They spent almost two weeks on the road, visiting seven cities in four states. Broke bread together. Went to battle on the ice together. Won some, lost some and gave us a sampling of what the 2011-12 Winnipeg Jets are all about.
"You know," said Jet winger Chris Thorburn during the trip, "winning is contagious and I think we're learning about ourselves and gaining confidence as games go on. What I like is everyone is contributing in different ways and the more we can play like that, the more success we can have."
Good point, that.
But as much as the Jets were occasionally impressive during the seven-game stretch that saw them go 3-2-2, they were also stretches in which they both confounded and astounded.
Consider this, then, the six things we learned about the Jets while they were away...
-- 1. ONDREJ PAVELEC=BACON SAVER
It takes a special breed of goaltender -- and a mentally tough one, to boot -- who can get yanked from a game after being lit up and then be re-inserted to seal a win. We saw a little bit of everything from the Czech netminder during the road trip, but after that zany 9-8 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers he did simply what every No. 1 puckstopper is asked to do every night: give his team a chance to win.
He lost a 1-0 game in Tampa, shut out the Islanders 3-0 and even in the 6-5 loss to Buffalo on Tuesday made a handful of saves that kept his squad in a game the Sabres could have easily reached double digits.
-- 2. NO LEAD IS SAFE
From the confounding department: this Jets team must learn -- absolutely must -- how to close down teams when they have them by the throats. Four times against the Sabres they blew leads, including a 2-0 advantage in the first that was wiped out in all of 11 seconds. They led 5-1 in Philly, trailed 7-6, blew an 8-7 advantage and then won 9-8. They blew a 2-0 lead against the Panthers before winning in OT. Developing a knockout punch when an opponent is on the ropes would help. But learning how to cover up and not get counter-punched is paramount.
-- 3. TEAM RESILIENT
Hey, so the blowing of the leads thing is annoying as heck for Jets faithful. But let's also point out that they did rally from being down 2-0 to New Jersey to earn a point in a shutout loss and in that Philly game had plenty of opportunity to throw up the white flag and crawl into a deep, dark hole to sulk. It's a relatively young team that, it would appear, sometimes refuses to take a knee. And if Claude Noel can build on that, it's a team trait that could ultimately become its trademark.
-- 4. THE DEFENSIVE DEPTH
A storyline that can't be understated: the Jets are without their best defenceman in Tobias Enstrom while Ron Hainsey, Randy Jones and Derek Meech are out and Mark Stuart sat out a couple of games with an assortment of bumps. But the promotions of Mark Flood and Brett Festerling from St. John's showcased an organizational depth at a critical position. Next task for IceCaps head coach Keith McCambridge & Co.: develop a few more snipers on The Rock.
-- 5. DUSTIN BYFUGLIEN: LIGHTNING ROD
It's early November. The Jets have played 15 games. And already the debate about the Jets' roaming defenceman seems worn out and old. Management is still enamoured at the upside he has from the blue-line, but for every brilliant offensive rush, there are three pinches that lead to odd-man rushes the other way. It's a work in progress. And watching this project being constructed is often like watching somebody build a house of cards in a wind tunnel. Stay tuned.
-- 6. THE YOUNG GUNS, THE FOOT SOLDIERS AND A STRUGGLING TRIO
No one is complaining about the flashes of offensive brilliance from emerging stars like Alex Burmistrov and Evander Kane and the vet that makes that line work, Nik Antropov. And there can be very few criticisms, if any, about the work of Kyle Wellwood, Jim Slater, Tanner Glass and Chris Thorburn. But while Bryan Little finally found the net for his first two goals in the loss to the Sabres Tuesday night, Blake Wheeler is still sporting a big, fat goose-egg in the goal department while captain Andrew Ladd has developed an annoying habit of taking poor penalties in the offensive zone. That absolutely must change and it must change ASAP.
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