March 7, 2012
Jets' timing is perfectDoing little things right at just the right time
By PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency
WINNIPEG - Claude Noel was talking about demons, Tuesday. Demons and details.
But for the Jets head coach it’s not a case of the devil being in the details.
Rather, Noel has found a sort of nirvana in them.
Re-watching his team’s games — that’s apparently what coaches do for fun between practices and chewing on rusty nails — Noel has discovered the Jets seem to be doing most of the little things right.
Oh, the big things are there, too, on occasion. The breakaway winner by Blake Wheeler, Monday night. That crowd-pleasing five-on-one goal against Florida, Thursday.
But how about the Mark Stuart blocked shot that prevents a goal, the Randy Jones diving poke that clears the zone on the penalty kill or the Evander Kane back-check to break up a two-on-one?
Just three examples, but there are dozens in any given game.
And they’ve lifted a team that can’t match the talent of most Eastern Conference playoff teams into sole possession of the last spot.
“When I watch games back, I see a lot of things being looked after,” Noel said. “A lot of it’s done through selfless play. A lot of it’s done through teamwork. What I really see is how well we cover for each other. That’s what’s impressed me the most.
“That to me is a sign the room really wants to win. It’s kind of all fitting together.”
A month ago, Noel acknowledged, those details were sporadic.
But he said the team went through a process that has produced “some responsibility trust factors” that are paying off.
And the process didn’t include him delivering regular tongue-lashings.
“I have not been the demon barker,” Noel said. “I’ve been able to just let them play, and just coached the team. They’re doing a heck of a job in helping me manage them. Even when we get down, we’re still playing. Our will is still good.”
And then this tumbled out: “It’s perfect.”
I don’t know the last time a coach has come close to saying anything was perfect. And even as Noel said it, the word barely came out of his mouth, almost doing a 180 at the tip of his tongue, like a child trying to go back down the up escalator, only to be spat out, reluctantly.
The Jets are far from perfect, of course.
But maybe when you look at where they’ve come from in the last year, where they were early in the season and again during a forgettable January, the fact this relatively young child has found its feet is almost too good to be true.
The timing sure is perfect.
Because up next is one of the best teams in the NHL (Vancouver, Thursday), one of nine road games that, with the Jets now a dependable winner on home ice, will make or break that playoff dream.
“That’s a perfect time, because you’re coming down to the stretch run,” Noel said. “If we’re able to get in and make the playoffs, our game is good. You don’t want to be going in through the back door. Go right through the front door.”
But beware of what’s in the closet.
Because as Noel knows, perfection, nirvana, whatever you want to call it, is fleeting. There’s always something lurking in the shadows to snatch it away.
“There’s the old demon in there, of adversity,” he acknowledged. “It’s not going to be as smooth as you think.”
He hopes, this time, his team is more steeled for what’s to come. That it’s hardened enough to chip away at that record away from home.
Eleven wins in 32 games? That’s not just imperfect, it’s abysmal.
Wednesday afternoon, the coach and his team will hit the road to face their demon.
Whether or not they stand a fighting chance will depend on so many things. Little things.
With one rather big thing at stake.
I’m not sure how close playoff hockey is to nirvana.
But it might be the perfect way to end the season.