Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Jets rise to occasion

Team responds positively to coach Noel's tinkering

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It doesn’t always work out this way, of course. Pull Winnipeg Jets’ head coach Claude Noel aside and he’ll likely confess some of his best coaching decisions took days, weeks or even months to morph into something tangible or positive.

 And then there are nights like Monday’s 5-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning at the MTS Centre in which the Jets deserve full credit for their handiwork and the coach was the author of some critical moves that paid out in an instant jackpot.

 Holding his team’s feet to the fire after uninspired efforts against Florida and Columbus last week, Noel pushed every button imaginable to pull the Jets out of a five-game (0-3-2) winless streak, including a massive overhaul of his line combinations.

 And the results were instantaneous as his team responded with a complete top-to-bottom effort that should be held up as their blueprint.

 "My job is not that difficult," said Noel. "I deal with efficiency. How can we maximize efficiency? And I thought we were excellent in all areas tonight. To me, this is our ‘A’ game and now we know what our ‘A’ game is. Now we know where the bar sits and now we know what to reach for. It’s a great sign, a great sign for our team."

 The ‘A’ game evidence:

  •  The retooling of the lines sparked an offence that had been held to one goal or less in seven of their first 17 games. Five different Jets scored — Evander Kane, Dustin Byfuglien, Mark Flood, Andrew Ladd and Tim Stapleton — in a contest in which 10 players picked up a point.
  •  Noel moved Kane onto a line with Alex Burmistrov and Bryan Little; Ladd with Nik Antropov and Kyle Wellwood; Tanner Glass alongside Jim Slater and Chris Thorburn; while recent call-up Jason Jaffray worked with Tim Stapleton and Blake Wheeler.

 "Sometimes that gives you a little bit of life," Noel said. "We needed 20 people playing and we got 20 people playing."

  • The pairing of Byfuglien and the trusty Mark Stuart seemed to settle the big man’s game. In fact, Byfuglien’s performance against the Bolts was one of his strongest of the season as he played a team high 24 minutes and one second, scored, set up another and finished +1.
  •  The decision to test the comfort zone of some struggling vets with call-ups from St. John’s also worked. Flood, it should be noted, scored his third goal in seven games — "He might go to the all-star game if he keeps this up," cracked Noel — while Jaffray was solid in limited ice time.

 "I thought Jason made us a better team tonight," said Noel. "He’s such a responsible player. He doesn’t play with flash or flair, but that’s the player we had last year that I remember. He didn’t play much but he’s got a lot of things in play, including heart. I was impressed."

  •  The Jets’ special teams were solid, killing off all six Tampa power plays — including a 1:17 two-man advantage — while the power play connected on one of its two attempts.

 The result helped the Jets not only snap their current nosedive, but end an awful streak against the Lightning. Before Monday the Jets/Thrashers franchise had dropped 12 straight games (0-7-5) against Tampa, in what had been the NHL’s longest current winning streak by one team over another.

 "We stuck to our gameplan all the way through and that’s something we’ve been looking for for a while," Byfuglien said. "(The first goal) was huge. That was our main focus going in. We got it and we never got away from our system, kept playing hard and getting pucks in."

 Winnipeg is now 3-3 at home and play seven of their next 10 at the MTS Centre, including Thursday against the Washington Capitals and Saturday vs. the Philadelphia Flyers.

 — with files from Tim Campbell

 Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 15, 2011 C1


Updated on Tuesday, November 15, 2011 at 11:40 AM CST: Updated

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