Claude Noel

Under Pressure: Claude Noel

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“Under Pressure” is a preseason series we’ll be running on PHT. For each team in the NHL, we’ll pick one player, coach, GM, mascot or whatever that everyone will be watching closely this season. Feel free to play the song as you read along. Also feel free to go to the comment section and tell us we picked poorly.

For the Winnipeg Jets, we pick … head coach Claude Noel.

And we pick him the same day his boss, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff, got a contract extension.

Noel got his own extension in June; however, the fact it was only for one year, taking him through the 2014-15 season, was telling. (An overwhelming vote of confidence, it was not.)

The Jets have missed the playoffs the past two seasons under Noel. And this summer, ownership committed millions of dollars in contract extensions ($93.1 million, to be exact) for defenseman Zach Bogosian and forwards Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler. Which is why the general consensus is the coach cannot afford to miss the playoffs again.

Fair or not, much of Noel’s future with the organization may depend on the ability of his starting goalie, Ondrej Pavelec, to get the job done.

“I’m confident in our goaltending and I think our goaltending can help us get in the playoffs,” Noel said recently. “We’re going to have to play a good team game and our goalies are going to have to do their part.”

Pavelec registered a modest .905 save percentage last season, and his career number is just .907.

Of course, the coach’s future will also depend on his own ability to get the most out of a roster that features a decent amount of well-compensated talent. In addition to the previously mentioned Bogosian, Little, and Wheeler, the Jets also have Andrew Ladd, Evander Kane, Dustin Byfuglien and Tobias Enstrom making healthy salaries.

Noel doesn’t play it safe when it comes to motivating his players, either. In February, he famously ripped the Jets after they got off to a 5-6-1 start.

“I don’t like the way we play,” he said. “I just don’t think that we play hard enough.”

And ahead of the 2013-14 campaign, Noel has been talking tough again.

“We’re going to need a lot more commitment from players on both sides of the puck,” he said — a comment the Winnipeg Sun called “a fairly strong indictment of the returning cast.”

With eight of their first 10 games at home at the MTS Centre, the Jets have a great opportunity to start strong and gather some momentum for the long season. Anything less and the man behind the bench may want to stay standing, because his seat could get pretty hot.

For all of our Under Pressure series, click here.

Sharks swarm in the third period, take down Predators in Game 1

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For two periods, the San Jose Sharks couldn’t solve Pekka Rinne.

Maybe it was because of that black cat that found its way on to the ice prior to the start of Friday’s game, or the video review that didn’t go in San Jose’s favor in the opening period.

But that all changed in the final period. It started with Tomas Hertl on the power play finding room just under the glove of Rinne to get San Jose on the board. Joel Ward followed that up with a gorgeous deke, tucking the puck in behind Rinne just as he started to go behind the net, as San Jose was able to take advantage of a defensive breakdown.

Logan Couture added the eventual winner. Within the span of 13 minutes, the Sharks had completely taken over, cashing in on two Nashville penalties and a defensive lapse.

When the onslaught was over, the Sharks skated off with a 5-2 win in Game 1 of this second-round series with the Predators, who only wrapped up a seven-game series win over Anaheim on Wednesday.

Ryan Johansen made it interesting, cutting into San Jose’s lead with under two minutes remaining, but any further comeback attempt was quickly halted by a pair of empty net goals from the Sharks.

The game ended with a dust-up along the boards, before cooler heads did prevail.

Another North Dakota junior goes pro as Blackhawks sign Luke Johnson

Quinnipiac forward Tommy Schutt, left, moves the puck as North Dakota forward Luke Johnson, middle, checks Quinnipiac forward Travis St. Denis during the first period of an NCAA college hockey tournament game Friday, March 27, 2015, in Fargo, N.D. North Dakota won 4-1. (AP Photo/Bruce Crummy)
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Another day, another University of North Dakota player deciding to enter the professional hockey ranks.

This time, it was 21-year-old forward Luke Johnson who turned pro following his junior year, as he signed a three-year contract with the Chicago Blackhawks, the team that selected him in the fifth round of the 2013 NHL Draft.

In 43 games with the NCAA champs this season, Johnson scored 11 goals and 21 points, just shy of his college career high of 24 points set the previous year.

Johnson will forgo his senior year at North Dakota, making him the fourth member of that program’s junior class to turn pro since the end of the season. Keaton Thompson signed with the Anaheim Ducks, Troy Stecher inked with the Vancouver Canucks and Paul LaDue signed with the L.A. Kings.

Senior forward Drake Caggiula, now a free agent, has reportedly narrowed down his list of NHL suitors to six teams.

Brock Boeser, Vancouver’s 2015 first-round pick and coming off an impressive freshman year, will return to North Dakota for his sophomore year, as per Canucks general manager Jim Benning earlier this month.

Video: Black cat hits the ice before Sharks-Predators Game 1

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Perhaps it’s an ominous sign of bad luck to come, but for which team?

Prior to puck drop between the host San Jose Sharks and Nashville Predators in Game 1 on Friday, a black cat hit the ice at SAP Center, taking a nervous stroll along the boards.

Not sure exactly where it came from, although it’s possible someone was feeling extra superstitious before the start of this series.

Official update on the really important story of the evening:

Speed, skill help Stars score late victory to take series lead over Blues

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The Dallas Stars scored a late winner, held on in the final minute and eventually struck first in their best-of-seven second-round series with the St. Louis Blues.

Once again, it was the speed and skill of the Stars that proved to be the difference in the end. Radek Faksa scored with less than five minutes remaining in the third period, breaking the deadlock and giving Dallas a 2-1 victory and 1-0 series lead over their Central Division foes on Friday.

As he entered the zone on the rush, Faksa dished off to a flying Ales Hemsky, who was denied by Brian Elliott in alone. But Faksa followed up, jamming in the rebound to give the Stars the lead, as both St. Louis defensemen Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo were caught by the speed of the Dallas forwards on the rush.

The Stars held on from there, as the Blues made a late push to tie the game.

Kari Lehtonen stopped 31 of 32 shots for Dallas, while Elliott was busy throughout the night, stopping 40 of 42 shots.

Elliott was furious after the Stars opened the scoring in the second period, as Antoine Roussel tallied on a rebound after yet another nice Dallas passing play in the offensive zone.

Stars forward Patrick Eaves left the game early in the third period and didn’t play another shift after being hit in the lower part of his leg with the puck from a point shot.