SUNRISE, Fla. — Forget the back-to-back theories, the miles-travelled excuses and any other plausible — or implausible — explanation tossed out whenever the Winnipeg Jets exit a game on the wrong end of the scoreboard.
Head coach Claude Noel has an idea of what ails his team and it was more than evident after Friday’s 2-1 loss to the Florida Panthers in front of an announced crowd of 16,773 at BankAtlantic Center.
"Our team right now can’t give up 20 minutes of free friggin’ play and expect that you’re going to be able to win the game," an angry and frustrated Noel said afterward. "And I know... don’t ask me the same dumb question again, ‘Are you concerned about the one goal (games).’ Do I like the one goal we get every game? No. Would I like to see it change? Yes. Do I coach that way? No. But that’s what we have and there’s still a way to win the games."
The Jets were absolutely awful in the opening 20 minutes of a critical Southeast Division contest that could have inched them to within one point of the Panthers and the division lead. Instead, they fall to 24-23-6, five back of the Panthers, and remain in 10th spot in the Eastern Conference.
Lucky to be down 1-0 after the stinky first — Kris Versteeg opened the scoring with his sixth goal and eighth point in four games against the Jets — Winnipeg found a spark in the second after Chris Thorburn wailed away on his opponent in a fight with Krystopher Barch. Bryan Little evened the score 30 seconds after the scrap, but less than two minutes later, Sean Bergenheim potted the winner when he was left alone directly in front of Chris Mason.
But here’s the offensive math for the Jets: Even though they are 2-1 on the current stretch of this road trip, the club has managed just four regulation-time goals in the last five games.
"The problem with scoring the one goal is you leave yourself no margin for error," Noel said. "You make two mistakes, it’s in your net and it’s the end of the game potentially. We’ve scored under two goals in 30 of our 53 games. It’s an acceptance of how you have to play. You have to be ready to play 60 minutes and we’ve had that for the last number of games and we didn’t start well tonight and that caught us."
And so the best way to describe this Jets outfit right now is the spirit may be willing, but the finish is weak.
"When you don’t score, you try and score in different ways," said Noel, continuing his post-game rant. "For example, how many times did we pass off the puck tonight? We had to do it five or six or seven times where we had legitimate chances to shoot the puck and didn’t. I mean, HELLO.
"There’s no easy way. You’ve got to pound it through, you’ve got to get greasy goals and you’ve got to play 60 minutes. For me, I look at effort and I look at accountability and different things. Our guys are giving us what we got, what they can. We don’t have the Crosbys of the world and the Malkins. We’ve got what we’ve got and I’m fine with that, our guys are working."
That’s true enough. But a skilled blacksmith can pound the anvil all day and forge a knight’s sword; others put in hours of sweat and still end up with a twisted mess of metal.
"They showed they were the more desperate team tonight," Little said. "If we play this way in Montreal (on Sunday), it doesn’t matter what team it is, we’re going to lose. If you’re going to be a good team you’ve got to learn to win these (back-to-back) games. We can’t keep using that as an excuse... Every team in the league has to play back-to-back games."
JETCETERA: Evander Kane and Tim Stapleton are back on the ice in Winnipeg practising but Noel said after the game there is no timetable yet for their possible return.