Monday, October 31, 2011


Last week I used the analogy of a team trying to get their sea legs. I lamented the fact that they were still getting their bearings and as always I harped on defence, or more accurately the lack there of.  This week I’m the one that needs to find his seal legs, as the Jets have shown me more split personalities than most of my ex girlfriends. It’s been a wild ride this week and the ups and downs have for once left me without even a clue as to what’s about to happen next . The only thing I can take away from this week is that they may not win, but they’re always entertaining.

The week started with me writing a lengthy blog about how the Jets usually find a way to score first and always manage to put up some goals. So of course they have a game that same day where they score only once, and not first.  I really should have sensed that irony was about to bitch slap me as I was writing about the Jest scoring goals but hind sight is 20/20. The Jets rolled into the Tortorella media sideshow fresh off a gut check win at home against Carolina. As a fan I was at the euphoric stage of the Jets fan manic/ depressive cycle and hoping for a good defensive outing to keep me “up” as we were about to swing through Philly and Tampa on the road. I sensed there could be trouble for the Jets facing these two formidable eastern teams and New York seemed like the weak sister amongst the upcoming games.

Truth is stranger than fiction sometimes and this was one of those games that should have been notched up as a win for the Jets. They outplayed the rangers bombarding them with shots and putting on a passing clinic midway through the third. Unfortunately two own goals off defenders skates proved to be the difference and the Rangers stole a road win away from what appeared to be a hungrier Jets team. Off course as we all know now, the best was yet to come.

The Jets landed in Philly and one could sense trouble. The young team had been handed an unfair loss from Rangers and where now going to face Jagr and crew. What happened next will go down in hockey legend as probably one of the worst played games defensively by two teams in history. This game challenged all the conventional wisdom. Usually when you’re up five to one at the NHL level, that’s it, you’ve won, turn off the TV. Even at six to two, you pretty much have it in the bag, and that was the wonderful world of the Jets in the second period. All they had to do was clog up the neutral zone, play all the guys back and get a little bit of goal tending to run out the clock. Unfortunately this is the Jets and that seems to be a tall order. What happened next were five unanswered goals by the Flyers to put them up seven to six. After that it was pure pond hockey, they might as well have just pulled both goalies and turned the nets to face the boards. I think I actually heard one of the refs yell out “Last goal wins”. Each side traded goals, with Ladd ending up with the winner, and an unbelievable score of nine to eight. It was a train wreck of a game and many where even hesitant to call it a win as the defensive play on both sides was off the charts abysmal. There is however one very positive thing to take away; the Jets never gave up. It would have been very easy after five unanswered goals to simply stop trying, to write it off and call it a night. But they didn’t. Even as the game seesawed back and forth in the third there was always a determination to gut it out. That’s one of the flashes of brilliance that keeps me interested as a fan and gives me hope going forward. The game of course also validated my blog about scoring; Irony it seems is a fickle mistress.

Now I was less worried going into the game with Tampa. The Jets had faced Philly and came out on top in a barn burner. The massive defensive break down in the second period aside they again gutted out a win. The Jets came to play against Tampa and took it to them with an energy I had not seen yet in previous games. The game however became a goalie duel. Pavelec was very good, making a host of amazing saves, but unfortunately on this night rolie the goalie was better. Rollason seemed to break every jets wave that came at him and played a perfect game. Pavelec did much the same but yielded on a mental error, allowing one of the games most prolific goal scorers to get a sharp angle shot through for the win. It was another one of those games where you felt the Jets should have won but didn't.

OK now let’s take a quick break from your regularly scheduled Blog for me to bitch out the coach.  Burmistov was benched during the third period for five minutes. Sorry Noel, that doesn’t compute man. The team is down by one goal and struggling to put one past a hot goalie. You don’t bench your leading scorer no matter what he’s done to piss you off.  If they have him figured out from tape, it’s your job to coach him through it. Not bench him and hope he’ll figure it out.

So when does this crazy train start to get on the tracks? I’m hoping soon. We’ve started to see the defence come around and a real work ethic set in. There have been two games now where bad luck or hot goalies have handed us a loss, and we’ve seen some of the best teams in our division.  The question is when can we start to see some consistency?  I myself would settle for a little less entertainment and a few more wins. 

Monday, October 24, 2011

Sea Legs

It occurred to me today that the Jets are kind of like a person’s first time at sea. There’s a four foot swell and the boat is pitching and rolling beneath your feet. You get up, stagger, stop to right yourself, stagger again and then make it to the rail to puke your guts out. You repeat the process until you get what’s known as your sea legs. Some people never get their sea legs and simply must live with the fact that boats aren’t for them, let’s hope that’s not the case for our Jets. Luckily I don’t think it is.

Over the last week the Jets have definitely shown signs of the stagger and puke, losing to Ottawa in a dismally embarrassing performance that saw Pavalec hung out to dry more than a summertime beach towel at the lake. The defence still looks dismal, special team’s need a lot of work and giveaways are par for the course. With all that there are reasons to believe the the Jets may be getting their legs.

The Jets ran head on into a white hot (stupid oughta be kicked out of the NHL) Leafs team and proceeded to hand them a two goal deficit after two periods. Unfortunately the stagger crept back into their game and the Jets had to settle for a heart breaking shootout loss. Again turnovers and defensive zone breakdowns where the story. Unfortunately the stagger again turned into a trip to the rail as the next game was the debacle in Ottawa. Was the Toronto game a flukey anomaly against an overachieving Leafs team?

During the opening minutes of the next game against Carolina it certainly appeared to be the case, as the Jets where in disarray and reeling to an ordinary looking Carolina crew. Then came a massive dose of Gravol, as the usually emotionless bench boss Noel became indignant. He launched into a fiery tirade at players on the bench that woke them up and provided one of the better performances of the season in front of the home crowd faithful. Will this be the beginning of something better?

I think so, here’s why. Besides the fact that I’m a massive Jets homer I have noticed one interesting aspect to the Jets game; more often than not, they score first. Also with the exception of one game, they score often. So what does this tell us? It tells us if they could string together even a semblance of defensive responsibility, they would most likely win more games than they lose.

At the beginning of the season most of us for some reason thought we were in for a whiz bang defence with an anaemic offense.  The season started and has since proved the opposite. With Burmistov emerging as a bonnafide superstar scoring machine, Buff blasting pucks from the blue line and the GST line pitching in for the odd helper, scoring hasn’t been the issue.  The issue has been the defensive liability that is Johnny Oduya and to a lesser extent Byfuglien, who lacks the quickness to scramble back after playing rover.  To make matters worse Bagosian has decided he’s going to play the gambler on the blue line, when he knows neither when to hold em nor when to fold em. The result is turnovers, and turnovers in the NHL equate to goals against, plain and simple.

As a fan I’m hoping either someone can crack the whip and make these guys play some defence, or if need be move some personnel out for a stay at home shutdown guy that can hold the fort. There are playoff teams in this league that make their bread and butter on 2.5 goals for, because they can keep the puck out of their own net. If the Jets want to be a playoff team they need to follow suit. I’m really hoping the Jets find their sea legs and start to defend their zone. Otherwise it’s going to be a long season of trips to the rail.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Panic Button

I’m an emotional guy. No that doesn’t mean I cry at weddings (There was something in my eye dammit!), but what it does mean is that when my team loses I get frustrated. Now I know what you’re thinking reader, its only three games in, no need to push the panic button. But there it is looming in my mind’s eye, that big red bastard just won’t go away. My head says; the readers are right, give it time, leave the panic button alone. My heart however is pushing my hand toward the button, and saying; push it, you know you want to.

When the boys hit the ice on turkey weekend in what was probably the biggest sports media event of the year in Canada, it was easy to write off the brutal play to opening night jitters. The panic button was way down the hall on the other side of the building behind some boxes. The shaky defensive zone coverage and turnovers where a story, but one easily explained away by the heavy day that it was. We were all just happy to sift through the aftermath of an NHL game, call it an anomaly and move on to the windy city where another young team was waiting for us. The road game would get the boys away from the bright lights and hoopla, and they could get their “A-Game” back on. Surely we'd at least see a more disciplined hard fought game. Right?

There was a practice the day before the Chicago game in which coach Noel was asked if he saw improvement. His reply was ominous: “Marginal improvement”. Ouch! I looked down the hall, was the panic button in the same place it was the last time I used it? Yes, ok good just checking. The opening minutes of the game saw two quick goals by Winnipeg to get the party started. Ok good the nervousness had been dispelled; we were going to see some real hockey now. Then it happened. The first line came out with the top D pairings. The men, who were supposed to lead us to the promise land, lead us to four unanswered goals on more brutal turnovers. The neutral zone looked like it was open for public skating as the Chicago forwards swept through it unscathed with speed. At least Welwood provided some much needed comic relief by tripping over his skate laces during a break-away (the cheeseburger jokes are still showing up in my inbox). I went down the hall, moved the boxes away from the panic button and re-read the instructions. Just in case.

In the aftermath, some were already pushing their own personal panic buttons. How could this happen? Nothing had been fixed, we were going to go 0-82, there was a safety recall on ladies yoga pants, yes all of our worst nightmares where coming true. Again cooler heads eased all of our fears. This is a young group they said, playing under a new coach. These things take time, the team needs to gel. The coach it seemed was getting the message as well; guys were banished to the press box, or benched. Pavelec was replaced by Mason and the hard hand of Noelian discipline was about to fall.

It all set the stage for a show down in the desert. Old Jets vs. New Jets, in an epic battle for fan bragging rights. Many Jets faithful made a pilgrimage to the desert to ensure that there would be no more failure. Cayotes fans (both of them) salivated at the chance to hand those who had sought to remove their franchise a stinging blow. These guys must get the picture by now? This was a must win, time to show your skills, dig deep, give 110 percent, all that stuff. I even tweeted the top line friendly words of encouragement, as I know they usually immediately stop whatever they are doing to read tweets from @bcmike .

Ok the hockey night in Canada intro song is over, the home crowd is done singing O’ Canada, I’m settling in with snacks. I reach over to open up an ice cold Coke Zero .... The COYOTES SCORE!!!! I now move my television and chair right beside the panic button as I get that now familiar nervous quezieness in my stomach. I begin a new mantra; please not another gong show, please not another gong show, not here, not in Phoenix! Again the only thing the Coyotes forwards need to avoid in the neutral zone are toddler skaters in their walkers taking advantage of the free ice time. More brutal giveaways work up to the inevitable climax of more unanswered goals. I now officially break the glass on the panic button but restrain myself from pushing it. The Jets Score! Ok we’re within two boys, lots of hockey left, we can mount a comeback.  The Coyotes score and the last nail is plunged into the coffin of the Jets. The show down in the desert is over and I take my lumps from Coyotes fans (both of them). I stare long and hard at the panic button.

No not yet.

During the first three games of the season the Jets have looked like the opposing team during a Harlem Globe Trotters show. There has been however, some small flashes of brilliance that give me hope. Burmistov can dangle, Andropov can wield his big body like a freight train in front of the net, and Kane can get physical while putting himself in a position to score. Wheeler and Ladd although playing with some intensity look as though they’re in the wrong place at the wrong time. This is something that can be fixed with coaching and time.  Buyfuglien needs to play forward if for no other reason than he always looks dangerous up front and he always seems to be a liability in back. The fourth line has been brilliant and has had the most production.  The rest of this team needs to take their queue from the fourth line. Simplify their game, dump chase and be responsible in the back end, with that should come results.

A word of warning. If I was Claude Noel and I had used up my entire bag of tricks on this group with little or no effect, I would implement the trap. Teams that can’t stand up to their talented brothers in the NHL play the trap. If that happens you can say goodbye to exciting hockey. We may win but it won’t be entertaining. With that said though I have the feeling that Noel has a few things left in his bag of magic tricks and this team may turn a corner in the next three to four games. 

If not, that big red button will look awfully tempting.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Pop Goes The World

Reader the last time we spoke I was in my red leather pants listening to Mike Reno’s Loverboy and lamenting the fact that I couldn’t wait for the weekend.  Now it's the day after my Turkey feast, two days after the first Jets home game and I'm back at work. My bubble has somewhat popped. All the hype, reminiscing, hoping, dreaming, and praying has finally paid off and now we as fans have to get back to the work of being fans.  Just like the players, we have to settle in for a long 82 game schedule and get ready to cheer, jeer, complain, poke and prod until this bunch delivers what we all want; A winning season and a chance at the Stanley cup in the playoffs.

Sunday was full of celebration and a release of anxious energy that had been building for years. The city of Winnipeg had collectively started their party on Thursday with the opening of the NHL season and was carrying it to a crescendo with the first home opener of the Winnipeg Jets. Everything was in place, the fans were nuts (as expected), David Thomson was a fountain of Canadian prose, Mark Chipman was beaming like a proud papa, and Don Cherry was on the ice with a picture of the queen. There was only one problem, Les Habs where looking for two points.

Before I even get going I’ll roll out the standard disclaimer, yes I am very very grateful to just  have my Jets back, and yes I know it was a tall order to play under that kind of hype.  But unfortunately from a hockey perspective the Jets kind of stunk.

The first thing I noticed is that the Defence needs work. If Byfuglien wants to be a forward he needs to let the rest of the team and the coaching staff know. While he looked good in the offensive zone, he was terrible defensively, causing at least two turnovers and looking pretty sloppy.  Johnny Oduya won’t be having many more games like that one before he’s sightseeing at signal hill. Oduyas play was as sloppy in the defensive zone as Byfugliens except without any of the offensive upside. There where however some shinning lights as Enstrom and Stuart had some impressive shifts standing up at the line against the Canadians forwards.  Hainsey worked hard and was effective, although Bagosian had a couple of mental lapses. It seemed evident that when the defence simplified their game and played physical in their own end, that was when things started to happen for the Jets. If I where coach Huddy, “Keep It Simple Stupid” would be pasted on all of the D core’s jerseys during the next practice.

Much has been made of this teams supposed inability to score goals, and the prognosticators will no doubt be on their soap boxes again after Sunday’s performance. However the forwards are what gave me the most hope going forward. Although the first line certainly underperformed (with the exception of Ladd), the second and third lines continued to look dangerous throughout the game. If Scheifele, Kane and Wellwood can gel a little more and get some of that timing down they will produce. Antropov who looked like a dump truck during the pre-season, was probably the best forward of the day. Working hard along the boards and in front of the net, he was rewarded with the Jets only goal for his effort. Again when the forwards got physical and worked hard, good things seemed to happen.  In a footnote, Patrice Cormier better get his bags packed, because I’m pretty sure the Brett Maclean experiment is about to come to an abrupt end.

The fourth line was outstanding. As all grinders do, they brought their lunch pails to work and simply out worked the Canadians at every turn. They did exactly what the fourth line needs to do; keep the other team’s first line in their own zone. If the fourth line work ethic and simplified game can infect their peers, we’ll have something special on our hands.  They played above their pay grade, which is something the rest of the team is going to have to do to find success in this league.

This brings us to Pavelec, who was solid, but not money. Most of the goals that got by him where lasers shot by bonafide snipers, but here’s the thing; money goaltenders in the NHL need to make at least a couple of those stops. For this team to be successful they will need to ride Pavelec at least part of the year. He needs to be money or it’s not going to happen. By the way they’ve booked him high glove side, there’s day light there and the vultures are going for it.

The Canadians were also a depleted team, with three of their top six defensemen out of commission and Mike Camalleri making an early departure. If the Jets have trouble handling this weakened Canadians team then there are certainly dark storm clouds ahead.

Now that I’ve said my peace, I also have to acknowledge something. This game was an anomaly, with expectations through the roof. Phrases like “History will be made”, “Hopes and dreams”, and of course “15 year wait” where being thrown around like rice at a wedding. Personally I would have balled up in the fetal position, rocking back and forth sucking my thumb under that kind of pressure.  Over the course of the next five to six games, we’ll see what this team is really made of.

So here we go Jets fans. The regular season has begun and we can put away the “what ifs” and “maybe’s”. The Jets are playing in the NHL again. With that we need to realise that the big leagues are merciless and mistakes will always be costly.  Our teams need to be better than ordinary to meet a standard that Winnipeg fans deserve.  So now as all the superfluous stuff is stripped away we are left what we have always wanted, a hockey team playing in the best league on the planet. That realization also comes with a certain reality check. Pop goes the world.

Go Jets Go

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Everybody's Working for The Weekend

Yes reader I am writing this column in red leather pants to pay tribute to Mike Reno. I’m also starting the long countdown until Sunday just like every other fan.  I have written my fair share of sentimental, look back pieces, so as the big day draws near I find myself more looking to the future as opposed to looking back. I can’t wait to see how Jets 2.0 play against other teams in the NHL, with standings and paycheques on the line.

The pre-season as we all know is as a bit of sham. The NHL owners get to charge for a few more games and the coaches get to have a “live fire” training camp to weed out the final roster spots. One clubs “A-Team” will meet another clubs “B-team” and or a mixture of both and the fans a lot of the time end up seeing some subpar hockey.  It makes it extremely hard to judge just how well the Jets will stack up as we move into the regular season.  We have analyzed the team to death, and the final roster spots are coming into focus, so now is the time when the anticipation builds. It’s also time to get out on a limb and try to cobble together a preview.

Now the Sabremetrics bean counters will tell you that the Jets are going to stink this year, and the so called professional bloggers at Puck Daddy are tripping over themselves to declare that the Jets will end up near the bottom of the league. They trot out statistics from last year and whale: “but where will the scoring come from?”, oh woe be to the poor Winnipeg Jets fans. Then they prattle on about how Winnipeg fans will watch any form of hockey put in front of them as long as it has an NHL crest on it and so they say, it’s all good. Not so fast. There are intangibles at work here that cannot be quantified.


The scoring will come, and I’ll tell you why; ownership. That’s right; the ownership situation will have a direct and tangible effect on this hockey team. And I’m not just talking stability; I’m also talking about the small moves that were made in the off season to add character guys to this team. What this team needs most is for its young players, most notably Kane, Burmistov, Little and hopefully Scheifele to come into their own. In order to do that they need support, that guys like Glass, Fehr, and Wellwood can provide. These signings where a direct result of a smart management crew, which can and will make a difference on the ice.  When everything is said and done the Jets can roll two effective scoring lines, and that will be enough. Why will that be enough? Defense.


The defensive core will be the hallmark of this new club in the years until strategic drafting can bring us more front line talent. Byfuglien, Bogosian, and Enstrom will all be expected to contribute offensively as well as pound opposing forwards into submission.  Depth in D on the farm will also help when the injury bug comes around. Postma in particular is on his way to becoming NHL ready and a season with the Caps will put him in contention for a spot with the big club next year.  I expect this group to be a dynamic defence that will jump up into the play more times than not. Of course this also depends on the systems that coach Noel employs throughout the season.

Goal Tending

Pavalec will gain consistency this year and I believe will become a top tier goal tender. Mason is the perfect backup and will probably be playing about 15 games although some are saying more.  I think Pavalec at times will have to carry this team through the doldrums if they are to have a chance at the post season, but I think he’s capable.  Again the goalies will be leaned upon, and they will need to come through.

The Seventh Man

The fans are an important factor and don’t let anyone tell you different. Sure these guys are pros and they should perform in any environment, but don’t think for one second that when the building is rockin that an extra bit of adrenalin isn’t pumped through those veins. The crowd is a legal performance enhancing drug and the Jets will have an ample supply. If I were a Sabremetrics bean counter I would add a minimum of ten points just from fan support.


This is what may potentially cancel out at least some of the advantage gained from an insane home crowd. The Jets travel sched will be in a word Brutal. Technically they are in the Southeast division and will have to travel like it. It means long north south trips, but hopefully only across one time zone.

There is no doubt about it the Jets are in tough this year. The NHL is a man’s league and guys are playing for BIG paycheques.  With that said, I think our group has the right mix of journeymen and young talent to be in the mix come stretch time.

Will they tank? I doubt it. Will they make the playoffs? They have a shot. Will they win the cup? Everyone has a chance to win the cup, that’s why they play the games.