Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Weary of critics, Jets head out on road

Wheeler: 'We got sick and tired of hearing about what's wrong'

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IN the minutes after Tuesday's shootout loss, Blake Wheeler described his team's exhaustion with the plot, with the pointed questions about losses and losing.

The Winnipeg Jets winger had a good game against the Washington Capitals. He was in the perfect spot to tip in a goal, he was moving through defences more like the Wheeler of old. The whole team played so much better than they did in that 3-1 doozy against the Nashville Predators two nights before.

So Wheeler thought maybe there'd be "more pleasantries" now, after a chin-up showing against Ovechkin and company, than if the status quo of the 2-3-1 homestand had reigned.

"We got sick and tired of hearing about what's wrong with us," Wheeler said after Tuesday's game. "Sick and tired of the media, sick and tired of everything. You can only take so much before finally you give up or you go out and do what we did tonight."

The next morning, after wrapping a brisk practice at the MTS Iceplex and before hopping a plane to Nashville to start a four-game road trip, Wheeler built on that thought.

Some of the criticisms were justified, he said, and he knows it comes with the job. Still, the Jets are human and not hockey robots, and riding the roller-coaster of public attention is never easy. Sometimes, a timeout is needed.

So, after ending the homestand on Tuesday's cautiously optimistic note, what better time to get out of town, clear the air, take a break from the whispers and the questions and the spotlight's glare? All the Jets except Jacob Trouba will be there.

"Sometimes it helps," Wheeler said. "Sometimes it's nice to get out of town, and play on the road a little bit, and try to establish some of those bonds that you don't get when you don't see each other quite as much at home."

Besides, there is an opportunity on the road for the Jets to pull the story back into their zone.

"We owe Nashville a game," coach Claude Noel said Wednesday -- and man, wouldn't it be delicious to pay the Predators back so quickly?

"They came into our building, and kind of drove us around," Wheeler said. "It's nice to get a crack at 'em when things didn't go so well the first time."

The next part of that conversation, of course, is ensuring they do come out with a win. The Jets seemed to respond well to Noel's line shuffling on Tuesday, turning up some fresh offensive chemistry, but the coach knows he can't pull the tactics every time.

"That gets old, and they start turning you off," he said. "You have to find a balance there... It's a process, you have to work the process. It doesn't happen overnight, and there isn't a manual for this stuff."

Meanwhile, if we're keeping tabs on who stands where in the Great Pavelec Debate -- it's inevitable that it should happen, when a starting goalie is riding a .901 save percentage to start the season, and has been under .900 three times in the last five games -- count Noel firmly in his netminder's camp.

"I think our goaltending's been superb, to be honest with you," said the coach after Wednesday's skate.

"I don't think the numbers are fair, with Pavelec, because whether you look at numbers, or how you want to decipher it, he's made some spectacular saves at some key times, and really kept us in some games that he's had to stop some point-blank shots... For me, he's been there for us. He certainly hasn't been the problem. He's been spectacular for us."

melissa.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 24, 2013 D1

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