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Laughter the best medicine for Noel

Coach pokes fun at pathetic power play

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Teams with bad power plays can make the playoffs, but it's difficult -- even rare. That truth is self-evident, so the Winnipeg Jets' lack of success with the man advantage is beginning to grate on a few nerves.

"We're going into Florida to win all the games and score 45,000 power-play goals," said head coach Claude Noel, as he stepped off the podium to end his post-game media conference after Saturday's 3-0 home loss to the Washington Capitals. Noel was trying to be funny, but in most jokes there's a grain of truth, and his frustration was obvious.

The Jets were 0-for-3 against the Caps and have scored one power-play goal in their last 12 games -- a 1-for-32 run with the man advantage. They sit 25th in the league, having scored 10 power-play goals on 70 chances -- a 14.3 per cent clip.

"There are other parts of our game that have allowed us to win, but what will happen is you won't be able to get away with it if you don't get it going. That's clear. It's clear you are going to have to start producing because it's part of your offensive game," said Noel. "I don't know exactly what the stat is, but when you win the power play game within the game, but something like 80 per cent of the time you win the games. It's very real."

Veteran Olli Jokinen said the power play was a factor in Saturday's defeat.

"No, this can't go on forever. You see the results (Saturday). We have a power play when the game was 1-0 and it was a chance for us to get back in it, and we didn't. Power play and special teams battles are crucial. If you're able to win those battles, you have a chance to win the game," said Jokinen.

The coach didn't even wait for a question on the power play before addressing it after the loss.

"The power play will probably be a topic because you guys (the media) can't think past the stats," opened Noel. "I thought the power play was better than it has been. We had 11 shots and some chances. But still not enough net presence in front."

When pressed Noel admitted the power play would have to begin producing, or the Jets would feel a pinch.

"It is what it is, but you have to look at different things on the power play. I thought (Saturday) it was better than it has been in the past.

"The numbers aren't great and we've been winning in spite of it," said Noel. "We knew this could happen. It has to come around and we know that too. It's not like we're not trying. We don't practise, but neither do other teams. Let's put it this way, we're well aware of it and we're trying to get it changed. You hate to put such a big focus on it."

Noel said lack of power play success can infect a team in a variety of ways.

"It effects a lot of different things. The morale, the momentum. And the players that are on the power play take it personally. They want to succeed," said Noel.

The silver lining is the Jets penalty killing unit, among the worst in the league for the entire season, has been much better of late. In fact, Winnipeg's penalty killing has been perfect for four games and six of the last seven.

So the Jets special teams, despite what the statistics say, aren't entirely a mess.

"We've been working really hard on the PK and that's been a plus for us on this last little stretch," said defenceman Zach Bogosian. "Now we need to get the power play to follow."

Certainly the Jets can continue to struggle on the power play and still win games. Like Noel said, they've done it so far.

But for a bubble team such as the Jets, the power play could be the difference between reaching the post-season or falling short. There's no arguing a little rise in production would ease the pressure beginning to build around the Jets.

Just ask the coach.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 3, 2013 B3

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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 www.winnipegfreepress.com
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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