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Jets starting to see results, team's confidence growing

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TORONTO — Over the course of the last month, there is evidence the pieces are falling right for the Winnipeg Jets and that’s thanks to the growing confidence they take into tonight’s Hockey Night In Canada game against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre (6 p.m. CT, CBC, TSN1290).

  • Winnipeg is 9-3-1 since a home loss to Boston Feb. 17.
  • The team's penalty killing has surged from an embarrassing percentage in the 60s to 78 per cent. Twenty-six kills in a row over 10 games has made a difference.
  • The Jets have power-play goals in each of the last two games, helping them win at home.
  • The team’s road record, 14.22-5 in 2011-12, is 8-5-2 this season heading into tonight’s game.

"Coming into this year we were pretty conscious of it and we wanted to improve that record," Jets winger Evander Kane said of the road record. "In order for us to make the playoffs, that had to happen so it’s good to see we’re doing a bit better on the road."

Jets penalty-killers have made a huge difference lately. Tuesday, for instance, they killed off a five-on-three that lasted 1:54, helping them beat the Leafs 5-2 in Winnipeg.

"When you look at penalty killing, your goaltender as we always say is your best penalty-killer and that has proven to be right," said Jets coach Claude Noel.

"When you look at some of the ways we’ve managed to kill penalties, five-on-threes, we’ve had a couple of them for almost two minutes against we’ve had some success with, blocking shots has been big in those areas and goaltending.

"We have a very clear understanding of where we need to be and what we’re doing. We’re doing some things well, like getting in shooting lanes and the pressure points, I think that’s one area that’s been clarified more than anything for us."

Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec, tonight’s likely starter, isn’t looking back so much as forward as his team tries to improve its standing even more. Today, the Jets are in the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot, just one point back of the Leafs and two back of Ottawa and New Jersey, who share fifth. Winnipeg plays in Ottawa on Sunday.

"It’s kind of like the playoffs," Pavelec said after this morning’s game-day skate at ACC. "It’s tight. We need the points. They’re going to be ready for us after a tough loss against Pittsburgh when they played very well and didn’t find a way to win."

Toronto has lost four in a row, its worst stretch of the season that included failing to close out a 1-0 leave through 52 minutes on Thursday night at home and losing 3-1 to the Penguins.

"It’s such a fine line between winning and losing," Noel said. "Look at the Leafs two weeks ago; everything was rosy and they hit a bump. We all hit bumps. That’s what a season is.

"For us, we’ve had a couple of good games, a couple of good road trips that have helped us and our curve has gone the other way but we know how it can go either way.’

"We’re just trying to keep a balance on things."

Nazem Kadri, Toronto’s leading plus-minus forward at plus-12, said the Leafs have been good at turning the page this season.

"That was an important game for us (on Tuesday) as far as research material," he said this morning. "We did a lot of video. We know our opponents. They’re pretty fresh in our minds.They got us last time but hopefully we’ll be more prepared this time.

"I don’t think they’re going to be changing too much, they’ve won a few in a row."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

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