Claude Noel should be given some credit. After a rocky start, the head coach of the Winnipeg Jets is starting to get a pretty good feel for his hockey team.
Friday night, shortly after Noel’s Winnipeg Jets beat the Carolina Hurricanes 3-1 in Raieigh to go 1-0-1 on this three-game road swing, Noel told reporters, "We play pretty well when we play as a unit of 20. I like the way we played tonight and I like our group."
He should like "our group." If the Jets play the way they did on Friday against a really mediocre Hurricanes team 60 more times this season, they’ll take a run at first place in the East. And I’m not trying to be hyperbolic here. The Jets are 4-0-1 in their last five and have beaten Tampa Bay, Washington and Philadelphia in that stretch.
Friday night’s performance in Raleigh was surgical. The Jets came out hard and outskated the ‘Canes in a first-period that Johnny Oduya called, "a really high pace," during a television interview. In the second, Noel called his team "sloppy," but they did come out of it with a 2-1 lead. Then, despite being outshot 10-3 in the third by a Hurricanes team that finally played with a little urgency, the Jets kept Carolina to the permieter and goalie Chris Mason got the job done. In fact, Mason’s performance might have earned him another start — sooner, not later.
What was most interetsing about the Jets win on Friday was that every individual did his job. The scorers scored, the checkers checked, the goalie stopped 20-of-21 shots and, for the most part, the defensemen defended. Other than one glaring error by Dustin Byfuglien that led to Carolina’s only goal (which is pretty much expected now), the Jets D was rock solid.
Evander Kane (9), Andrew Ladd (8) and Bryan Little (6) scored; Chris Mason raised his save percentage to .906 and dropped his goals against average to 2.26; and Zach Bogosian was the game’s second star. The most important players on the team, the ones who log the most ice time and are expected to produce, played like the best players on the team. The captain, Andrew Ladd, was the best of the bunch and if that continues this Jets outfit should be just fine. Good teams win because their good players play like good players. Since the Jets went winless in five eatlier this month, the good players have played like good players and suddenly Winnipeg has logged at least a point in five straight games.
The Jets are now 9-9-4 and are still 13th in the East. But they’ve moved ahead of both the Islanders and the Hurricanes at the quarter pole. At this stage of the season there is nothing wrong with one day at a time.
Tonight, it’s Boston and that will be a different test. But if they don’t panic, get the goaltending they got on Friday in Raleigh and the team leaders play like team leaders, you never what surprises could be in store.