before the all-star break, thereís encouraging news in that department.
Eyeing a five-day holiday, with trips booked to warmer climes ó and playing without their highest-scoring forward (Evander Kane) and defenceman (Dustin Byfuglien) ó it would have been easy to mail the two points to Carolina and New York.
Especially that Rangers game, Tuesday. Nobody expected the undermanned Jets to hang with the top team in the East.
Playing their second game in two nights, a collapse wouldnít have been shocking.
Instead, they played one of their grittiest games of the season, sticking their noses into unpleasant places and matching the Blueshirts, hit-for-hit, if not goal-for-goal.
That tells me the Jets havenít quit on Noel, that the culture of hard work and caring has begun to take root.
It also tells me thereís more than a little jam, there.
So character, the No. 1 thing you need in a team, doesnít seem to be lacking.
Talent, probably 1-A on the list, is.
Itís the GMís job to acquire it, the coachís to develop it.
Both have plenty of work to do.