Winnipeg Jets coach Claude Noel is back talking about his team making the playoffs and for now, anyway, he has good reason.
The Jets pulled off a third-straight win Saturday beating the Philadelphia Flyers 6-4 and capping off a week in which they also thrashed Washington 4-1 and Tampa Bay 5-2. The Jets are now 8-9-3 with 19 points.
While it’s true all the wins came at home, in front of the noisy crowd at the MTS Centre, the Jets hadn’t won in five previous games and talk of the playoffs had long faded.
Not any more.
“I still see our sights on the playoffs and I think we can still kind of manage that,” Noel said after Saturday’s game. “I think the group understands better how to win. How to play to win.”
Added Jet forward Bryan Little, who scored twice Saturday: “These weren’t easy teams that we were playing. They were tough teams and teams that could give us real trouble.”
Saturday’s game wasn’t quite like the wild night on Oct. 27 when the Jets beat the Flyers 9-8 after giving up the lead four times and causing Noel so much aggravation he had to reach for his Rosary.
This time penalties were the main factor. Both teams gave up eight power plays, including a two-man advantage. The Jets scored on three, helping the team get off to a 3-0 lead. They also got a short-handed goal when Jim Slater broke loose on a break away after Flyer defenceman Chris Pronger fanned on a shot.
But the Flyers nearly came back. They scored on two power plays and came close to tying the game in the third before Winnipeg’s Nik Antropov scored on an empty net in the final minute.
Penalties have been trouble for the Jets all season and the team has now taken 100 minors, among the highest in the league.
“I’ve got to find a way to coach that in some fashion, that’s a real challenge,” Noel said after the game. “We’re going to have some meetings on that.”
The Flyers had other chances but seemed jinxed. Forward Claude Giroux missed on a breakaway, other forwards hit the post and the Flyers thought they had scored late in the second period but the goal came a fraction of a second after time expired.
“It’s frustrating,” Flyer coach Peter Laviolette said after the game. “We shot ourselves in the foot for the first half of the game anyway.”
The Flyers can take some comfort from the play of their rookie forward Matt Read who had two goals Saturday, bringing his season total to eight which leads all rookies. Read wasn’t celebrating, though.
“For sure we came out kind of slow and it cost us,” he said after the game. “Hopefully we can learn from that mistake.”
Scott Hartnell, who also scored twice and got two assists, was measured after the game as well. “Points don’t matter when you lose a game like this,” he said.
“We didn’t do a very good job killing penalties and taking penalties,” added Pronger. “And soft plays against a team like that that’s playing with confidence and moving the puck around, you are going to get behind.”
Pronger smiled when asked about getting booed every time he touched the puck.
“It was like a playoff atmosphere,” he said. “They are boisterous and energetic and it’s fun to play in games like that.”
He noted that his grandparents came in from Thunder Bay to watch him play. “They got to see a barn burner.”
Another Flyer who felt the heat of the crowd was goal tender Ilya Bryzgalov, who didn’t even play.
Bryzgalov trashed the city last April while playing for Phoenix. When he was asked at that time about the possibility of the Coyotes moving to Winnipeg, Bryzgalov was less than flattering about the city, saying it was boring, didn’t have many parks and was too cold.
On Friday he tried to make amends apologizing repeatedly for the comments, but fans showed up Saturday eager to boo him anyway.
Laviolette started Sergei Bobrovsky instead, claiming it was a normal goaltender rotation. But the crowd chanted “We want Ilya” enough times for Bryzgalov to get the message on the bench. At one point late the game, the video board showed Bryzgalov. The crowd gave an enormous “Boo”, but the goalie just smiled.
Laviolette said he considered replacing Bobrovsky, who got off to a slow start by giving up two goals on the Jets first six shots. But his play improved as the game went on. “He made some spectacular saves,” the coach said. “He did a terrific job of keeping it where ever it was at.”
The Jets now go on a three game road trip to Washington, Carolina and Boston.
Saturday’s win “was huge,” said defenceman Dustin Byfuglien who had a goal and two assists. “It’s something that we needed to come on this home stand. It keeps us going. We’re not dragging our heads. But the game is over, we’ve got to go back on the road and get back to work out there.”