Winnipeg Jets coach Claude Noel will talk about nearly anything; his shopping habits, hair style, his playing days in the East Coast Hockey League. But there's one thing he wouldn't talk about Tuesday - whether the coach of the Montreal Canadiens should speak French.
Noel smiled, took a long pause and then laughed when he was asked about the controversy in Montreal over the hiring of anglophone Randy Cunneyworth as interim coach.
“I don’t know, that’s something, that’s very sensitive let's put it that way,” said Noel, who grew up in Kirkland Lake, Ont., and speaks decent French. “To me you’ve got to live there, be there, to really associate yourself with what really goes on there. There’s a lot of controversy there. I like Randy Cunneyworth he’s a good coach, done a good job. I feel for him. Let's put it that way.”
Noel will probably face more questions about the issue Thursday when Montreal visits the MTS Centre for a game against Winnipeg.
But for now, Noel's focus was on Tuesday's game against the New York Islanders. The Jets beat the Isles 3-0 on Long Island in November, but New York has been playing better lately going 4-1-1 in their last six road games.
“You can’t sit there and just say, well this is another game and we are going to look past these guys,” Noel said.
Islander forward John Tavares said the team has had an up and down season but seem to have finally started to put some things together.
“We had a big win the other night [a 2-1 win over Minnesota on Saturday]and we hope to carry it on today,” he said Tuesday. “We seem to just play a simple game and play hard and play our system well. We've had great goaltending as well.”
If the Jets do win, the team has a chance to move into eighth spot in the Eastern Conference, something the team hasn’t done yet this season. But they have been in this position before. Last week, the Jets were also in ninth spot and facing the Washington Capitals at the MTS Centre. At that time, there was much talk among the players and Noel about the Jets nabbing a top eight spot with a victory. But the Capitals won 1-0 and the Jets fell back into 11th place.
On Tuesday, there wasn't much talk about moving into a playoff position. However, Noel said the goal remains.
“We have a chance to get above the line by possibly winning tonight if things fall into place, and that’s what we are going to deal with,” he said. “Why would that not be a good goal? That’s our next task, that’s our next step, whether there is a focus on it or not.”
One issue for Winnipeg will be loss of forward Bryan Little. He has centred the Jets' most productive line with Blake Wheeler and Evander Kane. Alexander Burmistrov will take his place Tuesday and Noel said he is anxious to see the results. “It’s hard to walk in there and expect you are going to get the same type of chemistry,” he said noting that Burmistrov played with the others Saturday in a win against Anaheim in the second and third period after Little got injured. “They've just got to make due with what they have, try to work it out.”
Wheeler said the change shouldn't make too much difference since all of the players have played with each other by now. “They do a lot of the same things,” Wheeler said. Burmistrov “is really good with the puck and he wants the puck a lot so, give him the puck.”
Wheeler added that the change is tricky because the line had been working so well. He and Little have played together for about 60 games going back to their days in Atlanta.
“It's tough...You like playing with guys you have chemistry with but at the same time, he's not available tonight and [Burmistrov]is a really player as well. I haven't really played with him that much but him and Kane played quite a bit together. But you make chemistry as you go and who knows, you have a strong first period and all of sudden you have great chemistry.”