Jets say they’ve turned the page, are ready for Canadiens

- April 24th, 2013

If you thought the Winnipeg Jets were going to be moping around and thinking about next season after losing to the Washington Capitals on Tuesday night, you were wrong.

While the disappointment was evident when the subject of the 5-3 loss to the Caps was broached, to a man the players who met with the assembled media on Wednesday afternoon — Mark Stuart, Nik Antropov, Blake Wheeler, Grant Clitsome and Derek Meech — were all holding out hope about their slim playoff hopes and focusing solely on finding a way to defeat the Montreal Canadiens in their regular-season finale on Thursday night at MTS Centre.

“Every individual knows there’s nothing we can do about it now, that game is over with,” said Jets defenceman Mark Stuart. “It’s tough. That was the game we were looking toward. It was big. Everybody realized that. It hurts, for sure, to not get that one. I like how we battled back though, after we were down. It could have been anybody’s game there in the third. Now we’ve just got to turn the page though and win tomorrow and then, unfortunately, there’s some things out of our control. But we have to concentrate on that game.

“ Not a whole lot we can do, besides come out with a good effort tomorrow and win that game.”

Make no mistake, the Jets (9th place, 51 points) realize they’re in a real tough spot, needing a win and then to rely on opponents of the Ottawa Senators (7th place, 52 points, games with Capitals, Philadelphia Flyers and Boston Bruins remaining) and New York Rangers (8th place, 52 points,games with Carolina Hurricanes and New Jersey Devils remaining).

“It’s obviously frustrating to lose like that, it was a big game for us last night. We’re disappointed we didn’t get a win,” said Jets forward Nik Antropov. “Tomorrow is another game, the last game of the season and we have to win and see what’s happening elsewhere.”

“Obviously, we wanted to win last night but things didn’t go the way we’d planned,” added Jets defenceman Grant Clitsome. “We’re pretty proud of our effort lately, we’ve got a big game tomorrow night and we still have a chance to get in this.”

I asked Clitsome what was the biggest thing the Jets have learned about themselves during the stretch drive?

“It’s been great to see how, as a team, we’ve come together through adversity in so many critical games and emotionally-driven games and getting efforts from the whole team,” said Clitsome.

Jets winger Blake Wheeler was asked what his team could take out of this season and you could tell he didn’t like the line of questioning, but he took a deep breath and gave a thoughtful answer — though you could tell he’s still holding out hope the Jets can sneak into the post-season party.

“There’s going to be ups-and-downs in any season,” said Wheeler. “We had our ups and we had our downs. It’s true that we set ourselves behind the eight-ball. But with that said, what we’ve done down the stretch has been what I’m going to choose to focus on, that’s what everyone should choose to focus on. Had every team above us not won every single game, we might be talking about a very different situation here. But that’s not the situation, that’s not what happened. We lost five straight and we could have folded the tents. We didn’t. We dug in and we competed our asses off. That’s what we’re going to focus on. Whatever anyone else says is up for them to say.”

Jets head coach Claude Noel is confident his team can turn the page.

“I don’t think that’s going to linger,” said Noel.

A subject that was broached to Noel was the need to play better team defence and decrease the number of Grade-A scoring chances the Jets allow.

“In order to be above that line, there’s no one identifying factor, you’re not going to be able to say, it’s this, it’s that. It’s a combination of a lot of things,” said Noel. “At the end of the day, you’re goals for and against differential has to get there, you have to be on the plus side of that thing. That’s just one anaology of what has to change and that’s not because we don’t want to get there. It’s because we’re not able to right now. Whether that’s partially special teams, partially personnel, you have to get to that side.

“If you look at the people above the line, their numbers, pretty much, all of them are in the plus side of the goal differential. You have to get to that (point).”

The numbers certainly support Noel’s theory as all eight teams in the East are plus in goal differential, while the Jets are -14 with one game left to play.

Although he didn’t come right out and say it, until the Jets add some offensive production, they’ll need to clean things up in the defensive zone next season.

Another topic that drew a response from Noel was his thoughts on the play of goalie Ondrej Pavelec and whether or not he believed that his workhorse starter had taken his game to a higher level.

Noel gave an emphatic response and I dealt with the subject in my sidebar.

My column advanced the game with the Canadiens, while colleague Kirk Penton added a column on the Jets’ special-teams struggles and added a notebook that included some some discussion on the play of Antropov as he returned to the lineup after missing eight games with a lower-body injury.

Be sure to check out our extensive game-day tee-up package in Thursday’s Winnipeg Sun and at www. winnipegsun.com.

Most of the Jets key performers stayed off the ice Wednesday, leaving five skaters — Jim Slater, Anthony Peluso, Zach Remdond, Jacob Trouba and Paul Postma — to join goalie Al Montoya for the optional skate.

As for the Canadiens, they find themselves in a bit of a tailspin, losing five of six games after nailing down their spot in the playoffs.

After playing better but losing 3-2 to the Devils on Tuesday, the Canadiens held a one-hour practice that featured plenty of battle drills and was filled with intensity.

“We need to play with more intensity, we all know. Especially when we start the game,” said Canadiens head coach Michel Therrien. “That aspect of our game, we went through the motions a bit too much and then we tried to react. For the most part of the season, we established a tone in the game and we have to get back to those good habits.”

Therrien was adamant when asked if the Canadiens still had time to turn things around, with two games left before the playoffs start and first place in the division still a possibility.

“Of course I do,” said Therrien.

The Canadiens will start Carey Price, while Pavelec makes his 43rd start and 44th appearance in this 48-game season.

The Jets figure to dress the same lineup as Tuesday night, since Jets head coach Claude Noel said D Zach Bogosian (suspected concussion) remains day-to-day “but it’s probably not THAT day.”

Therrien announced that rookie D Jarred Tinordi would be in the lineup and will be asked to provide a physical presence.

Tinordi played six games with the Canadiens earlier this season before he was returned to the Hamilton Bulldogs of the American Hockey League.

“When he started with us, he was doing good. The excitement when you make your first step in the NHL is always there. After that, he lost a bit of his confidence,” said Therrien. “We want him to be more physical, part of his game for a big kid like that, he has to be a presence. We told him the message and he was more a presence on the ice in Hamilton to finish the year. We’ll give him an opportunity tomorrow and it’s up to the players to take it. We believe in the young man. He skates well, he’s having a good first pass and he could be a good presence. We want to make sure he does those things.”

Canadiens defenceman Josh Gorges was asked if his team would be able to match the desperation level the Jets figure to have in what amounts to a legitimate must-win game.

“We have to expect their absolute best and that should push us to be even better than normal,” said Gorges. “Right now, we’re battling ourselves, more than anything. Every team goes through these difficult times, these funks, throughout the season and it’s a matter of finding a way to come out of it and still staying in the right frame of mind.  Right now, we just have to stay confident. We believe in the group that we have. We all know we have a great group of guys here, guys who want to play for each other. If we get back to playing that style, we’ll be all right.”

“We should have that urgency right now. This is the time of year that other teams have got it and we have to have it.”

Despite the recent woes, it’s obvious the Canadiens are having a lot more fun this season after enduring some serious struggles lat year.

“Going from 15th place to one of the top teams in your conference is a huge accomplishment and to be able to clinch playoffs with eight games left in the (48-game) season is pretty huge, with a couple weeks to go,” said Canadiens D P.K. Subban. “I don’t think it’s a switch you want to turn on and off. These next two games for us are going to be pretty huge to build our confidence and get into the right frame of mind.”

 

 

 

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