WINNIPEG – Winnipeg Jets coach Claude Noel says goaltending will be key in this shortened season, but he isn’t exactly sure how he’s going to manage the demands a compressed schedule will put on his netminders.
“It will be managed probably like everything else and that will be from the seat of my pants,” Noel said Sunday as the Jets opened an abbreviated training camp by practising in front of about 5,000 fans.
Ondrej Pavelec is returning as Winnipeg’s starting goalie, freshly signed to a five-year, US$19.5 million deal.
Behind him this season is newcomer Al Montoya, signed as a free agent after a couple of seasons with the Islanders.
“I like (Montoya’s) attitude,” Noel said. “I like the way he worked.”
As for how much either will play, given the brisk pace of a game every other day in the compressed schedule, Noel said he couldn’t predict that in advance.
He said they would have to carefully monitor energy level and fatigue and “you’re going to have to be plugged in to your goalie coach.”
“That’s not to put pressure on goaltending,” he said. “It’s just like pitching in baseball, it’s a vital part.”
Noel also said managing injuries are going to be the key to winning in the shortened season.
The Jets are looking at some prospects from their farm team, in particular on defence with Zach Bogosian likely out for at least a month as he recovers from wrist surgery.
Forward Blake Wheeler said it was great to see so many fans come out for the practice.
“It’s awesome,” said Winnipeg’s leading scorer last season.
“We all know how privileged we are to play in a market like this. To have that kind of reception, that might be some team’s home games in the early going.”
Winnipeg’s MTS Centre is pretty well sold out for years to come and there is a paid 8,000-name waiting list should anyone give up their season tickets.
The city was without NHL hockey between 1996 and 2011, when the former Atlanta Thrashers were bought and relocated by True North Sports and Entertainment.
So, lockout or not, the Jets can bank on fans showing up in a city that is till rejoicing in the return of the NHL.
“To have that for the first day of practice is pretty special and it makes us even more motivated to go out there and play hard right from the beginning,” said Wheeler.
The team isn’t a lot different from last season.
Besides Montoya, the Jets added a little power up front in the off-season with the signing of Olli Jokinen and Alexei Ponikarovsky.
Noel also said they don’t know yet whether forward Nik Antropov will be ready for Saturday’s home opener against Ottawa since he has an unspecified upper-body injury.
Winnipeg stumbled out of the gate and missed the playoffs in 2011-12, although the Jets did improve and stay close until the last few games of the regular season.
With realignment on the shelf for another season the Jets will also be travelling a lot, but Noel says he isn’t concerned about their schedule.
“The schedule is what it is and it’s not that bad,” he said.
“When you look at all the numbers and you look at the way we performed last year there’s some glaring areas we have to be better.
“It’s not so much based on the schedule for me. it’s based on the way we need to play.”