WINNIPEG — A day after his team’s best effort of the season, Claude Noel was quick to deflect credit.
The head coach of the Winnipeg Jets had been critical of his players — questioning whether they felt they had “a free pass to fail” — after they opened the season with three consecutive losses.
But after sleeping on his team’s 2-1 home win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Monday night, Noel wasn’t ready to say that his pointed comments — both to the team and the media — had any bearing on the team’s improved performance.
“It just shows you that they care,” Noel said after Tuesday morning’s skate. “That’s what you want. The first thing you’ve got to do as a coach is make sure your players care.
“I always thought that they cared, so I knew it would come back to us.”
No longer needing to answer questions about when they would earn their first win since moving from Atlanta, the Jets took off for Ontario on Tuesday for games in Toronto on Wednesday and Ottawa on Thursday.
Forward Kyle Wellwood, who needed just eight seconds to score the Jets’ first goal against the Penguins, said he could detect a change in mood from the coaching staff.
“I think any time the team wins, regardless of the time of the season, (the coaches) come in and they’re happy,” said the former Maple Leaf. “At least they’ve got some things to look at on tape where we’re doing things well.”
Goaltender Ondrej Pavelec, who made 27 saves — many of them difficult — against the Penguins, said it was the sort of win that could make the Jets a more confident team.
“Last night was a great team effort,” he said. “We know we can beat those (high-quality) teams. That’s exactly what we needed.”
Noel has challenged his team to earn 96 or 97 points this season — a total he believes will be enough to make the playoffs. With only two points through four games, his top priority is to get above .500.
“You’re going to hit bumps all the time,” Noel said. “Adversity’s healthy. We got our adversity early.”
The Jets were the last team in the league to register a point, and now find themselves in a dead-heat with the New York Rangers as the only teams that hadn’t scored on the power play going into Monday’s games. The Jets are 0-for-17 to start the season, but Noel isn’t concerned about what he calls the “cyclical” nature of the man-advantage.
“It’ll come around,” he said. “It’s a matter of time. The power play’s about scoring chances — how you get them, how you create them. Eventually they’ll start going in.”
Wellwood last played for the Leafs in the 2007-08 season, and none of his former teammates remain on the roster. But he said he still looks forward to playing at the Air Canada Centre, as does Nik Antropov, another former Leaf.
“I think it’s always exciting going into Toronto,” Wellwood said. “Everybody likes playing there because of the atmosphere. Being able to play there before and being on a Canadian team again makes it that much better.”
Jets rookie Mark Scheifele, an 18-year-old native of Kitchener, Ont., said he’s eager to play so close to home — even though he grew up cheering for the Red Wings.
“I think I have 10 people coming,” said Scheifele, who is still looking for his first regular-season NHL point. “My agent said you can’t get too wound up with the tickets because it could end up costing you a lot.”