Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Jets flying higher and higher

Hot streak under Maurice still going with win vs. Habs

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MONTREAL -- It's a fair and timely question and one certainly worth asking right now about the Winnipeg Jets:

Who the heck are these guys, anyway?

Given up for dead three weeks ago, the Jets have ripped off the toe tag and jumped off the slab to get back into the Western Conference playoff discussion by going 8-2 in their first 10 games under new head coach Paul Maurice.

And the effort they served up in Sunday afternoon's 2-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre now appears to be more of a trend than a blip. They got solid goaltending from Al Montoya and good work from everyone in white and double blue en route to their second straight victory and fourth in the last five games.

The Jets are now 27-25-5 and with 59 points have moved into a tie with Nashville and Dallas -- four points back of Vancouver for the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference.

"We just play for each other," said Michael Frolik, who scored the game-winner. "Obviously, when the (coaching) change happened it's never easy. We just said in the room we've got to play for each other, for ourselves.

"We didn't change that much, it's just the battle level and blocking shots. Everybody is focused on the game and we're rolling four lines. It's been working. It's good."

  • Two goals and an identity search

Clearly there is a buy-in that comes after a major shakeup such as the firing of a head coach. But the expectation there would be a drop-off -- especially with the trip to California and a stretch that featured games against Western heavyweights Anaheim, San Jose and Chicago -- has instead been met with more solid work.

And even the most hardened cynic has to be impressed with a lot of what's going on right now.

"We had two goals here: make the playoffs but, more importantly, build a foundation so that we all understand the game we play to win," said Maurice. "If somebody asks a player, 'What's the Winnipeg Jets' game?' I'd like it that they all have an answer and I'd like it all to be the same."

And that answer would be?

"The coach is still learning here, too," added Maurice with a grin. "We're big and we're fast and we're young. We want to use that. What I'd love to be able to see is we're patient, but not misconstrue that word ever that we're sitting back. We want to be aggressive with our size and our speed. When the puck is in our end or the score is in our favour, that doesn't change what we do.

"We make adjustments, we change maybe stylistically sometimes but we don't change the foundation of what we do."

 

  • Sporting the helmet Sunday was...

Defenceman Mark Stuart conducted all his post-game interviews wearing the new pilot's helmet Jets players award to their star of the game. The assistant captain logged just more than 18 minutes of ice time, had five shots, blocked four shots and ferociously protected the area in front of Montoya from a Habs invasion.

"It feels good," said Stuart of wearing the headgear. "Seto (Devin Setoguchi) honoured me with it tonight so I'm just hoping I can pass it along next game.

"This trip is so big for us -- every game is big for us -- but we want to finish strong before the (Olympic) break and it's nice to get a win to start off the trip."

There are critics of Stuart's game, but he works well with rookie Jacob Trouba and his will to win has made him one of the most respected and popular players in the room.

"That's the same game every game that I've seen," said Maurice of Stuart. "Now I have a far greater appreciation for the role he plays in our room, for the leadership he brings and, most importantly, how much he is appreciated by the players.

"They all see it, they all get it every night. His name gets yelled from our bench in a positive way more than any other player because he works so hard."

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

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 3, 2014 C3

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