WINNIPEG – Winnipeg Jets Coach Claude Noel says his team provided their own lesson in how not to play the Pittsburgh Penguins last season.
“We were really poor in the games we played, we gave up eight goals twice I believe in games against them,” he said Thursday, as the Jets (1-1-1) prepared for a visit from the Penguins (2-1-0) Friday night.
“We played out of control. We played like we thought we were the Penguins, you know, and we got spanked I think because of that attitude, so that’s something we’re going to stay away from.”
The season is still young but after a shaky home opener the Jets put together a couple of solid road games in Boston and Washington.
Noel was particularly impressed with the way they battled the Bruins to a 1-1 regulation tie in Boston, eventually losing the shootout but coming away with a point. They put together their first win of the season the next night in Washington.
The Jets have been spending a lot of time improving their defence and say they know what they have to do to play the Penguins.
The only issue is executing the plan.
“They’re such a fast team with a lot of skill and they can make plays on the fly,” said Winnipeg captain Andrew Ladd.
“You’ve got to be skating. As forwards you’ve got to have good back pressure to press them to make plays quicker and our (defencemen) have to have good gaps and not allow them the blueline to pull up and make plays there.”
Noel also has been juggling his lines to increase the team’s scoring output and he seems happy with the result, although he isn’t committing to anything just yet.
Bryan Little has been moved out of centre to right wing as a result of the tinkering.
“In the middle of the ice you don’t see his speed as much as you would on the right and that’s what we’re trying to sort through,” says Noel, who added that Little is good wherever he plays.
Little says with players like Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby on the ice, it’s best not to let your attention wander.
“You’ve got to take a look around because those guys are pretty sneaky,” he said. “You don’t want to leave a guy like Crosby or Malkin uncovered in your own end.”
For their part, the Penguins have been served their own dose of humble pie this week as they went down 5-2 Wednesday to a fast-skating Toronto Maple Leaf assault that capitalized on penalties and mistakes.
Ladd says the Jets also have some speed and he isn’t worried that the Penguins will be coming with an even greater need to win after the loss to Toronto.
“No, we know the type of team they have and the type of game we’re going to have to play. . . We’re just going to focus on what we have to do,” he said.