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Little joy in Jetland after losses

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If angst could be bottled and then passed around for everyone in the dressing room to take a swig, then the Winnipeg Jets might have the magic formula to pull them out of their three-game funk.

The Jets were back on the ice Saturday morning, still trying to come up with answers for their play in Friday night’s 4-1 loss to the Dallas Stars — the third consecutive defeat after a 2-0 start — and to suggest the mood was cranky would be a massive understatement.

Let’s just say there isn’t a lot of joy in Jetland these days.

And while it was suggested immediately after the Stars’ loss that the focus was perhaps too much on the Xs and Os and that was leading to tentative play — a notion floated by Evander Kane, among others — it was Olli Jokinen who offered a different take a day later.

"You gotta focus on the Xs and Os... you gotta know the gameplan, that’s the foundation," said the Jets’ veteran centre. "That’s the first thing you’ve got to know, learning to play the right way. Stick with the plan and once you get that in your head, then you play. It’s not like our system is too complicated that you should over-think. That’s just my opinion.

"You control things you can control and obviously the only thing you should worry about going into a game is playing with the system and knowing where to go because once you start knowing that your linemate is going to do the right thing the game’s going to slow down and be a lot easier to play.

"But if you’re all over the place you can’t play," added Jokinen. "You think St. Louis doesn’t know their system? Of course they know their system. There shouldn’t be one guy in this room who doesn’t know the system. It should be automatic. It shouldn’t be that you have to over-think. It’s not like football where there’s millions of plays. We’ve got pretty much the same forecheck as every other team, the same ‘D’ zone as every other team, the same neutral zone forecheck."

It was here, as Jokinen held court with a small group of reporters, where he must have realized his rant had been uttered and heard before — not just by him but by a collection of those in Jets colours.

And then, continuing a theme that was common in the dressing room Friday, he summed up the sentiment of most the Jets and their fan base.

"We can talk here all day but to me, it’s pretty cheap," said Jokinen. "We’ve all been saying the right things here for the past four weeks. It’s a matter of doing those things now. It’s almost, ‘Shut up and play’, you know?

"A lot of times when things don’t go as planned you have 25 guys that think there’s a certain way we should play. But there’s a plan in place and we’ve just got to go out and do it. That’s the bottom line otherwise it’s going to be like this all year

"The good thing here is now everybody realizes there is tough competition this year and there’s a lot of games. We understand every game is important. It’s a good thing everybody doesn’t have the attitude, ‘Oh, it’s just one game.’ Everybody is paying attention now and knows we’ve got to really bring it tomorrow."

But it’s here where the conundrum that is the Jets’ early-season start gets interesting: is coach Claude Noel’s stressing of the Xs and Os of the system choking the creativity out of the club? Or, as Jokinen and others suggested Saturday, is buying into the system the key to morphing from playoff spectators to participants?

"It’s too early in the season to get mad and start slinging and pointing fingers," said Dustin Byfuglien. "We all know what we have to do and we just have to go out there and do it."

That was hammered home by Noel & Co. during Saturday morning’s session. There wasn’t a lick of screaming by the coaching staff, but a whole lot of on-ice instruction and reinforcement.

"(The system) is not that complex," said Noel. "It’s not rocket science. We’re tight because of the results that we’ve had. That leads to the tentativeness and not wanting to make a mistake. We’re not reinventing anything, we haven’t changed anything.

"Some of that (tentativeness) is because of what just happened. You play cautious because you’ve lost two in a row and you don’t want to lose three and you’re at home. So, you’re thinking the wrong way and somehow you’ve got to let the mind go free and play. If you work hard and skate hard you’re going to find your mistakes are going to be covered over from the work.

"It’s more the fear of making mistakes. You have to be able to have confidence in your game and the team game that even if you make a mistake it’s not the end of the world, we can cover over each other."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPEdTait

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