TAMPA - A gutsy road win certainly boosted their spirits, but what will the Winnipeg Jets do for an encore?
That’s the big question surrounding the Jets as they get set for consecutive games against Southeast Division rivals.
After defeating the Philadelphia Flyers 2-1 in a shootout on Tuesday in the first game after the NHL All-star break, the Tampa Bay Lightning provide the opposition on Thursday at the Tampa Bay Times Forum and a date with the Florida Panthers looms Friday.
Can the hard-fought road win be the springboard for the entire trip?
“It’s hard to say, I’d like to say that it would, but it’s one game,” said Noel. “If we can have back-to-back efforts like that, we set ourselves up to be a better road team, which is what we need to be.
“We need the same structure and the same energy as we had (Tuesday). What we’d like a little more of is offence. But we generated some chances. We missed some real quality chances, some open net stuff and I think it’s going to start turning around a bit. If we can play the same team game, we’ll put ourselves in good shape.”
The Jets feel they’ve been playing better of late away from the friendly confines of the MTS Centre and believe they still have time to improve their unflattering 8-14-4 road record.
“Our road games have been okay and we’re doing a lot of things you’re supposed to do. We got rewarded for it (Tuesday) but we have to keep that going because we still have five of the next six on the road,” said Jets defenceman Ron Hainsey, who has eight assists in 27 games this season. “They’re going to be important if we’re going to stick around this thing.”
After struggling for much of the first half, the Lightning have found their game. They carry a five-game winning streak into Thursday’s game and are just four points behind the Jets in the Eastern Conference standings.
The possibility of getting defenceman Dustin Byfuglien back in the lineup after a 16-game absence should certainly help combat the likes of Vinny Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos, who leads the NHL with 33 goals this season.
“They’re a hard-nosed team,” said Byfuglien. “They play their system well, they move the puck, they have a lot of skill and a lot of guys with speed we have to maintain.”
REMEMBER OPPOSITION: Noel likes what he’s seen from Aaron Gagnon — “skating, smarts and skill” — in his two games with the Jets, but he has a feeling the forward has more to give.
“Gagnon was taking 25-second shifts, (but) he can play here,” said Noel. “Sometimes you have to convince the player that he can take the step. You aren’t playing against God and his family. You’re playing against other humans that put the pants on the same way as you do, so let’s go. I’d like to see him get going a little bit because I think he can give us more as he feels more comfortable.”
LABRIE MAKES IT: There are no Manitobans on the Lightning roster, but there is a local connection as former Moose forward Pierre-Cedric Labrie is back up with the big club.
Labrie, 25, spent parts of three seasons with the Moose before he was traded by the Vancouver Canucks to the St. Louis Blues for Yan Stastny.
After spending last season with the Norfolk Admirals (the Lightning’s AHL affiliate), Labrie has appeared in his first seven NHL games this season.
Labrie recorded his first NHL assist on a goal by St. Louis on Jan. 21 against the Phoenix Coyotes and is a good bet to be in the lineup on Thursday.