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Maurice provides Jets fuel

Look like brand-new team trouncing Coyotes

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It would be grossly premature, of course, to suggest this proves it really was Claude Noel's fault all along.

But it is also undeniable that the Winnipeg Jets who took to the ice at the MTS Centre Monday night in head coach Paul Maurice's Winnipeg debut demonstrated an enthusiasm and work ethic under their new boss that were both in short supply under Noel this month -- and absent entirely for the past week.

Maybe it was the message Noel's firing on Sunday sent -- no one's job on this team is safe anymore. Maybe it was the collective shame that this team's woeful underperformance had cost a good man his job. Maybe it was just the shock that this is what it had finally come to.

But whatever it was, the Jets team on display in a 5-1 victory over the Phoenix Coyotes looked a lot like the team Noel steadfastly maintained all season this group could be, but so seldom actually was.

They won the battles in the corners, played solidly in their own end, took advantage of their offensive opportunities and got the kind of confident goaltending from Ondrej Pavelec that comes when you actually give the poor guy a little support.

Should you order ticker tape this morning for the championship parade down Portage Avenue? Hardly. While this Jets team looked immeasurably better than they did in woeful losses last week to Columbus and Tampa Bay, it is also a cold, hard fact that Monday night's heroics came against a Coyotes team that limped into Winnipeg having lost four of their previous five games and who looked every bit like a struggling team last night, getting outshot 24-8 at one point in the second period.

Still, there's life once again in what was beginning to resemble a corpse in recent weeks. And where there's life, there's hope.

"It's huge. Everyone can kind of take a breath and get back to work," Jets captain Andrew Ladd said last night. "It was a tough time -- a five-game winless streak. And everyone in here wanted to get back on track, but it didn't seem like anything was going right.

"So nice to get a win and get some excitement back in this room."

Special night for new boss

Ladd gave Maurice the game puck after the game -- a memento the new Jets coach says he will treasure.

"I'm going to give it to my family," said Maurice. "I'm not much of a collector. I've got a jersey from every team I've ever coached. And I've got three or four pucks that mean a whole lot to me and that's certainly among them."

Maurice said he was blown away both by the MTS Centre crowd and the surprising speed of his team Monday night and felt his team's energy levels were extraordinarily high. But one win, Maurice cautioned, does not a season make.

"It's one game. And tomorrow we'll go to work like today never happened, except we'll smile a little more before we start barking," said Maurice. "It's there -- but we have to take another step forward. It was good enough for tonight but we can't rely on that being good enough for the next game. We have to get better."

A team effort

After falling behind 1-0 midway through the first period, it was all Winnipeg the rest of the way as the Jets got goals from Olli Jokinen, Eric O'Dell (his 2nd in two games after scoring his first ever in the NHL on Saturday), Blake Wheeler, Michael Frolik and -- for the first time in 19 games -- Devin Setoguchi.

And, for a change, Winnipeg matched a solid offensive effort with some decent defensive play in front of Pavelec, who was solid in turning away 18 shots and flashed some serious leather all night long.

"It wasn't easy, that's for sure, what happened (on Sunday)," said Pavelec. "And I think we responded really well...The whole team was really focussed and everyone did a great job."

Buff shining

Playing in his second consecutive game at forward, but on a new line this night that had him on the wing with Jokinen and Setoguchi, Dustin Byfuglien once again was an impact player -- notching two assists, driving the net at every opportunity and, most importantly, not making any of those costly giveaways that were so maddening when he was lining up on the blue-line.

Put it altogether and Byfuglien now has three points in his last two games as a forward and looks very much like a guy who's found a renewed lease on life playing up front.

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Did the Jets seem to be playing better Monday night under Paul Maurice? Join the conversation in the comments below.

John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press

Winnipeg Jets' Eric O'Dell (58) and Anthony Peluso (14) check Phoenix Coyotes' Mike Ribeiro over the boards.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 14, 2014 C1

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Updated on Tuesday, January 14, 2014 at 6:49 AM CST: Replaces photo, adds video

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