WINNIPEG - Claude Noel has his own worries about his Winnipeg Jets. And so the last thing the Jets head coach is going to do is stress out about what is happening in Montreal with the Canadiens.
The Habs, who play in Chicago Wednesday night before facing the Jets at MTS Centre Thursday, are embroiled in controversy after firing head coach Jacques Martin and replacing him with Randy Cunneyworth, slapping the "interim" tag on his job description amid howls from the French media that he cannot speak their language.
"Randy Cunneyworth is a friend of mine," Noel said Wednesday afternoon following Jets practice. "I’ve coached against him and I have a lot of respect for him. It’s a tough situation for him.
"I don’t know the situation enough there, not having lived in the province to understand it enough to say it’s right or wrong. I don’t understand it enough. I feel for him. It’s hard enough to coach in the National Hockey League, let alone to coach in tough circumstances like that."
Asked if he felt Cunneyworth was in a no-win situation, Noel added: "I don’t want to go there. I don’t have a real comment on the situation there. That’s in Montreal and I’m going to leave that in Montreal."
The Jets are 15-13-5 following Tuesday’s 3-2 shootout loss to the New York Islanders and, with 35 points, are tied with Washington and Buffalo in the Eastern Conference – one point out of a playoff spot heading into Wednesday’s action. The Canadiens are 13-14-7 and have 33 points.
After the Habs’ game, Winnipeg plays host to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday before the Christmas break.
"We’ve got two games before we break for Christmas and both of them are important for us," said Noel. "You can see in the standings they are big games. You gotta get points out of these games. We’re going to face Montreal with the same vim and vigour that we’ve had. I’d like us to play with a little bit more life than we did in the game (Tuesday) night.
"They beat us here at home (in the season opener). It’s not like a revenge thing, we weren’t that great in our first game at home because of a lot of different factors. We just need to be prepared to play the games. (The Canadiens) haven’t been going that well and they’ve had some changes and controversy in their team. We have to just play this thing like we have a formidable opponent.
"They’re going to be wanting to win the game as badly as we will. They’re in Chicago tonight and they’re going to be battling to get their situation straightened around. We’ll have to be ready to go."