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A win tonight will put things right

TONIGHT: Wild at Jets, 7:30 p.m., MTS Centre Jets want to rebound quickly from trouncing

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They can write it down on their Christmas to-do list -- get a win -- right after finding the perfect gift for their sweeties, stocking up the liquor cabinet for the holiday guests and scoring the frankincense and myrrh for the office party.

But this is hardly as simple a task as slapping down the credit card and worrying about the bill later.

Yes, it's still all good in the land of the Winnipeg Jets these days, even after the 7-1 spanking the Detroit Red Wings administered to the local heroes in Hockeytown on Saturday. Reeling off four straight wins before that Motown Massacre, after all, means this group is allowed to indulge in a little selective memory -- and boy was that Wings' game put out of sight, out of mind in a hurry on Monday when the team returned to practice in preparation for their tilt against the league-leading Minnesota Wild.

Head coach Claude Noel had the squad watch the first period of the loss in Detroit -- Winnipeg was down 2-1 after one -- and then skipped the rest. His rationale here was simple: "At the end of the day it's about people and how you get them to play. All I know is you get more from sugar than you do from... blank. I'll leave that to you guys.

"We've moved past that game. A loss is a loss. It was painful for everybody. Watching it on TV would have been painful, being behind the bench was painful, playing and being one of the players was painful, sitting in the stands as one of the extra players would be painful... there was nothing good about it. But we'll be good (Tuesday)."

Asked what he might have learned from Saturday's loss, Noel added:

"I learned from Saturday night that I don't enjoy games like that. I don't enjoy standing behind the bench when it's 5-1 and you're looking for some form of relief and you're not sure what form that would come in and you've got to endure the last 20 minutes in pain. I don't enjoy those games. It's even worse when you have to deal with the media after those games because the questions all seem dumb."

It was at this point that those assembled in the press conference room burst out in laughter. Again, selective memory.

But it's here where things could soon get a little testy in Jetville, especially if a setback becomes a skid. Minnesota is here today, Washington on Thursday and Anaheim on Saturday. The Islanders, Montreal and Pittsburgh next week -- all at home, all before Christmas. And it's worth noting -- just as a point of reference -- that these Jets (nee: Atlanta Thrashers) were leading their division roundabout this time last year before everything began to unravel.

Consider that on Dec. 20 a year ago this team was 19-11-5 -- eight games above .500 -- before finishing the season on a 15-25-7 stumble.

"We had that segment last year where we didn't play great for a month and a half," recalled Jets' centre Bryan Little. "It seems like we're more focused this year and we expect more out of ourselves. I don't expect that to happen again, but this will be a good test for us after that game in Detroit, to see how we respond.

"We proved last year we had a good core to play with the best teams. But that maturity, that ability to deal with something before it skids out of control is something we all had to go through. Hopefully we have learned from it. You have to play consistently every night because this is a tough league. It's hard to get into a playoff position and that's our goal, to get up there in the standings.

"To be a good team you've got to find ways to win games against tough teams like the Wild."

So once again this Jet crew, for the 30th time in 30 games, will be under the microscope as this intense hockey market watches to see what unfolds next. Does this team exhibit growth or take a step back? That's just life in the fishbowl.

"We've got to get back to winning," said Noel. "I mean, (the Detroit loss) is one game. I'm not going to beat it up. Sometimes when you're young you forget that you've done so well. You've played one game and now you micromanage and you pound your team because of one game. It's like, have you forgotten about the other nine? We were (6-2-1) before we played this game. We've moved on. We need to get back to winning and that will be our challenge (Tuesday). It's a good team and we know we've played good teams and won, so we have to find a way to do it again."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 13, 2011 C1

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