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.

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