Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Don't stick a fork in them yet

Jets far from done, no need to lambaste team: Noel

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Yogi Berra once said -- in one of those homespun colloquialisms that somehow also seem deceptively prophetic -- "when you get to a fork in the road, take it."

We bring this up today because it was Winnipeg Jets head coach Claude Noel who spoke last week of his squad being at the fork in the long road that is a National Hockey League season.

Things have gone sour in Jetville of late, what with the superb run in December now spoiled by a poor start -- five losses in six games -- to 2012. And, it's true, getting out of this funk ASAP could ultimately determine whether the Jets stay in the Eastern Conference hunt or crash and burn.

But if you're looking for anything more here from this bunch -- a quick fix, a miracle transformation or some sort of brilliant inspiration from Noel -- you may be disappointed.

And so it was early Saturday evening when Noel, fresh from watching his team lose 2-1 to the New Jersey Devils, took to the podium for his post-game address to the media.

"This isn't the time to start beating up on this team, that's not going to happen. Not from my standpoint," said Noel. "You're going to have to play with the same kind of will... it's not like you're going to reinvent the way you play and all of a sudden you're going to create more goals.

"We're going to prepare the same way, we're going to battle through this thing, this thing will get resolved. We just want to get it done sooner than later. This is the time for us to really rally around each other. This isn't the time to start fragmenting all over the place. We'll rally around it, we'll get it going and we'll get back to work.

"We're not far off, we're right there."

That may seem like a tough sell, but given the key injuries -- Dustin Byfuglien is not on this road trip, Zach Bogosian is still iffy and Blake Wheeler is doubtful after taking a shot to the throat Saturday -- those left to battle believe they are one play here or there from getting this thing back on track.

And so the message following Saturday's loss was simple: head down, work hard and the stars will soon realign.

"I'm not sure that there's anything missing," began veteran Jets defenceman Ron Hainsey, "we're just not winning.

"All you can do is just keep grinding it out as a group. We're going to ebb and flow as a team and you just keep going to work. We had a good day of work Friday, we played hard (Saturday) but we lost. There's no one fix or reason for that, we're all going to have to work together to pull these wins off. You just keep working, keep fighting."

Some offence, of course, would help. Including Saturday's loss, the Jets have now been held to one goal or less in 15 of 44 games -- and are 2-13 in those contests.

But if you're thinking Noel will lambaste his squad for its pop-gun attack, especially knowing he could soon have Byfuglien, Bogosian and Wheeler back to bolster things, think again.

To paraphrase another Berra quote: "Slump? I ain't in no slump. I just ain't scoring."

"It is what it is. You have no choice, you have to play the hand that you're dealt," Noel said. "You play to the best of your abilities. The door opens for other people -- can they step in and do more? It's not like they're not trying. This is adversity and to me it's a good sign from the standpoint of what your team did. They're trying to go and deal with adversity straight on. They're not going around it, we're going straight at it. And that's really the message we wanted to make sure the players got." Twitter: @wFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 16, 2012 C3

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