It would be understandable if Winnipeg Jets coach Claude Noel was a bit leery about returning home.
After the Jets wrapped up their longest road trip of the season with a 4-1 mark, Noel has to prepare the team to try and end a four-game losing skid at home.
“For some reason, I don’t know what it is, there’s usually a letdown (after a long road trip). That’s just the way it is,” Noel said Wednesday as his players had the day off.
The Jets (9-9-1) are 3-5 at the MTS Centre this season and begin a two-game homestand Thursday night against New Jersey (10-5-4) and Saturday afternoon versus Washington.
The streak is the longest home drought since the franchise moved to Winnipeg from Atlanta before last season.
“There’s a lot of support here that we want to do well and we want to prove to (fans) that we’re a good team,” Noel said.
“Sometimes you might fear over-trying (at home) and that’s a little bit different, but I don’t think we fear that.”
Through their first eight games at home last season, the Jets held a 5-3 record as they were buoyed by their raucous home crowd. The Jets have sold out every game since the NHL returned to Manitoba’s capital.
“You try to satisfy the fans and you know that they’re supporting of you, and on the road you are patient, you just play the game and it’s not the same,” Noel said.
“That’s a maturity thing that I think we’re going to get to and I think we’re doing all the right things so that’s the next step, that’s what we have to go through.”
During the latest road trip, the Jets defeated Buffalo, Carolina, New Jersey and the New York Rangers, with a loss to Philadelphia sandwiched in the middle.
Noel attributed part of the recent success to players winning battles in key areas, moving the puck ahead and putting pucks in the right area.
“We’re doing things to win games. We’re scoring timely goals and that’s the one thing that’s helped us.”
He also pointed to the strong leadership in the locker-room, led by captain Andrew Ladd.
“He brings a will to the game,” Noel said. “He brings that quiet confidence. He’s been a big producer as well.”
Ladd has 10 goals and seven assists, second on the team in points to Evander Kane’s nine goals and 18 points.
Ladd had three goals and two assists during the road trip, while Kane scored four goals and added two assists.
Noel acknowledged Kane is skating better and is more physical.
“When he’s going good and he feeds off of what he feeds off of, then just feed him more frenzy and just let him out of the corral and watch him go,” Noel said.
But while players and staff are feeling good after a successful road trip, Noel cautioned there’s a lot of work ahead for the club that’s in a three-way tie for top spot in the Southeast Division with Carolina and Tampa Bay.
“We’ve got ourselves to .500. We’d like to get over .500. We’d like to continue to climb in the standings,” he said.
“And so, yeah, we’re playing well, yeah, we’re doing good. Now we’re at home and now we have to continue. Our homestand has not been good before we left so it’s time to get that area repaired.”
He knows the task won’t be easy against the Devils, who have veteran goalie Martin Brodeur out with a sore back and will start Johan Hedberg in net.
“As much respect as I have for Martin Brodeur, he’s not their whole team,” Noel said.
“They’ve been rested. Their last game was on (Sunday, the 4-2 loss to Winnipeg) a They’re going to be ready to go. It won’t be the same game that we saw in their building.”
Notes — The Jets called up defenceman Derek Meech from the AHL’s St. Johns IceCaps Wednesday and returned blue-liner Julian Melichiroi and goalie Eddie Pasquale to the farm team a Winnipeg goalie Al Montoya has been taken off the injured-reserve list.
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