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Noel pushes right buttons as Jets take flight in Southeast

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It's a saying that has begun to creep into the Winnipeg Jets' lexicon, spelling out a path to immediate success and potentially future glory. Stay on task, says Jets head coach Claude Noel, and good things will follow.

What is this task? Noel says it's the job right in front of the team at any given moment. His players take it one step further and explain it as the path to winning on a nightly basis and eventually reaching the post-season.

Can it be that simple for the Jets? The answer, we've come to learn, is yes. They may not have the deepest personnel in the NHL and it may have taken some time for the light to go on for this group but clarity has arrived.

If the Jets play the way Noel wants them to do, they win games. The current result of this approach has the team sitting in third place in the Eastern Conference and in control of their own fate. With 18 games to go, the Jets are well within their rights to begin thinking they can accomplish more than just squeezing into the eighth seed in order to play pylon for a top seed finding its playoff legs. The Jets can be more than that.

"We've changed our mindset in the last year and we've changed the way we play the game. Everyone to the man is buying into the fact if we play the game the right way, we can be a winning team," said Jets winger Blake Wheeler. "If we play the style we did in that 8-4 game with Pittsburgh last year, we're not going to win and we're not going to go very far. We've come a long way but if there's any satisfaction among our team right now it's about the way we go about our business. If we continue to do those things, we're going to be where we want to be. The fancy stuff might work or look good once in a while but more often than not it's going to end up haunting you."

Noel's method has taken some time to take effect but he's never wavered in the belief of his plan. It's really all a coach has and if he has patient management willing to let it take root, he gets the opportunity to prove himself capable or not. Right now, Noel's plan is shining through. His players are sticking to the task.

"It's to stay in the moment and do what is necessary in that moment, to stay on task," explained Noel. "I don't know if you do it by the whole period or by the shift. Sometimes you'll see us get results out of our play whether they lead to goals or not that are led by a good shift, followed by another good shift followed by execution that leads to a goal.

"Follow the task. What's the objective. For example. If they're down to five defenceman, what would be the objective? Play them down on the goal- line and wear them out. We just played an opponent, the Rangers, they were down to four defencemen and we wore them down because they had no energy by the third period."

Noel points to Tuesday's opponent, the Boston Bruins, as a strong example of a team that sticks to the task and their blueprint for success.

"They don't veer from it. Boston does it great. They just do the same. They start the game, they play the game, they end the game," said Noel. "When you watch pre-scouts on them, it's ho-hum. And they only get 110 points a year and they just don't veer off the program."

So what's the Jets' program?

"I don't what to share that with you. We have a plan that makes us play our 'A' game and makes us go better," said Noel. "Things we do that make us play better. It's not usually dictated by the opponent. It's usually about us. And sometimes when you get away from it, it's the players that drive you back to it."

Wheeler said he and his teammates needed to make the decision between winning and losing. The specifics were simple once they all agreed.

"I can have a lot of success using my speed and chipping the puck in and getting it deep and then going in on the forecheck. Even if we lose the puck, they still have to go 200 feet," said Wheeler. "Would I like to have the puck on my stick and go end to end? Maybe. But that's not going to result in success and we're trying to win games. Staying on the task is the right way of doing things. There's a right way and a wrong way. There's no grey area. It's a mindset we've adopted here and that's what Claude is trying to ge across. Now when you come to the bench, it's a mix of both the players and the coach holding you accountable. The room has determined we're going to play a certain way and you have to buy in."

Defenceman Zach Bogosian said the task is not being a team that beats itself.

"You can't turn the puck over at our blue-line or their blue-line. So it's simple, play the game in straight lines and get it deep and force them to play behind their goal-line," said Bogosian. "We've got speed and big bodies. We can be hard to play against. We can be one of those teams. It's up to us. That's the task we have to stay on. Will it get us to the playoffs? I'm not going to sit here and say that. But I can say this -- it will result in wins for us. We've proven that to ourselves. Really, now there's no excuse. We just need to follow the plan."

Or, as the coach would say, stay on task.

The tasks at hand

Winnipeg Jets coach Claude Noel likes to say his players need to "stay to the task." Here are some examples from his players of chores they need to complete in order to achieve success:

1. Don't beat yourself : "Get pucks to their goal-line. Use our speed and our size and get on their D and work on them. We get in trouble when we turn the puck over at our blue-line or their blue-line. Their are too many good players in this league that can take advantage in the transition game." -- Zach Bogosian

2. Straight lines: "It's the NHL and you can make plays when there is time and space but you can't get caught forcing it. If it's not there, keep moving north and south and get the puck behind their D." -- Blake Wheeler

3. Stick to what works: "It's fun to play run-and-gun hockey but we've come to realize that's not what is going to work for us and make us successful. Instead of making that cross-ice pass, just concentrate on getting the puck to the net and creating off that. That's sticking to the task. For our group puck management is key." -- Andrew Ladd

4. Ignore the noise: "We need to focus on what's being said in the dressing room and what we want to accomplish and not worry what the media, the fans or the other team is doing." -- Wheeler

5. Defend, defend, defend: "Stopping and starting is such a big thing. Anticipation is such a big thing for me. Whether it's on the forecheck or defensively jumping in and not letting the opposition have time and space. When you do that you take away their offence and for me that's the best defence." -- Ladd

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 21, 2013 D2

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.


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