With his team coming off the best month in franchise history, Winnipeg Jets coach Claude Noel thinks the club can keep up that pace on the road in January.
Facing the slumping Montreal Canadiens could help the Jets open their four-game trip on a positive note.
Winnipeg looks to match a season high with a fourth consecutive win Wednesday night when the Canadiens take the ice for the first time following an eventful start to the new year.
With a 3-2 victory over Toronto on Saturday, the Jets (19-14-5) finished December with a 10-3-1 mark - their best winning percentage of any month since the franchise began play in Atlanta in 1999.
They went 9-2-1 at home during that stretch.
“We really played well through the month, and we have to carry that through,” Noel told the league’s official website. “… We’re playing with some real passion, and we’re doing some really good things. I don’t see it changing on the road.”
The Jets, though, are just 5-8-4 on the road, and they play 15 of their next 21 away from the MTS Centre.
“We should carry this swagger over,” forward Blake Wheeler said. “We should bring this on the road with us and have the same mentality, the same fight we have at home and just want to go out and do the same thing on the road.”
The Canadiens (14-18-7) haven’t shown much fight as they’ve dropped seven of eight following Saturday’s 3-2 loss at Florida, but they did in Monday’s practice as leading scorer Tomas Plekanec and defenseman P.K. Subban traded punches.
“That’s what happens during the course of the year when things are not going well,” said Plekanec, who is a team-worst minus-7 during the 1-7-0 skid. “I wouldn’t say it’s a frustration thing, it’s just that we realize we need to be better.”
Montreal plays six of its next seven at home following a 1-5-0 trip, but if the team doesn’t start piling up points soon, interim coach Randy Cunneyworth can expect to feel even more heat than he already has since replacing the fired Jacques Martin on Dec. 17.
Cunneyworth - who briefly played for the old Winnipeg Jets in 1989-90 - is the Canadiens’ first non-French-speaking coach since Al MacNeil in 1970-71, and the move has been highly unpopular in Quebec.
Canadiens general manager Pierre Gauthier tried to quiet that criticism Monday by apologizing for hiring a non-French speaker and promising to re-evaluate the head coaching position in the offseason. However, he also stressed the importance of the club getting back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
Montreal is 13th with 35 points, eight back of Winnipeg.
“Our objective now is to get back to winning and playing better hockey,” said Gauthier, who also signed defenseman Josh Gorges to a six-year contract extension Sunday. “… Now we have 11 of the 15 next games here and we’re counting on that to change the direction of our season.”
Led by Wheeler’s two goals and one assist and 27 saves from Ondrej Pavelec, Winnipeg snapped the franchise’s three-game losing streak to Montreal with a 4-0 home win Dec. 22.
The Canadiens had spoiled the Jets’ return to the NHL on Oct. 9 when Carey Price stopped 30 shots and Plekanec had a goal and two assists in a 5-1 victory, also in Winnipeg.
Montreal went 15-4-3 as the home team against the Atlanta Thrashers.