Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Young ones still learning to fly

Many mistakes a product of inexperience says Noel

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If only it were as easy as having one flaw, a single weakness in their game.

Then the Winnipeg Jets could focus, fix and fly high to their future.

Actually, there is one word that describes what ails the Jets, who are off to a 5-9-3 start in their first NHL season back in Winnipeg, but the one word is far more than one issue.

Youth.

It explains the erratic performances and uneven intensity.

Head coach Claude Noel likened it Sunday to an EKG readout -- up, down and all over the chart.

The analysis comes as the team, one of the two or three youngest in average age in the NHL, returns home for tonight's game against the Tampa Bay Lightning at the MTS Centre. It is mid-November and this week will be the Jets' first real stint at home -- they have played five home games and an NHL-high 12 on the road.

Three games are on tap here, including Thursday against Washington and Saturday versus Philadelphia.

Noel spoke Sunday, after Saturday's disappointing 2-1 loss to the lowly Columbus Blue Jackets, about all the specifics, including line changes, attention to game plan, decisions relating to the time of the game and period and of course, penalties.

No team has played more times short-handed this season than the Jets.

"Those are the details I talk about," Noel said after a short practice. "That gets me upset. Those are controllable items that we can do. But with youth, it doesn't come as easy as with veterans because veterans know how to play. When you get an older team, they've gone through it. It's habit-forming. They know how to do it.

"When you've got a younger team, you've got seven or eight that know it. They're trying their best but the other guys haven't learned it yet and they keep making the same mistakes. It's no different than your children. They've got to keep burning their hand on the fire before they realize that if you keep doing it, it's not going to be good for you.

"It's eight times now, do you need to do it 10 times or 12 times? Eventually it'll be enough. The older guys know. We have enough. The problem is that it takes time."

And the time it's taking so far is the source of frustration for coaches, players and even some fans.

Several of the Jets leaders and veterans are eager for everyone to know the team is not ignoring the matter.

Captain Andrew Ladd said Sunday that the standards of play -- the subject of one of Noel's recent rants -- are not going to be allowed to slip.

"My standards are not low; I'll say that much," Ladd said. "It's getting everybody to a level where you need to be a pro every day and show up and work hard no matter what the situation, if there's adversity or if there's not.

"We're trying. It's got to start with us and for me it starts with practice. Our practices have to be a lot better, the pace has to be much better. That work ethic usually moves over into games."

Veteran forward Kyle Wellwood, who has 10 points in 17 games, said that coping with the learning process is a skill unto itself.

"Every night, we make a bad decision, like changes, and we get faceoffs in their end and they score, which happens quite a bit," Wellwood said after Saturday's loss. "It's just the little things in our team game that put us behind in games early on and then we just don't have the energy to sustain good pressure."

He said when he signed with the Jets in early September that he was determined not to be easily discouraged by frustration here.

"Personally, yeah, it's easier for me to put it behind us because I've been in the league longer and coming to the team, you kind of knew what to expect," Wellwood said. "I knew it was going to be a good amount of pain to go through as a team to get better. As long as you know it's going to be frustrating, that you have to keep working to improve, it makes it easier."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Penalty parade

 

The Winnipeg Jets lead the NHL in short-handed play and are 22nd overall in penalty killing.

Some statistics:

 

93 Penalties (fifth worst)

81 Times short-handed (worst)

222 Penalty minutes (eighth worst)

24 Times short-handed at home

57 Times short-handed away

84 Minor penalties

8 Major penalties

1 Misconduct

0 Game misconducts

 

Most-penalized Jets (minutes)

 

Dustin Byfuglien (34)

Chris Thorburn (19)

Zach Bogosian (18)

Andrew Ladd (17)

Tanner Glass (16)

 

 

Sources: nhl.com; jets.nhl.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 14, 2011 C3

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