Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Jets have finally settled in

Everything as normal as Norm Peterson on a bar stool

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In his daily briefing with reporters one day last week, Winnipeg Jets coach Claude Noel was asked about the state of his NHL team.

"We're norm-ing," Noel said.

Really? Noel thinks his team has become a pot-bellied, wise-cracking beer-sponge perched on a bar stool in Cheers?

Not exactly, although it's relevant that Norm Peterson was a regular customer and when he was on his stool, things seemed in their proper place.

"The normal stage we're in now is more that people have settled in to play their roles, settled down and the team game is settled down," Noel explained further on Monday, sharing a little of his personal coaching manual. "It's like it's a comfort level and your game's a lot more steady, not so erratic. Just watch the players how they react, respond on the ice. That's how I know."

What Noel has seen is a Jets team that was 5-9-3 on Nov. 13 make a move in a positive direction, now 15-13-4 approaching tonight's game at the MTS Centre against the New York Islanders (7:30 p.m., TSN Jets, TSN 1290).

And in the rear-view mirror are a series of events and happenings, like the historic Oct. 9 game here marking the official beginning of the NHL's new era in Winnipeg, first visits by elite teams like the Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals, Stanley-Cup-winning Boston Bruins, elite stars like Steve Stamkos, Alex Ovechkin and the like; intriguing games like against the Phoenix Coyotes.

Plus a lot of road games, 11 of the first 15 in fact.

And now that we're past the Teemu Selanne game last Saturday, it just appears to be a whole lot of normal this week with the Islanders, Canadiens (Thursday) and Penguins (Friday) in town.

"I think we survived it pretty good," said Jets goalie Chris Mason of the constant circus that seemed to surround the team in weeks gone by. "At the beginning of the season we got off to a tough start and there was a lot of focus on it. Once we got over that, started figuring things out as a team and listening and understanding what the coaches wanted, we came out of it pretty good.

"It was a pretty unusual circumstance but the more we've gotten to know each other ... we have an understanding of what's expected of us. He's seen a lot of the players' best games and he knows what to look for now. If you're not playing (well), he has a comparison."

It helps to have a routine, Jets defenceman Mark Stuart said.

"I think it's guys just getting settled in, into the city and into their places. Most guys moved in before training camp. Training camp's pretty hectic, then we were on the road quite a bit at the beginning of the season.

"If you enjoy living somewhere, enjoy the community and the city, I think it definitely helps, that positive attitude and helps how you perform on the ice."

The team's comfort level, player-to-player and coach-to-player-to-coach, those are the key points.

"Normalcy? Now we know what to expect out of Claude," Jets centre Jim Slater said. "We come to the rink every day, We know what time the meetings are. We know what we're doing and how he coaches, the way he acts.

"The same thing with him. He's getting to know our personalities and what type of people we are and how we go about our everyday business."

Getting to the bar stool, the norm-ing, the Jets went through "storm-ing," Noel also said Monday.

"Just a stage where there's a testing of the rules. Not by design for them, but testing of more ice time, wanting more minutes. You can just see that stage because there's a little more chaos... chaos wouldn't be the right word."

But we catch the drift, things that were happening in all-over-the map games like against Ottawa, or in Washington or Buffalo.

And what's next?

"Performing," Noel said.

"You raise the level. It comes later in the season, sometimes February. It's where you demand more from your players accountability-wise. You get them to demand more from each other.

"It's more where you hand the team off to the players. They don't do more, they make each other accountable. At the end of the day, that's what carries you in the playoffs. It's kind of a preparation stage for the playoffs."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 20, 2011 C3

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