RALEIGH, N.C. -- A big piece of the puzzle that is the Winnipeg Jets is falling into place.
"It's pretty clear whose team it is," proclaimed Winnipeg Jets coach Claude Noel on Friday night, not long after his captain, Andrew Ladd, had scored for the third straight game to help power a 3-1 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes at RBC Center.
"You see the way he played tonight. It's pretty clear that he wanted to win here. He's played here, won a Cup here, so he's pretty evident the way he's been pushing. The way that our team is with our work ethic is not by accident."
Ladd, who signed a new five-year contract in the summer, has slipped into the driver's seat.
The 25-year-old from Maple Ridge, B.C., has points in seven of his last eight games (4-5-9) and now has three game-winners on the season.
Icing on Friday's cake was that his second-period marker, when he outfought Canes defenceman Tomas Kaberle and his close friend Carolina goalie Cam Ward, for the puck in the crease, was the 100th of his NHL career.
"It's nice to score it on Ward-o," Ladd grinned after the victory brought the Jets to .500 at 9-9-4. They are 4-0-1 in the last five. "I'll have to remind him of that one.
"It's great, always nice to come in this building, where someone traded you away, and play well and win the game."
Ladd's goal was a big response, coming 68 seconds after a goal by Carolina's Jiri Tlusty that tied the game 1-1.
"Those are the types of goals you have to get in the NHL," Ladd said. "Most of the goals are scored within that five-foot radius of the net, getting there and creating screens. And if you're not getting the goal, it's usually creating space around you for other guys."
Before the Jets' recent string of results began, Noel was free with some anger about his team's play. He was equally praiseworthy of his captain on Friday.
"Usually it goes through your leader and your leadership group and you can't say enough about the job that he's done with our group," Noel said.
Some of the spin-offs Friday included another perfect night on the penalty kill. Four Carolina chances -- against just one for the Jets -- were nullified, making it that way in five of the last six games.
Centre Bryan Little, who had such a hard time getting untracked, has also scored in three straight games after Friday's emtpy-netter, and has points in five straight.
And the Jets are clearly playing as more of a team than they were a month ago.
"We're starting to find our groove here, and figure out our identity and what we need to do to be successful," Ladd said.
"I thought our first period, our skating was real good," Noel said of the road victory in which Winnipeg outshot the home team 30-21. "Our forechecking and our tracking the puck was excellent. We weren't the same in the second but I was really happy with the first."
With five defencemen out, the Jets got more valuable minutes out of the third pair of Mark Flood and Arturs Kulda on Friday.
As important was the return of veteran goalie Chris Mason, who last played Oct. 27 in Philadelphia, when he hurt his groin.
Mason was called on to help shut off two early Carolina power plays, then was sharp and in control the rest of the night.
"I think this started with Mase (Mace) in goal," said Jets defenceman Zach Bogosian. "He gave a hell of an effort back there, made some big saves. And I thought our penalty kill played really well tonight."
It was Mason's second win of the season.
"Even though I felt great in practice, I know that it can't simulate a game," Mason said of his return. "I've been there before, sat for a lot of games and then played. Even when I'm not playing, I try to prepare like I am and it just makes it easy when the game-day comes."