Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

You ain't seen nothing Jet

Noel says debut game not a true indicator Road stretch could be a good thing

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Claude Noel isn't going to jump to any knee-jerk, panic-button type conclusions after one performance by his Winnipeg Jets.

And, realistically, neither should anyone else, knowing there are 81 encores scheduled -- and more if this collection can morph into a playoff squad.

All that said, on the day after the historic night before -- a 5-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens that instantly moved the team from in the spotlight to under the microscope -- the Jets' head coach has already learned one thing about his team that he likes:

They're not exactly cool with what happened in their 2011-12 debut.

Fact is, they're downright steamed about it.

"One thing I know," began Noel on Monday -- a day off for the players and staff -- "I don't have to worry about getting these guys back up. If they care, they'll get back up. And they care. We talked after the game for a few minutes... they're disappointed, we're all disappointed and we would have liked a better outcome.

"It's one of 82 games. That's how you have to look at it and that's how you have to judge your team. Our job, the players and the coaches, is simple: it's to get to our 'A' game. We identify what our 'A' game is and we strive to get better every day. When we don't, when it's below the standard, it pisses people off... mostly me. We'll get there."

The opener out of the way, the Jets now embark on a difficult part of their schedule that -- in many ways -- could be exactly what this team needs. Winnipeg will play 11 of its next 14 on the road, including games Thursday in Chicago and Saturday in Phoenix. But getting away from the glare in Winnipeg might be the perfect tonic for a team still trying to understand itself and get comfortable with Noel's system.

"You're going to run into these schedule issues sometimes during the year," Noel said. "I think it's good for us. We're going to find out a lot about ourselves. We can play at home because we have fan support. When we're on the road, somebody else has that support.

"The biggest thing is you want to know your team and this team knows itself. We know we've got Chicago on Thursday and they're a tough opponent. How can they not be? They won the Stanley Cup a couple of years ago and we've got players who were on that team (Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien). We know what the task at hand is here."

Finally, given the gift of hindsight, Noel did admit something he at first brushed off after Sunday's game -- perhaps his squad was a bit too caught up in the moment. There were obvious signs of nerves, some sticks were squeezed too tight and enough gaffes to fill a week's worth of games.

"They weren't overwhelmed, but they were... you know what I mean?" said Noel. "The people that have seen us play throughout training camp and everything else, they knew that wasn't the 'real' team, that something wasn't connecting. As much as you'd like not to say it, it didn't function for us.

"All in all, I think they know we've got more game. We know that. We know we'll get it."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 11, 2011 C1

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