By Darrin Bauming (@DarrinBauming)
The Winnipeg Jets returned home from their longest road trip of the season to face their Southeast Division rivals from Sunrise, Florida on Thursday night, but Claude Noel is not sure if his team actually showed up.
“They got on the board early… they sat back, and we watched them play,” said Winnipeg’s bench-boss of his team’s 5-2 loss to the Panthers.
Florida did strike early. And often. Kris Versteeg scored on the Panther’s first shot on net, his first of three goals on the night, and the Cats didn’t look back.
The Jets put up four shots on goal in the opening seven minutes, but then fell off the face of the earth by recording zero shots on netminder Jose Theodore for the rest of the first, and the opening 10 minutes of the second.
“The first 40 minutes we just weren’t skating,” said Jets captain Andrew Ladd. “We just stood around and watched them.”
“It’s embarrassing when you’re getting booed off your own ice,” added Tim Stapleton, who eventually notched his first goal of the year in the third. “With the speed up front and the talent we have, we should be getting a lot of shots.”
The Jets decided to suddenly appear in the third, amassing 17 shots on net, scoring twice in the frame’s opening six minutes via Stapleton on the power-play, and Ladd on a Zach Bogosian point-shot tip-in that broke the captain’s stick.
The struggles are surprising coming from a team that took eight of a possible 14 points while on a gruelling 13-day tour down the East coast, including a 4-3 shootout win over the Panthers.
“You’re not going to win if your players don’t play to their potential,” added Noel. “There was a game plan in place. I thought we’d be better, and we weren’t.”
When asked if his team was tired after two weeks away from home, Noel had a straightforward response.
“We’re not. That’s a bad excuse. And that’s where it needs to sit.”
The win puts Florida atop Southeast, one point ahead of Washington and Tampa Bay. The Jets sit six-points back, tied with Carolina.
Winnipeg (5-8-3) now heads to Columbus to face an NHL-worst 2-12-1 Blue Jackets squad on Saturday before returning home for a three-game stand against Tampa, Washington, and Philadelphia.