WINNIPEG – The Winnipeg Jets have built most of their wins this season on tight checking and a couple of well-timed goals in games where there has been little room for error.
So you would think when his top lines produce five goals and his team allows just one—as they did Sunday against Colorado for a third straight win—coach Claude Noel might relax and feel like things are on the right track.
Well, think again.
“It seems every time I feel good about things, I’m fearful about something else,” he said Monday as the team prepared to host the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday in the third of an eight-game homestand.
Noel and the Jets (29-26-6) know there is no time to pat themselves on the back as they look to improve their tenuous position at the bottom of the Eastern Conference playoff race. They’re tied with the Toronto Maple Leafs with 64 points for the eighth and final spot.
“There was a time there where everything was low scoring but now we’ve had a couple of games where we’ve scored some goals,” said Noel. “That’s good, that’s more fun.
“What you have to be careful of is you don’t start thinking you’re a five or six-goal team every night. On one hand you plug this hole and now you create this hole, so you’re always fearful of maybe overconfidence.”
Noel also says he isn’t playing guessing games about which team they might replace in the top eight, as he focuses all his energies on the Flyers (32-19-7), who have a 10-point lead on the Jets.
“You can look at different things. . . . Who are the people that are going to come out of the top eight if we’re going to go in?
“Should we be looking at Ottawa or should we be looking at Toronto? How many games have we played? Ottawa’s played 60 we’ve played 61. Should they be the target team for us?
“We don’t control those things . . . If we continue to win we put ourselves in a good situation. . . That’s what we can control.”
And the comments in the dressing room sound pretty similar.
“We haven’t accomplished anything yet,” said forward Tim Stapleton, back for the last few games after missing nine due to injury. “We’re not in the playoffs right now and that’s where we’re trying to get to and we know it’s going to take pretty well every point possible.”
Veteran defenceman Mark Stuart doesn’t think this is just a brief flash of success.
“I think we’re the real deal,” he said. “I believe in this team.”
And he says it’s no mystery how they rebounded from an 8-5 loss in Pittsburgh and 3-1 loss to the struggling New York Islanders that left Noel shaking his head last week.
“We just played better,” he said. “We put together 60-minute efforts. We got everyone in the room playing well. We turned it around. We got a few good wins here. But by no means are we satisfied.”
Noel is pleased with what he has seen on the ice since the loss to the Islanders and the way team leaders like Blake Wheeler have stepped up their level of play.
Wheeler had four assists Sunday, giving him a team high 46 points in 59 games, a new personal best.
“Everybody can have an impact on a game. It has nothing to do with stats for me,” said Noel. “With Blake, he has confidence right now. . . . He just wants to win and help his team.”
Noel says the organization knows the Jets are a young team with a lot of players in their sophomore year after relocating from Atlanta and he’s pleased with how they’re starting to mature.
“That’s what excited us and I think it’s been really good,” said Noel.
But for the coach, that damned if you do, damned if you don’t feeling just won’t go away.
“There’s just no rest for the wicked,” Noel said.