While it appears most teams ahead of the Winnipeg Jets in the Eastern Conference standings just can’t lose these days, there’s a chance that with several head-to-head meetings upcoming, things might start to open up a bit this week for those jockeying for position.
On Monday night’s out-of-town scoreboard, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Morweena product James Reimer blanked the New Jersey Devils 2-0, sending them to a 10th consecutive defeat.
The other game in the East saw the Philadelphia Flyers hammer the Montreal Canadiens 7-3.
The Maple Leafs moved within three points of the Boston Bruins for fourth place, though the Bruins hold a game in hand after Monday’s tilt was postponed because of the tragedy related to the Boston Marathon bombing (our thoughts go out to all of those impacted by the tragedy obviously).
Meanwhile, the Devils remain stuck in 11th in the East with 40 points, which is only one more than the Flyers (both teams have played 42 games).
With games against the Washington Capitals and Islanders upcoming, folks from Jets Nation will surely be rooting for the Maple Leafs in both of those match-ups.
But I digress.
Before we get into what happened on the ice, a report from RDS reporter Renaud Lavoie said the Jets have signed 2011 third rounder Adam Lowry to an entry-level contract.
Lowry, who had 45 goals and 88 points for the Swift Current Broncos of the American Hockey League, has one assist in six games since joining the St. John’s IceCaps of the American Hockey League on an amateur tryout offer.
The Jets skated for just over an hour at MTS Centre on Monday in preparation for Tuesday’s tilt with the Tampa Bay Lightning, who have lost three consecutive games and are 3-4-1-1 since Jon Cooper took over behind the bench from Guy Boucher.
“(The Lightning) are kind of like that Florida team that came in (last week), you’re going to get a lot of desperation. There are a lot of people that are playing with a purpose. There are a lot of people playing for contracts and for spots on that team,” said Jets winger Eric Tangradi.
Plenty of the discussion on Monday circulated on the importance of rest for a Jets team that hasn’t played since last Thursday.
“(The break) should bring energy but just because you rest up and stuff, sometimes you get a little out of sorts in different areas. You don’t know how it’s going to go,” said Noel. “To me, it’s get your legs and your emotional level in check. And your focus. Those are the areas that you really have got to watch.
“You have to have a plan. You can’t just show up and expect that things will just go. What happens if they don’t go?”
Call it the calm before the storm as the Jets play their final six games over a 10-day span, before having to wait to see how things unfold during the final three days of the regular season.
Noel also revealed that one of his biggest concerns coming into the condensed season was having a slow start that the Jets could not recover from.
“I remember the fear was that if you’re not in check and in tune, starting off — which we didn’t know how that would go either — that you conceivably could be out of it after 20 games,” said Noel. “Imagine playing a 48-game season and after 20 games you are pretty much toast. I don’t know if it happened to anybody but you could have hit a major bump and thought, whoa, we’ll never catch up now.
“I’m thankful we’re still here (in the race) and we’re still pushing. This is exciting for me.”
Noel was asked what was the biggest challenge facing him as a coach on Tuesday?
“I’ve got to make sure the players are ready, that’s what I’ve got to do,” said Noel. “And I also have to figure out what happens if we’re not. As simple as it sounds, you’ve got to get down to winning, so everything goes out the window. Four lines, who is playing with who, how long are you going to wait?”
While Noel’s goal is to roll four lines, a variety of circumstances could dictate that’s simply not the case.
“I’d like to, but that’s never determined by me,” said Noel, suggesting it’s the players who ultimately force his hand. “People might say, sure it is. But if everyone is playing well, with energy, I can do that. And it’s better for the whole team, the whole concept of playing. It’s way better.
“But if guys aren’t going, you don’t have too much time to wait anymore. I’m not afraid to shorten. I’d rather not.”
The Lightning announced some news of their own on Monday, inking G Ben Bishop to a two-year contract extension, worth a reported $4.6 million, according to capgeek.com.
Smart signing for GM Steve Yzerman and it means that Bishop and Anders Lindback, who is close to returning from injury, will compete for the No. 1 job next season.
Lindback is making $2.2 million ($1.8 million cap hit) next season in what is the final year of a two-year contract he signed last summer, presumably to be the starter after backing up Pekka Rinne as a member of the Nashville Predators.
Lindback, who turns 25 next month, will be a restricted free agent when the contract expires at the end of the 2013-14 season while Bishop will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2014-15 season.
The Lightning are also expected to get F Nate Thompson back for Tuesday’s game after he sat out Sunday’s game for precautionary reasons after taking a slapper in the visor from Caps D Mike Green.
Whenever the Lightning are in town, Steven Stamkos attracts a lot of attention and he currently finds himself in a tight race for the Rocket Richard Trophy as top goal scorer with Caps sniper Alex Ovechkin (who has 27 goals to Stamkos’ 26).
Stamkos and Marty St. Louis (52 points) are currently tied for second in NHL scoring behind Sidney Crosby (55 points).
The other piece of big NHL news came out of Edmonton as the Oilers fired Steve Tambellini and replaced him at GM with former head coach Craig MacTavish, who was a candidate for the Jets’ job that Noel got and Mike Haviland was the runner-up for back in the summer of 2011.
The Oilers also hired former Columbus Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson to work closely with MacTavish.
Former GM and president Kevin Lowe took exception to a few questions during Monday’s press conference and it will certainly be interesting to watch to see what the Oilers do leading up to the draft and into free agency as the franchise tries to make a few moves to help its young core.
Our coverage in the paper and at www.winnipegsun.com includes a story advancing the game with the Lightning and an expansive two-page spread on G Ondrej Pavelec, who shared his story about how he became a goalie, who his favourite goalie was as a kid and spoke about what it’s like to be chasing a playoff berth for the first time in his NHL career.
Before we go, in case you were wondering, here’s the updated Eastern Conference stretch drive box, highlighting the teams the Jets are chasing and those chasing them, complete with schedule of remaining games:
*3. Washington Capitals (48 pts, 6 GR) — HOME (4): Toronto, Winnipeg, Ottawa, Boston; AWAY (2): Ottawa, Montreal
6. Ottawa Senators (48 points, 7 GR) — HOME (5): Carolina, Washington, Toronto, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia. AWAY (2): Boston, Washington.
7. New York Islanders (47 pts, 6 GR) — HOME (1): Florida; AWAY (5): Toronto, Winnipeg, Carolina, Philadelphia, Buffalo
8. New York Rangers (46 pts, 7 GR) — HOME (3): Florida, New Jersey, New Jersey; AWAY (4): Philadelphia, Buffalo, Florida, Carolina
*9. Winnipeg (44 pts, 6 GR) — HOME (4): Tampa Bay, Carolina, New York Islanders, Montreal; AWAY (2): Buffalo, Washington
10. Buffalo (42 pts, 5 GR) — HOME (3): New York Rangers, Winnipeg, New York Islanders; AWAY (2): Boston, Pittsburgh
11. New Jersey (40 pts, 6 GR) — HOME (3): Florida, Montreal, Pittsburgh; AWAY (4): Toronto, Philadelphia, New York Rangers, New York Rangers
12. Philadelphia (39 pts, 6 GR) — HOME (4): New York Rangers, New Jersey, Boston, New York Islanders; AWAY (2): Carolina, Ottawa
*13. Tampa Bay (37 pts, 6 GR) — HOME (3): Carolina, Toronto, Florida; AWAY (3): Winnipeg, Montreal, Boston
*14. Carolina (36 pts, 7 GR) — HOME (3): Philadelphia, New York Islanders, New York Rangers; AWAY (4): Ottawa, Winnipeg, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh
* Southeast Division teams