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Jets must start engines much sooner

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IT'S not the pre-game meal. It's not about the game-day naps. And it's not like the Winnipeg Jets -- for half the season, at least -- can't get picked up and carried by a ferocious home crowd that cheers a good forecheck as loud as a goal.

So what gives with the Jets' poor starts through five games to start the 2013-14 season?

"It's something we need to address," said Jets' captain Andrew Ladd after practice on Saturday. "We don't want to have that trend where we get behind the eight-ball right from the get-go. It'd be nice to get going early and use the energy in the building here to our advantage.

"Honestly, I just think it's individually you've got to figure out how that works yourself, whether you use practice to make sure you're ready for games or your routine before the game, or whatever you need to do individually to make sure you're doing your part when it comes to game time. That's something we all have to figure out on our own. I think the coaches do a good job of laying out what we want to do and then it's up to everyone in this room to do it."

The Jets have led only once after the first period of five games this year -- in last week's 3-2 loss to Anaheim -- and have been out-shot in the opening 20 minutes in each. And while the club was clinging to their work later in the loss to Dallas, particularly after outshooting the Stars 20-7 in the third, that's little solace after another defeat.

"You want to have urgency to win hockey games," said Ladd. "After that first period we did a good job of having some urgency and then playing some better hockey in the last two periods, but that doesn't really mean much when you are losing 4-1.

"We have to use that feeling and what we did in those last two periods and start the game like that against New Jersey."

PRAISE FOR BYFUGLIEN: Jets coach Claude Noel was raving about the work of Dustin Byfuglien on Saturday, particularly in his increased role that now includes time on the penalty kill. Byfuglien, who is tied for the Jets' scoring lead with Toby Enstrom with six assists, is averaging 24:14 minutes of ice time and is plus-1.

"I think Dustin's game overall has been very good," said Noel. "He's never been a penalty killer, but I think he's very engaged, not only in the penalty killing but every facet of the game. He's battled, he's taken lanes, he's blocking shots, he's doing some good things and he's capable.

"He's smart enough to read situations. We've been very happy with Buff. There were some areas we talked about last year with him that we wanted him to stay away from because it gets him in trouble. He's conscientiously staying away from doing that stuff... For me, Buff has shown he's playing with power, he's a strong guy, and you can see how well he's skating. His overall game is good, it's not as risky and it's way more straight-lined and consistent and in control."

Byfuglien took some stitches above the left eye after being caught with a stick in Friday's loss and having to leave for repairs.

"It definitely hurt and it cut me open for a couple (stitches) in the eyebrow," said Byfuglien. "That's hockey. You go in and get stitched up and still got to play."

GOOD NUMBERS/BAD NUMBERS: The Jets' collective face-off percentage improved dramatically against the Stars with seven players combining to win 63 per cent of the draws. Bryan Little, who struggled against the Minnesota Wild, won 18 of 24 face-offs in a dramatic about-face.

"We covered it a fair bit, we've taken the guys after practice and worked on some things," said Noel. "They just wanted to do better. That's what happens and its no different on face-off circles or winning battles later in the game -- we were a little more urgent.

"It's like when you lose three in a row it's 'We've had enough.' Faceoffs is the same."

And now the bad...

While nobody was blaming Ondrej Pavelec for his work in Friday's loss, some interesting numbers to debate. Pavelec played Thursday in Minny and Friday at home against Dallas and is now 2-15-0 in the second of back-to-back games dating back to the 2010-11 season. Even more alarming is his save percentage in those games: .870

FAMILIAR FACES: The Devils will start former Manitoba Moose netminder Cory Schneider against the Jets today. Winnipegger Travis Zajac is centering a line featuring Ryane Clowe and Damien Brunner, while captain Bryce Salvador, another Manitoban, is paired with Marek Zidlicky.

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

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 13, 2013 B3

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