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Jets face ultimate challenge against NHL's No. 1 team

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Pronouncements and proclamations about what the Winnipeg Jets are or are not might be a little hasty after just three games.

Yes, wins are wins in the NHL, so last week's combined 13-5 advantage over Phoenix, Calgary and Edmonton are signals of a good direction, but two of those three opponents are lower in the standings.

A little more value is about to be added to assessments, starting tonight at Honda Center in Anaheim.

There, the Jets meet the NHL's top-ranked team, the Ducks, who have not yet this season lost a game in regulation on home ice (20-0-2).

"They haven't lost in regulation at home so that's a tough challenge, but why can't we be the first ones (to beat them)?" said Jets right-winger Michael Frolik after Monday's pre-trip practice at the MTS Iceplex. "That's the mindset, that's our preparation for the game. I think in this league, you can beat anybody so that's our mindset and we'll be ready for it."

Readiness will be a must this week.

The Ducks are 37-9-5, while Winnipeg's opponents Thursday, the San Jose Sharks, are 31-12-6.

"I think this is exciting, the challenge, first and foremost," said Jets captain Andrew Ladd. "We know how tough those buildings are, how tough both teams are and how they're playing.

"We feel we're playing really good hockey of late and especially since the coaching change. I think we're ready to see where we stack up."

A week after dropping their fifth straight game, the 22-23-5 Jets are singing a more confident tune and their body language and game actions have been different in three wins under new coach Paul Maurice.

"We've done some good things in our game, played stretches of some real fine hockey so we'll take whatever confidence the National Hockey League will allow you to have going into these games," Maurice said Monday. "Clearly we have an awareness of the quality of opponent we have coming up. But you build your confidence where you can."

The Jets are 12th in the conference, still 10 points away from the playoff line, and realize the only way to move up is to beat teams above.

"We had as much success as we could have had this week," Maurice said. "We won three games. Take whatever that's worth. I'm more concerned they have confidence in each other, in what we're trying to accomplish, that it's becoming more clearly defined. I feel in practice that I'm seeing things we've asked them to do come a little bit easier, a little less thought to it and a little more to get to those positions pretty quick. And now we have that challenge. It's going to be a great measuring stick to where we're at."

Jets rookie Mark Scheifele didn't like the premise of this week -- a home game against the Toronto Maple Leafs and a Sunday visit to Chicago lie beyond the road trip -- determining if the Jets are the real deal.

"We're for real," Scheifele said. "Obviously it's going to be a tough test against teams that are coming up but we have the attitude we're going to play for each other and that we can beat any team in this league. That's our mentality."

On the same matter, Scheifele's right-winger Blake Wheeler had a confident opinion about what the week means.

"You (media) are going to talk about that, but whether we win or lose, that's not our focus," Wheeler said. "The way we play the game is how we're focused.

"If we're playing with that speed and working away from the puck like we have been, coming back to the puck and using our team speed, we'll give ourselves a chance to win the game and that's all we really care about.

"I think the way we've been playing, if we continue to build off of that and continue to play with that kind of intensity and that kind of excitement, we're going to give them all they can handle."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 21, 2014 C1

History

Updated on Tuesday, January 21, 2014 at 6:38 AM CST: Changes headline, replaces photo, adds video

6:44 AM: Fixes typos in lede paragraph

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