Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Jets coach needs to be at his best in team's quest for playoff spot

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Claude Noel sometimes uses the expression "staying on task" when discussing his team's play. It will be just as important for the coach to do the same as the Jets vie for a playoff berth.

Noel and his assistants must roll four lines and keep six defencemen at an equitable number of minutes as often as possible. Sure, there will be moments when the bench needs to be shortened but this staff has been too quick to make that adjustment at times this season.

 

Patience in the game plan by both the players and the coaches is critical right now. Panic will be a strong temptation, which Noel must resist.

It's become glaringly apparent the Jets function far better as a team when Noel is able to spread around the ice time and use his entire roster. On nights when he shortens the bench too early and only involves half his players, the team pays for it. The issue only compounds itself when Noel gets caught in this trap over a couple of games running.

If the fourth line is working for less than five minutes per game it's a mistake and problematic with this group. Same goes for letting defenceman Dustin Byfuglien's minutes get up in the high 20s. The player wears down and makes mistakes. He's far more effective in the low 20s.

Noel said Tuesday the Jets are "way better" when he can use all four lines and spread the ice out evenly among the defence but then went on to say it's out of his control sometimes. If the game gets away, said Noel, "I'm not afraid to shorten."

Pressure

Understood. If only one line is scoring and the Jets are behind in a game, that line will get more ice. But making that move too early comes with its own set of problems. Fatigue and pressure being the most obvious symptoms and that doesn't lead to wins.

Noel has done a good job nursing a so-so roster into playoff contention. Have they overachieved? I wouldn't say so at this juncture but how things play out over the next two weeks will go a long way in making that determination.

Some national media made the suggestion last week Noel will be fired this off-season if the Jets don't reach the post-season.

Maybe they've had a conversation with GM Kevin Cheveldayoff and he's tipped his hand in this direction but I doubt it.

Cheveldayoff has preached patience and for him to pull the plug on Noel at this stage, with his program still in the infancy stage, is hypocritical. That's something Cheveldayoff is not.

If the Jets get into the playoffs or make a strong push and are in the hunt until the very end, Noel will certainly be back.

If they collapse and lose all six of their remaining games, Noel will obviously be in trouble. But so too will the players, Cheveldayoff and the folks selling beer.

But all things being equal, expect Cheveldayoff to stick to his blueprint of which Noel is very much a part.

Noel isn't above reproach and there are areas where this staff needs improvement but he's drawn a lot out of this group at certain times. Yes, the team needs to gain consistency and Noel needs to play a role in this.

The Jets need better players but Noel must get the most out of the ones he has and not just those at the top of the food chain.

Production from the entire lineup results in consistent play.

If the fourth line is to kick in, they have to be given an opportunity.

No team wins with six forwards and four D. Not in the NHL and certainly not for long.

Noel needs everyone running this week. It's up to him to get them all going.

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

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 16, 2013 D3

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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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