ST. PAUL, MINN. — It is a result that means nothing and, at the same time, absolutely everything for Claude Noel and the Winnipeg Jets.
Yes, it’s only the pre-season. And, yes, there were still some warts in Saturday’s 4-3 shootout loss to the Minnesota Wild at the Xcel Energy Center. But there was also a lot of good for the Jets, especially when measured against Thursday’s lacklustre 4-1 loss to the Wild that had fists poised over panic buttons all over Winnipeg.
"We were a lot better," said Noel. "We played way better than we did the other night, right from the effort to team play. We defended way better, our power play helped us out (going 2-for-4) and we didn’t get discouraged being down 2-0 (after the first period).
"I liked the resiliency of our group. They stuck to the plan. It speaks volumes for the guys that were in the lineup."
' That's definitely more the way we wanted to play. We did a lot of good things and that's the big part of the pre-season: getting to play the right way and seeing steps in the right direction' — Jets captain Andrew Ladd
Mission: Entirely possible
There were a lot of long faces in River City in the two days after the loss to Minnesota on Thursday — and with good reason. But when a team gets sand kicked in its face it has two options: knuckle under or toughen up and get back up swinging.
The Jets were down 2-0 after the first then scored three straight goals in the second before giving up the equalizer and then falling in the shootout. But Ondrej Pavelec was solid and Winnipeg got contributions from a bunch of fresh faces — Eric O’Dell, Patrice Cormier and Paul Postma among them — to make management’s decision a little tougher before the next round of cuts.
"That’s definitely more the way we wanted to play," said Jets captain Andrew Ladd. "We did a lot of good things and that’s the big part of the pre-season: getting to play the right way and seeing steps in the right direction.
"I liked how we tracked the puck offensively, we were getting pucks to the net and creating stuff off that. And our power play was a lot better in terms of the comfort level and what we need to do there."
'I'm getting more comfortable and will continue to get more comfortable as we keep playing and get used to the speed and the guys I'm playing with' — Jacob Trouba
More to follow?
You’d get some arguments as to who was the best of the Jets Saturday night — Ondrej Pavelec, Bryan Little, Eric O’Dell, Dustin Byfuglien and Grant Clitsome were among the possible candidates — but one of the most encouraging signs for the club’s brass was the play of rookie defenceman Jacob Trouba.
In one week, from last week’s pre-season opener in Belleville, Ont. against Washington to Saturday in St. Paul, his game has improved dramatically. In short, he looks much less an untested 19-year-old and more like a polished pro who has so many layers to his game.
"I’m getting more comfortable and will continue to get more comfortable as we keep playing and get used to the speed and the guys I’m playing with," said Trouba, who visited quickly after the game with his parents and younger brother Christopher, who are in St. Paul for his sibling’s hockey tournament. "I thought today was a good step forward.
"I’m just getting used to it again. I haven’t played hockey in awhile. I’m just going to keep getting better as the games go on."
'He played heavy minutes (25:41) and I thought he looked really good. He plays with some bite' — Jets coach Claude Noel on the play of rookie Jacob Trouba
"He played heavy minutes (25:41) and I thought he looked really good," added Noel. "He plays with some bite."
Desperate times call for inspired play
With just over a week left before the regular-season opener the Jets got some contributions from players trying to push for a big-league sweater, not a ticket to St. John’s. And that’s exactly what Noel & Co. were seeking as part of the rebound from their stinker last Thursday.
"The big thing for us is who’s showing us what," said Noel. "There is a little bit of desperation with the number of games we’ve got. We’ve got three left. It goes to show that some of these players look like they’re putting their best foot forward and doing their best to impress."