Like many teams in the National Hockey League the Winnipeg Jets are trying to figure out how to handle the surging Minnesota Wild.
The Wild have been the surprise of the NHL this season with a record of 20-7-3 and 43 points, which leads the league. Minnesota play the Jets Tuesday at the MTS Centre and Winnipeg coach Claude Noel has an inkling of what's in store.
Noel coached against Wild coach Mike Yeo last year when they were both in the American Hockey League -- Noel at the Manitoba Moose and Yeo with Houston Aeros.
“The first time we played them here in our building I remember like it was yesterday,” Noel said Monday after the Jets practised. “After first period I had to say to our team that we better get ready to play this game as simple as we can and that’s exactly how they played.”
Noel said the game was scoreless until about 4 minutes left in the third period when Manitoba scored the only goal to win. “They played fast and raced from their goal line with the puck, chipped it into our zone and that was it. And we did the same. [Yeo]has done a good job. You look at their goals against [64, one of the lowest in the league] they are well balanced, they are getting goaltending and it looks like they’ve got a lot of joy there, which you always do when you are first in the league.”
Many of the Jets players are also not quite sure what to make of Minnesota, which will become a regular rivalry next season when realignment puts the Jets and Wild in the same division.
“I haven’t even watched them play that much so I don’t know what’s going on,” said centre Bryan Little. He said the team will start reviewing some tape of the Wild Tuesday morning.
“It shouldn’t really matter what they present,” said forward Blake Wheeler. “We’ve shown that if we play our game in this building and create turnovers and throw it back at them, we’ve beaten the best. We can beat anyone.”
The Jets have been on a roll at home lately, going 7-3 in their last ten games at the MTS Centre. But the team will have to rebound from a tough 7-1 loss in Detroit on Saturday.
The players reviewed some of the tape from that game Monday, but only parts of the first period when the Jets played better and not second when the Red Wings scored four goals.
“You lose 7-1, you lose 4-1, a loss is a loss,” Noel said. “It was painful for everybody. Watching it on TV it was painful. Being behind the bench as a coach was painful. Playing and being one of the players was painful. Sitting in the stands as an extra player would be painful. There was nothing good about that.”
He added: “We need to get back to wining and that will be our challenge tomorrow.”
One Jet player who hoped to be back in the lineup was defenceman Tobias Enstrom. He hasn’t played since Oct. 31 when he got checked hard by Florida’s Jack Skille. The hit broke Enstrom’s collar bone and he has only returned to skating with the team recently. On Monday, Enstrom was cleared for contact and he said he felt ready to play. But Noel ruled the Swede out of Tuesday’s game. He wouldn’t say when he expected Enstrom to return.