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With Noel gone, scrutiny shifts to Jets players

by Patrick Williams

WINNIPEG – The Winnipeg Jets' firing of coach Claude Noel and hiring of veteran NHL boss Paul Maurice jolted the dressing room of a team that has lost five straight games and sits in last place in the Central Division.

Noel took the job after the team relocated from Atlanta in 2011 and is the franchise's third coach to have been replaced since the start of the 2008-09 season, joining John Anderson and Craig Ramsay.

"I think it always comes as a shock," Jets captain Andrew Ladd said Sunday at the team's practice facility. "I don't think anyone expected it [Sunday] morning. It's not an easy day. Good people lose their job. Ultimately it came down to the performance of the people in [the dressing room]."

The Jets have received the message that if they do not recover with Maurice behind the bench, some of them will join Noel as ex-members of the organization.

"I think everyone knows what's going to happen if things don't go well," veteran center Olli Jokinen said. "That the players that are going to get shipped out. That's the way the business goes."

The Jets began this season, their first in the Western Conference after NHL realignment, with a stated goal of reaching the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2007. With two near-misses in their first two seasons in Winnipeg while in the Eastern Conference, the Jets added veteran forwards Michael Frolik and Devin Setoguchi in offseason trades.

Frolik and Setoguchi complemented the additions of rookie defenseman Jacob Trouba, the ninth pick in the 2012 NHL Draft, and center Mark Scheifele, the seventh pick in the 2011 NHL Draft.

Instead, the Jets have struggled to generate any sort of consistency. Before sliding to the bottom of the Central Division, Winnipeg could not establish any traction in the Western Conference.

"Sometimes when you get in a funk like we have, sometimes you try, try, try, and it's almost counterproductive," Jets defenseman Mark Stuart said. "We just couldn't seem to get anything going. When something like this happens, you just hope that you respond."

Though the Jets' five-game losing streak is their longest of the season, they also have two three-game losing streaks, a four-game winless streak and several losses against teams at the bottom of the League's overall standings through the season.

"We haven't performed," Stuart said. "In this business, unfortunately, somebody has to take the fall for that. As a player and, especially as a leader, you feel responsible. And you are.

"There have been wake-up calls this season. There have been plenty of them where the way we've played and the way we've lost, you'd think those would be wake-up calls. If this isn't a wake-up call, I don't know what is."

In Noel's final game Saturday, a 6-3 loss against the Columbus Blue Jackets, he remade the Jets' lineup, moving defenseman Dustin Byfuglien to the team's top line and shifting Blake Wheeler, the Jets' leading goal-scorer, to the third line. The Jets held a 1-0 lead after the first period, but allowed Columbus to break open the game with four goals in the second period's opening 9:07.

"We have a tendency to get frustrated very easily," Jokinen said. "The tendency you can see [is] that we play a little bit scared, afraid to make mistakes, things like that. You've got to have confidence playing this game; otherwise, other teams, they see that.

"[Columbus] just came after us."

The Jets' roster is not familiar with Maurice, and there will be an adjustment period.

"We're going to be auditioning for him, really, for ice time," Ladd said.

Ladd plans to meet with Maurice on Monday to begin the process of establishing coach-captain rapport, but said Maurice's lack of history with the team could be an opportunity for a different look.

"I think that sometimes it's good to have a fresh perspective," Ladd said. "Sometimes when you're involved on a day-to-day basis, it's hard to see the big picture, so he might have a better idea of his system and the way he wants to play. As a player, it's your job to show up and do what he asks."

Now the Jets will attempt to establish a new culture with Maurice.

"As a group, I think we've talked about it all the time to try to create something here where it's expected to show up every day and play a certain way, work a certain way and create an identity not only for this room, but for this whole organization," Ladd said. "That's what we're still striving to do."

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