Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Right now, it's how they play the game

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It's easy to spit out the cliché "it's how many, not how, that counts," but if the Winnipeg Jets fall into that line of thinking, this season will be just another exercise in futility.

It's early to be talking too much about results. The process and playing the right kind of game is key at this stage. Get that right, and the wins will follow.

Tuesday's win over the Edmonton Oilers shouldn't fool anyone. It was a bad game masked by a good result. That's not a formula that can continue.

The Jets talk a lot about growth and there's no doubt there's been a lot of improvement as individuals. Now it's time for team growth. Time to listen to the coaches, buy into the game plan and do it over and over again.

If the Jets don't make the post-season at the end of this year, it likely won't be a result of a lack of talent but more because they tried to rely on that talent.

We're now into the third season of watching this group play and it's fair to say there is skill on this roster. But this group has yet to show it's consistently committed to playing a brand of hockey that results in wins.

If that doesn't change, the results at the end of the season will be the same.

Tuesday's game was a prime example of the Jets not executing defensively. They got away with it but they won't if they fall into the same habits tonight against the Los Angeles Kings.

"I think we showed a lot of heart in coming back but we put ourselves into a bad position that we won't be able to overcome most nights," said Jets defenceman Zach Bogosian. "We need to be better defensively as a team. Giving up four goals a night isn't going to get us where we want to go."

Spot Kings goalie Jonathan Quick four goals and more likely than not he'll beat you. Give Los Angeles a pair on the power play and they'll grind you into 5-on-5 submission.

"You can't go into too many nights and play like we did in Edmonton and expect to win," said Jets coach Claude Noel. "You don't win the special teams game and you go into the third down, it's not a recipe for success in the National Hockey League. We know we dodged a bullet and we have a lot of work to do to get better."

The Kings are one of the NHL's elite teams with a top-end goalie, a Norris Trophy candidate on the blue-line in Drew Doughty and a deep and balanced forward group that can both score and check. In many ways, the Kings are the standard the Jets must aspire to meet.

Bogosian says the combination of speed and size on the Kings makes them a challenge.

"If you look at the majority of the skill guys around the league, they're usually smaller. But these guys are big and they have skill. They're harder to defend. They can protect the puck. A big guy that can skate is difficult to play against," said Bogosian. "Their blue-line is mobile and they have a pretty good goalie. Quick is going to make saves. We have to get traffic and get a lot of shots. We need to crash and bang a bit."

For me, how the Jets play right now is more instructive than the end result. Sure, wins are needed to accomplish the goal of the post-season but over the long haul, execution of a proper formula will bear out.

The Jets need to grasp this and the sooner they do the better.

For now, the how is actually more important than the how many.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 4, 2013 C2

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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