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The topic that feeds itself continued to strengthen today when Winnipeg Jets coach Claude Noel felt obliged to defend himself against accusations from corners of the province of Quebec that he only speaks English as some sort of show of support for Montreal Canadiens interim coach Randy Cunneyworth.

Cunneyworth, appointed last Saturday, is not bilingual.

“My situation not speaking French to the media is really nothing to do with Randy Cunneyworth and that whole scenario,” Noel said this morning after the Jets’ game-day skate at the MTS Centre. Winnipeg meets the Montreal Canadiens here tonight (7:30 p.m., TSN Jets, TSN 1290).

“It has to do with my comfort level. I can’t express myself in French like I can in English. So you try to answer questions that you can’t answer. I’ve got a Grade 6 education in French and then I went to English school from Grade 7 and onward. It’s hard to be descriptive.

“If I want to say to the French media, for example, ‘I want to focus on the task at hand,’ I can’t say that.

“I don’t know how to say it. The words don’t come out, so I’m always half-English, half-French. It has nothing to do with their situation there. They can accuse me of whatever they’d like.

“They want to generate whatever controversy? That’s their right.” said Noel, who was born in Kirkland Lake, Ont.

Noel said simply that his French is no longer “clean.”

“It’s no disrespect to the media,” he said. “I’ve been in the U.S. for 30 years. You lose it. Then you go to express yourself and you can’t.”

More pertinent to the coach is tonight’s game, which sees the Habs travelling here after losing 5-1 Wednesday night in Chicago.

“For us our puck management’s got to be better,” said the coach, whose team has alternated wins and losses in the last six games, including Tuesday’s 3-2 shootout loss to the Islanders. “We have to communicate better in our D zone and win more battles. That’s one of the things that cleans up our zone.”

The Habs have dropped 13-15-7 in the standings.

“They’re getting in late, it’s probably not the best thing for them,” said Jets defenceman Zach Bogosian. “They’re coming off a 5-1 loss, they’re going to probably be a little more motivated, so we’ll have to be ready from the get-go.”

The teams met once before in 2011, when Winnipeg opened its historic new-era season on Oct. 9, a 5-1 win for Montreal.

“We played awful,” said Jets captain Andrew Ladd. “We don’t want to take anything from that game.”

Noel also said tonight that top centre Bryan Little, felled by a shot to the foot last Saturday, won’t be available.

And he’s a very large question mark for Friday’s home game against Pittsburgh.

“Day-to-day. It’s slow,” Noel said. “It’s very sensitive. He’s not a player in practice yet. We’re not sure when we’re going to get him back. We miss him a lot. He’s a centre on the top line.”

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

History

Updated on Thursday, December 22, 2011 at 5:07 PM CST: Adds slideshow

8:17 PM: Updates with first period

9:10 PM: Updates with result, details after second period

10:08 PM: Updates with game overr

11:04 PM: Updates with quotes

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