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Jets suffer through growing pains in Winnipeg

by Patrick Williams
WINNIPEG -- Many sports teams talk about changing organizational cultures.

But a successful culture change requires much more than good intentions, and the Winnipeg Jets are enduring the growing pains that the process brings. A 5-2 loss to the Florida Panthers on Thursday evening saw the normally fiercely partisan Winnipeg crowd boo the Jets following the second period and deliver more than one sarcastic cheer during the game.

For the Jets, who are now winless in four games (0-2-2), what resulted was a Friday morning practice at the MTS Centre that featured contact drills and plenty of colorful language from coach Claude Noel that was easily audible to the assembled media.


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Before heading back on to the road for Saturday night's lone meeting of the season with the Columbus Blue Jackets, Noel addressed the process of reshaping the organization's culture. With only one visit to the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the past 12 seasons, the organization has plenty of reshaping to do, especially for a club on its fourth coach since 2007.

"I'm not happy," Noel said, "and they're not happy, and it's going to continue down that road until we get this thing going in the right direction. This is how team cohesion gets built. Right now, this is unacceptable. This is not what we're going to be about. You may think this is what we are, but this is not going to get shaped this way. This is not going to go."

"We have to build a foundation, a body of work. That's what we have to do here in Winnipeg. Take the past out of it. We have to build this foundation of work of who we're going to be. It starts with a standard, and then you go from there. The standard has been set, but there is fight-back. That's how it ebbs and flows."

"They don't completely want it yet. They want it easy. It's not because they're bad. It's how human nature has it."

It is fighting human nature that makes culture change a sometimes unpleasant and uncomfortable process, especially on an organization-wide basis.

"My task is to get our team to look in the mirror," Noel said, "and my task is to get ... an individual player to look in the mirror and deal with reality. They don't sometimes see that. People are different levels when it comes to that. There are people that choose to live in a house with not many mirrors, so we have to provide them.”

Noel may need a lot of mirrors for this project. The Jets, who relocated from Atlanta this summer, are a young team in a new city with a new coaching staff and management team overseeing them. The lack of organizational success and a second-half collapse that doomed the club last season are further ghosts that the franchise must vanquish.

Fortunately for Noel and his goal of standards-raising, the club does have a solid leadership core. Captain Andrew Ladd has two Stanley Cups on his resume, Tanner Glass played with the Stanley Cup finalist Vancouver Canucks last season, Mark Stuart is a heart-and-soul defenseman and backup goaltender Chris Mason is a very frank dressing-room presence.

"Im not happy, and they’re not happy, and it’s going to continue down that road until we get this thing going in the right direction. This is how team cohesion gets built. Right now, this is unacceptable. This is not what we’re going to be about. You may think this is what we are, but this is not going to get shaped this way. This is not going to go." -- Jets coach Claude Noel
"We have a low standard of ourselves,” said Noel, who believes that the team possesses sufficient dressing-room leadership. "That's what we are right now, and that standard has "to (be) stepped up by me, and the leadership group, and the coaches, and everybody. That's part of trying to create your identity. It starts with me, the coaches, the trainers, the leaders and the rest of the players.”

Inconsistency has plagued the Jets through their first 16 games, during which they've gone 5-8-3, and the club has not been able to string together more than two consecutive victories. A season-long seven-game road trip through the Eastern Conference produced a 3-2-2 mark and gave Jets fans some reason for optimism.

However, the Jets returned to Winnipeg for a home date with the Panthers and delivered what was probably their worst effort and performance of the season. After an energetic opening five minutes, the Panthers used a fortunate bounce to take a 1-0 lead. The Jets sagged immediately after the goal, and the Panthers eventually blew the game wide open.

True to their label as an inconsistent team, the Jets went 23:26 without a shot on Florida goaltender Jose Theodore, only to later pump out 17 third-period shots after the Panthers had built a 4-0 lead.

Goaltender Ondrej Pavelec sparkled for much of the seven-game road trip, recording three wins, one of them a shutout, and a .910 save percentage. But Pavelec, who had made 39 saves against the Panthers in the clubs' first meeting on Oct. 31, exited Thursday's game after two periods of play in which he allowed four goals on 15 shots.

"No," Pavelec replied when asked whether he saw the Jets' comparatively stronger third period on Thursday as a bright sign. "We say that all the time. You want to play all 60 minutes and win the game. I don't think we deserved to win.”

Ondrej Pavelec has been a bright spot, going 3-2-2 with a shutout and a .910 save percentage on the Jets' seven-game road trip. (Photo: Getty Images)
As well, a team that had talked about maintaining discipline and composure after handing the Buffalo Sabres 12 power plays in a 6-5 overtime loss on Tuesday night made no real strides in that regard against the Panthers. Winnipeg surrendered six power plays to the Panthers on Thursday night and now has been shorthanded a League-high 77 times.

One way to eliminate or at least minimize inconsistency and to maintain discipline is through building a culture based on strong habits.

"You've got to get in the habit of doing the same thing every day, having that intensity every day, having that effort," Ladd said. "Whether it's practice, pre-game skate or a game, it's always got to be there so it becomes consistent and just happens."

Ingraining those strong habits in the Jets' organizational and dressing-room culture will help determine if, and when, the Jets can become successful.

"Whether your 15, 25 or 35," Ladd theorized, "it's something you need to be successful in hockey or life."

But whether the Jets can build on what success the organization has had, as well as establishing better habits, will ultimately determine how life unfolds in the team's new home.

"I've seen us play where we're good enough,” Noel said. "So I can see what we can be, and they can see what we can be. They know where we have to go, and it's hard."

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