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Rapidly losing altitude

Winnipeg's team stalls again in visit to desert

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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Winnipeg Jets have taken off into turbulent air and it's going to take a lot more than buckling a few seatbelts to get through it.

"I'm not frustrated, I'm disappointed," Jets coach Claude Noel said after a one-sided 4-1 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes Saturday at Jobing.com Arena, his team's third loss in as many outings to start Winnipeg's comeback NHL season.

"I'm not sure what it is we're waiting for right now. It looks like our team thinks we have a free pass to fail. I'm not sure what the wake-up call is."

Along with disappointed, Noel was at times cranky and critical of his team after Saturday's defeat. The Jets were outshot 34-19 and their special teams were again a huge liability.

Winnipeg has not scored a power-play goal this season and has permitted one in each game so far.

"We've got a franchise that's not used to winning, and it shows," Noel said. "This group has gone into a market that is frenzied for winning, and they've decided that this is what they're going to show them."

Saturday, Noel decided it was time for backup goalie Chris Mason to take the net. Ondrej Pavelec was less than stellar in the first two losses.

After a whiffed clear by defenceman Dustin Byfuglien, Mason was scored on just 34 seconds into the game, and it went downhill from there.

"No reservations about going in," Mason said after the game. "As a team, we would definitely have liked a better performance tonight. We're just going through a tough time.

"We had a lot of buildup before the season, being excited about being back in Winnipeg and all that, and I think maybe the hockey got overshadowed a little bit and we're kind of finding out the hard way right now."

The hard way has certainly revealed many things.

For instance, though team captain Andrew Ladd scored his first goal of the season on a late second-period deflection, the team's No. 1 line has not done much and top centre Bryan Little remains pointless.

"I'm trying to find his A game," Noel said pointedly. "I haven't seen it. I'm looking for it. I hope he's looking for it."

The coach wasn't interested in discussing Daymond Langkow's early goal, a marker several Jets players called a mental setback.

"I don't know that it was," Noel said. "You're assuming that. It could have been, if you're looking for an excuse. It would be yours, not mine."

Noel said nothing he's seen so far has told him the team has overlooked something in preparation for the season.

"I wouldn't change anything," he said about the training camp. "Have I overlooked anything? I thought when I was watching tape that I had a decent handle on players. Some surprised me, some didn't.

"These results are a little bit strange, but we're going to see what we are. I'm finding out what we are right now and I'm wondering some things, just like you guys are.

"I've done different things button-wise. The process continues."

The process, the coach said, could mean a previously unscheduled practice today before the Jets meet Pittsburgh at the MTS Centre on Monday night.

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 16, 2011 B3

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