Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Adrenaline pump switched on

Climbing Jets starting to believe in selves, system

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The wins and the slow climb up the standings represent the concrete evidence.

But there's something not quite as measurable, and yet still palpable, that hits you the minute you venture into the Winnipeg Jets dressing room these days.

It was there following last Thursday's 1-0 victory over the Phoenix Coyotes. And the vibe continued following Saturday's 4-2 decision over the New Jersey Devils that evened the Jets' record at 11-11-4.

The music is pumping. The voices are filled with enthusiasm, there is a genuine sense of a growing confidence and now a complete buy-in to Claude Noel's system.

"It's not any big revelations we're doing here, it's just everyone is committed to doing it the right way and everyone is really into the game," said veteran winger Tanner Glass.

"We're not a team that's going to be fancy. It's got to come from hard work and being good in the dirty areas -- battles along the wall, picking up sticks in front of the net and just grinding it out.

"This is a young team in a new situation. Everyone talks about that, but it's about a commitment from each guy to do the right things and doing it the right way. Everyone's bought in now and you can really feel it in the room between periods and on the bench.

"Everyone is really excited to get out there and do their part."

And here's why: Since opening the season 1-4-1 and amid the pressures of some intense hype and hoopla, the Jets have since gone 10-7-3. They are 6-3-1 in their last 10 and, in the last two games in particular, have protected third-period leads with a much deeper commitment to team defence.

That doesn't officially constitute a trend yet, but it is a critical step.

"It's a good sign we can do that in back-to-back games and close a team off like that and have good third periods," said centre Bryan Little. "That's where we struggled a bit at the start of the year. We let teams sneak back into the game and our third period was kind of our weakness. We've turned it around into one of our strengths lately.

"It takes awhile just because we're in a new city, new coaches, a whole new staff, a different arena... it takes awhile to get used to all that. It took us longer than we probably would have wanted to, but now we're playing a lot better and hopefully it continues like this."

It will have to if the Jets are to become a playoff team. The Jets have 26 points, just one out of eighth place in the Eastern Conference, currently shared by Washington, Ottawa and Montreal.

But if Noel keeps asking the question, 'Is this who we are?' then the answers he's getting lately are all good.

"I really like what I see," the Jets' coach said after the game.

"They're a good group, they get along, they play hard for each other, they're checking, they're doing the things necessary for us to win. What can you say? I think we're playing well. For me, they're formulating an identity. I hoped this is where we would get to... when I wasn't sure, but it looks like we're there now."

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

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 5, 2011 C3

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