Bon Voyage, Montreal

Canadiens goaltender Carey Price after a Jets goal at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Man., Dec. 22,...

Canadiens goaltender Carey Price after a Jets goal at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Man., Dec. 22, 2011. (FRED GREENSLADE/Reuters)

PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:48 AM ET

WINNIPEG - Before Thursday night’s game against Les Canadiens, Winnipeg Jets head coach Claude Noel took some heat from out east for not speaking enough French.

Seems there’s a nationalist group in La Belle Province that takes Noel’s reluctance to engage the media in his second language as an affront, somehow.

If I were a hockey fan in Montreal, I’d worry less about getting a head coach who speaks French than I would about getting the Habs to play in an understandable language.

Desperate to end a four-game skid to relieve the pressure on themselves and embattled anglophone head coach Randy Cunneyworth, the Canadiens came out flatter than a prairie pancake against a Jets team that was sweeter than pure maple syrup.

Obviously, Noel spoke the right pre-game language to his players. Because after three so-so outings — a loss to struggling Washington, a less-than-impressive win over shaky Anaheim and a feeble shootout loss to the lowly Islanders — the Jets finally flashed some home-ice killer instinct in a 4-0 whitewash.

“We did everything right,” is how goaltender Ondrej Pavelec summed it up.

This is what you do to a team on a road trip, a team that played the night before, a team swaddled in controversy, while you’ve been mall-hopping, sipping egg nog in front of your fireplace and trundling around the condo in your flannel PJ’s for pretty much the entire month of December.

You jump on them like a demented Santa on an underperforming elf, squashing what little will they came into town with.

“One of our goals was to try and get them demoralized a little bit,” Noel acknowledged.

In the past, the Jets have performed down to the level of a weak opposition.

This time they grabbed it by the scruff of the neck, lifted it to their level and slapped it around a few times, before tossing it back down the basement stairs.

On this night, the Habs looked every bit the Northeast Division’s 98-pound weakling to the Jets Southeast middleweight.

A goal in the first five minutes got the crowd into it, while another before the first period was up pretty much took the offensively-challenged Habs out of it.

“That was No. 1 on our board — a good start,” said two-goal man Blake Wheeler. “It gets them doubting again.”

If Cunneyworth managed to convince his troops, in any language, they still had a chance, the Jets squashed it 39 seconds into the second, Wheeler making Habs defenceman Hal Gill look like a fish out of water as he blazed in and beat Carey Price with ease.

But the best part of the night, according to the first star?

“The shutout,” Wheeler said. “To keep that going for Pavs was huge.”

The way the Czech has played, they owed him one.

And they paid up in the third period, resisting the temptation to pad their stats.

“They played for their goaltender,” Noel said. “They were very conscious about what they wanted to do there.”

If the Canadiens came into the game wearing a coat of little confidence, the Jets ripped it off and shredded it, sending them out into the brisk Manitoba night to face the elements.

But the Winnipeg weather will feel positively balmy compared to the icy reception waiting for the Montrealers back home. Nothing says Joyeux Noel quite like a five-game slide and a coaching controversy.

Here at home, the mercury is rising and the stock of the hockey team, having undergone a slight market adjustment, is bullish, too.

The Jets have managed a 7-2-1 mark this month, with only a Friday night date against the Pittsburgh Penguins standing in the way of a perfectly happy holiday.

“Anything but the same effort, or more, will be unacceptable,” Wheeler said.

We’ll see if his teammates take his cue.


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