They weren’t without their warts and blemishes, a fact that was completely understandable after nearly three weeks away from real action.
But these "new" Winnipeg Jets — that crew brimming with confidence and singing loudly from Paul Maurice’s songbook — did rediscover some of their pre-Olympic mojo Thursday night at the MTS Centre in a 3-2 shootout win over the Phoenix Coyotes that shovels more coal onto the fire that is their push for a playoff spot.
The result was important on a night in which all of the teams in the chase for the Western Conference wildcard spots — the Jets, Coyotes, Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators — picked up points. This one day after the Vancouver Canucks, also in the race, knocked off the St. Louis Blues.
As it stands, the Stars' win over Carolina gives them 66 points, the point the Coyotes earned moves them into a tie with the Canucks with 65 points. The Jets are now at 64, with the Preds, whom the Jets face in Music City Saturday afternoon, just behind with 62.
Yes, the chase is really on now with the Jets into the final quarter of the season.
"Get used to it," said Blake Wheeler, perfectly summing up the sprint. "Twenty-one more of them."
MORE MO MAGIC
The Jets improved to 10-3-1 under Maurice and 29-26-6 overall. Earlier in the day, Maurice offered this beauty quote on his role in the Jets’ resurgence: "A coach’s job is to direct. But my favourite line on how important a hockey coach is: ‘A jockey has never carried a horse across the finish line.’"
But the new boss still has the Jets’ collective attention. That was evident in all of the practices leading up to Thursday’s return after a 19-day break. And while it was occasionally loose against the Coyotes, the blueprint is still being followed.
"It wasn’t sharp. I think the whole night we were a little sloppy," began Andrew Ladd. "But we were working and trying. That will come. It’s going to happen after a long break. The main thing is we got the two points."
Asked if he had any concern the momentum the Jets had gathered leading into the Oly break might come to a halt when play resumed, Ladd offered a hint as to the club’s new-found commitment — and their new boss.
"The way we’ve been practising since Mo got here, that’s how you keep that intensity and translate it into games. I didn’t have any worries about that. We wanted to come out with a good start after this break. It was a sloppy game all 'round from both sides, but we’ll take the two points and move on and try to get sharper as we go here."
WELCOME BACK, FELLAS
The game didn’t exactly have the warm and fuzzy feeling of a meet-and-greet night after the Olympic break. In fact, it took all of 78 seconds for the gloves to drop as Zach Bogosian took exception to Rob Klinkhammer’s check in the back of Tony Enstrom.
That set the tone for a chippy affair that also featured 45 hits — 23 by the Jets, 22 by Phoenix — along with 18 giveaways and 25 missed shots.
A SOLID BY PAV
Jets’ netminder Ondrej Pavelec, who has become a lightning rod for criticism over the last few months, was steady and benefited from the Coyotes clanging three posts behind him.
But he stopped three of the four Phoenix shooters in the shootout — plus 34 in regulation and overtime — while the Jets got goals from Devin Setoguchi and Olli Jokinen in the skills competition for the critical extra point.
"We got the goals in the right time and we battled," said Pavelec.
"We knew it was going to be about the battle and how hard we were going to play and how hard we were going to skate. We did a pretty good job.
"I felt good. It’s nice to get the win in the first game back. But it’s one game. We go to Nashville (Friday), so it’s going to be another big one. I’m happy about how we handled the situation of the first game back. I think we did a great job.
"That’s my job. The guys in front of me did a great job. Phoenix has got really good defencemen and they can shoot the puck and they do it all the time. They let me see the puck and they blocked those shots."