It wasn’t too long ago — just over a week, more or less — when the biggest Winnipeg Jets cheerleader might have been the veteran hockey man stationed behind the bench.
Yes, back then, head coach Claude Noel’s daily media sessions provided heavy doses of optimism. And in between waving the pompoms, Noel would end almost every answer with "It’s all good stuff" or "I like him. I like him a lot."
But these days... not so much.
Winless in three tries and in a terrible nosedive to open the season, the Jets are both perplexing and vexing their boss. And the man who stepped up to the podium following Sunday’s optional skate at the MTS Centre looked and sounded nothing like the jovial sort who entertained everyone prior to the historic Oct. 9 opener.
"If I look at the three games and the way they went... are we achieving to the level that I think we should be? The answer would be no, we are underachieving. We are way below the bar," Noel said Sunday in a tell-itlike- it-is autopsy of his club.
"Why is that? Why are you, an NHL player, playing like an American league player? And it’s not one or two, it’s more than that. What has happened between last season, training camp and the start? Where did this go sideways? You can’t tell me this is what we are, because if anybody was enthusiastic about the season, I was. I believe we can be a playoff team.
"But we don’t look like one now."
It’s true there is a whole pile of the season left and no one in the organization is going to pound their fist down on the panic button just yet.
But outside of some decent work by a handful of players — the Jim Slater-Tanner Glass-Chris Thorburn line, for example — the iffy start has been so complete and the perpetrators of all the mistakes so widespread that it’s difficult to point the finger at just one person or problem area.
And if Noel was inclined to write off the loss to Montreal in the opener as a byproduct of nerves and then at least be encouraged by some signs in a 4-3 loss in Chicago, Saturday’s 4-1 spanking by the Coyotes in Phoenix had him mad enough to spit rust.
He’s benched players, banished some to the press box and juggled his lines — all to no avail. But he won’t stop pushing buttons.
"In times like this, it’s early, but you’ve got to be questioning a lot of things," he said. "It’s perplexing to me. What’s the reason for this stuff?
What’s the answers to it? I don’t know. I was just thrown a curve ball.
I was deeply disappointed in the Phoenix game. Guys are in good position, it’s just the decisions are poor, the execution is poor, the play is poor. To me, it’s unacceptable.
"I’m not sure why we’re getting what we’re getting. We’re all trying to find the same answers to the problems. I don’t know this team well enough. I thought I did, but obviously they’ve thrown a loop in here, so this is what we’re going to take a look at.
"There’s no question they care, I just don’t know how they’re showing it right now."
The Jets enter the week as one of the NHL’s three winless teams, along with the New York Rangers (0-1-2) and Columbus Blue Jackets (0-4) and play host to the Pittsburgh Penguins tonight. Then it’s off to Ontario with games against the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators on Wednesday- Thursday before home dates with the Carolina Hurricanes and Rangers next Saturday and Monday.
Clearly, the busy NHL schedule allows little time to look in the rear-view mirror. Truth be known, Noel has little desire to revisit the nightmarish start other than to keep sifting through the wreckage for answers. Asked what positives he could take from the loss in Arizona Saturday night, Noel was succinct — and in the process delivered another in a series of public wake-up calls to his club.
"Very few, very few. What would there be to be positive about, whether it’s that game or the three games combined?" he asked. "Look at the numbers — the numbers are atrocious. Your penalty kill, your power play, your goals against, your save percentage, your shots for, blocked... look at them. Those kind of numbers lead you to exactly what you’ve got.
If this is our presentation of what we are, then is this acceptable to you?
"I guarantee this is not going to be acceptable."