A day after Claude Noel gave a frank assessment about how he has played this season, Winnipeg Jets forward Eric Fehr took his turn to respond Tuesday.
"That's pretty much the way it is right now," the Winkler product said about the harsh comments from Noel regarding his slow start. "I'm definitely not happy with the way I've been playing."
Noel took Fehr to task for his uninspired play since he's been in the lineup, telling reporters Monday he was "waiting for him to play a little better" and suggesting that if the former first-round draft choice of the Washington Capitals wanted more ice time than he's getting as a fourth-line player these days, he'll have to pull up his socks and show the coaching staff a reason to give it to him.
"It's his career, not mine," was one of Noel's sharper barbs regarding the player. Fehr admitted Tuesday he was surprised at the public commentary from his coach, adding it won't change his approach moving forward.
"I'm not really too worried about the criticism from above -- I'm criticizing myself every game and I'm not happy with the way I'm playing," Fehr said. "I'm more concerned about that. Trying to work on my game is something I've been doing all season; now that the coach has said something, I'm not going to work extra hard -- I've been working hard all season."
Not surprisingly, Noel tried to soften his original evaluation, believing Fehr is still subconsciously dealing with a shoulder injury suffered when he was with the Capitals. Fehr had two surgeries on the shoulder last year, went through two separate rehabs and was absent for all of Winnipeg's training camp -- circumstances Noel was a little more sensitive to Tuesday.
"I'm not in the business of sinking people; I'm in the business of helping people," he said, believing Fehr needs more positive things to happen on the ice to get comfortable in his own skin. Noel believes the 26-year-old will come around when his head is on straight again.
"I don't think it's about a goal or an assist," the coach said. "For Eric, he knows the player he is and how he can play, and that's what he wants to get back being. He has to figure out what stands in his way. I don't know what that is, but I have an idea. We've talked about it."
This kinder, gentler take from Noel doesn't change the reality that Fehr has just one assist in 14 games and needs to start showing improvement soon. The former 20-goal scorer in the NHL has an idea of what he needs to do to gain some confidence, believing he needs to trust himself on the ice a little more.
"Maybe I'm keeping it a bit too simple," he said. "Being on the fourth line, you don't want to make any mistakes, and I think I've been limiting myself, my creativity, trying to keep things simple. Maybe I can work a little more on that."
Fehr implied the shoulder injury is still part of his own mental equation and that he needs to fight through the hesitation that has crept into his game these days. Asked how things are coming along lately, he didn't shy away this time:
"It's been a bit tougher for me than I expected -- definitely," he said.