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Jets victory helps build solid foundation

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It’s not officially a successful blueprint until something substantial, something worthwhile, something pleasant to the eyes, is built.

It would kind of help if the foundation were to hold, too.

So in that regard, the Winnipeg Jets still have a ton of work to do on the 2011-12 NHL season. But Saturday night’s 4-2 victory over the New Jersey Devils in front of another rambunctious crowd at the MTS Centre — the club’s second straight solid defensive outing — is one of those key cornerstones to a foundation.

It also helps to, as head coach Claude Noel often says, bring a lot of ‘joy to joyland.’

"The players are formulating an identity in what we believe we can be," said the Jets’ head coach afterward. "It was a hard game. I would have liked us to have had more puck possession and... more things. There’s an opponent out there and I told them after the second period I respect the fact it’s a man’s game. It’s a hard game to play. But I tip my hat to them.

"For me, I really like what I see. 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. We’ve got people out of the lineup and they’re buckling down and getting the job done. They’re making opponents work for their chances. 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.

"I’m happy, I think they’re happy. We’re all happy. You're happy, everybody’s happy."

The Jets got two goals from Evander Kane — his 13th and 14th of the season — a short-handed effort from Alex Burmistrov and an ugly game-winner from Mark Stuart en route to the win. But coupled with the solid play of goaltender Ondrej Pavelec, he stopped 23 of 25 shots, and a another steady effort in the third period in which they scored twice and limited the Devils to just seven shots, the Jets were able to even their record at . 500 (11-11-4) while winning the fourth of their last five at home.

Most importantly, the Jets are developing a sense of what it takes to win and how to protect a lead.

"We went through our bumps and bruises in the first 10 or 15 games with that kind of thing," said Stuart, who now has three goals this year. "It’s good to see when you’re holding on to those one-goal leads in the third period. It shows your team is learning how to win. If you look at the best teams in the league, they get up by one or two goals and they shut the door. That’s it.

"These are games you have to win... up by a goal, the last game as well against Phoenix, and you have to learn how to close teams out. This team has to play 60 minutes and we’ve gotten that in the last few games and we need to continue to get it."

The Devils, meanwhile, have now lost four straight and fall to 12-12-1.

"We’re at one of those points in the season right now where we’re facing a bit of adversity," said head coach Peter DeBoer. "Again, we’re playing hard, we’re playing the right way. It’s just not going our way. So, it usually evens out over an 82 game schedule, but it’s not an easy thing to go through when you’re in the middle of it."

Ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Game preview

They’re all big games, all with impact on the standings. That’s just the way life works in the National Hockey League.

But Winnipeg Jets head coach Claude Noel figures Saturday’s contest with the New Jersey Devils (6 p.m. CBC/TSN Sports Radio) is big for his club for one critical reason: how his squad performs may help solidify its own identity.

“This game is going to important for us tonight,” said Noel after the team’s morning skate. “We had a good game last game. Is this what we are? I’m sure you guys are asking the same question. I’d like to think we’ve taken a positive step and I think the players feel the same way. But we have to put back-to-back, 60-minute consistent efforts together in a lot of ways.

“The team has accepted what it is and sees how we can win, has looked at itself and said if we can work from this foundation. We see what we are and recognize it as a group of 20 that we can accomplish some good things. But it has to be together and it has to be consistent. I’m hoping that’s where we are.”

The Jets are coming off one of their most complete wins of the season, a 1-0 shutout of the Phoenix Coyotes, that improved their record to 10-11-4. Winnipeg is also 4-1 in its last five home games.

New Jersey has dropped three straight after falling 4-2 in Minnesota Friday night.

“We have to really use this month to build what we’re going to see in the New Year,” said Noel. “That’s what we’re building towards. We’ve got to make some ground up, we want to get over .500 and we want to take advantage of our home stand and get into the New Year moving forward and upward.”

The Jets also got some encouraging news on the injury front: defenceman Tobias Enstrom was back skating with the team Saturday morning wearing a red "no-contact" jersey. He could be good to go by the end of the month.

“Right now I’m actually feeling pretty good,” he said. “It’s getting better and better every day and I’m glad to be on the ice again. We haven’t set a timetable yet. I just started skating, so I think we’ll take it day by day and see how it feels later on here. I’m just glad to be out there again. It feels good and hopefully I can get back sooner than later.

“It’s been a tough couple of weeks. I’ve been gone from hockey for a long while and being out I’ve really missed the guys and the game. It’s a big part of my life and I’m just happy to be out there again.”

The Jets will again be without Nik Antropov and Eric Fehr Saturday, but hope to have those two and defenceman Randy Jones ready by the end of next week.

“It’s a good thing for us and it’s a good thing for the players here playing because they’ll feel the urgency and that should step up the competition and that’s good,” said Noel. “It’s healthy.”

And so the Jets will ice the same lineup as Thursday’s win over Phoenix, with Ondrej Pavelec once again in goal.

“The same beautiful beauties, the same goalie,” cracked Noel. “ I will let it out of the bag right now because you guys won’t have your pre-game nap this afternoon if I don’t tell you.”

Ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter:@WFPEdTait

History

Updated on Saturday, December 3, 2011 at 6:23 PM CST: Adds first goal

6:58 PM: Adds first period summary

7:53 PM: Second period stuff

8:33 PM: Adds Jets third goal

8:50 PM: Adds final score

10:34 PM: Gamer

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