Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Team believes in self, system

Group confidence grows as players start to see positive results

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No one is leafing through the championship ring catalogue just yet. The Winnipeg Jets know they are a long, long way from that.

But last week's mini-win streak that included impressive home-ice victories over Eastern Conference heavyweights Tampa, Washington and Philadelphia has put some spring in their collective step.

Yes, where once there was despair and self doubt (see: five game winless streak prior to last week), there is now optimism and a belief in the system. More than anything, what they are seeing in themselves now -- both recently and dating back to last season when this franchise coughed and wheezed to the finish line -- is something that isn't always measurable just by the wins and losses of the standings.

It's called growth.

"That'd be a good way to put it," said Jets' winger Evander Kane after a spirited practice at MTS Iceplex. "You're going to grow as the months and the years go on and you want to find a way to do it as quickly as possible. We're a lot more mature. Guys have that year under their belt... myself, it's not my second year now, it's my third year. For Burmi (Alex Burmistrov) it's not his first year, it's his second year. All the young guys and older guys playing with each other and keeping that familiarity, I think it's starting to work for us.

"Teams might be uncertain about us, but in that dressing room we know what we can bring each and every night and if we do that we give ourselves a chance to win and beat any team in the league on any given night."

And that's called confidence.

The Jets have hit the quarter mark of the 2011-12 season with an 8-9-3 record and, after Monday night's action, are 13th in the Eastern Conference. That said, it is a squad that has also gone 5-3-2 in its last 10, has 13 of its next 15 scheduled for the MTS Centre after this week and has had to deal with something no other National Hockey League organization had to deal with this off-season: the relocation of an entire franchise.

And that's no small thing to overcome -- new address, new management, new coaching staff.

"We had a rough start, but we knew it wasn't going to be easy," said goaltender Ondrej Pavelec. "It's good so far. We like the city, we like the organization. Everything was new, but now we are in a good way and we're going to keep going.

"It's not just about hockey, it's about life. Guys have families and kids... so for them it's a lot harder than for me. I just packed the stuff and moved to another city. I think we did a good job in our last games. So far, so good.

"We knew that if we play our hockey our style, stick with the plan and play five-on-five we can beat everybody. Our problem is we take so many penalties. Our goal is to play five-on-five and if we do that we're going to be fine, as we showed in the last couple of games."

What also shouldn't be overlooked here is this: The recent results have also brought a degree of validation to Claude Noel's message. And given some of the players on this team have had three different coaches over the last little while -- John Anderson to Craig Ramsay to Noel -- that's no small thing.

"We're learning the style of play that makes us successful and everybody is buying into it," said Blake Wheeler. "Earlier in the year we took our lumps where we found out just free-wheeling it and doing our own thing wasn't working. We kind of simplified things and we've stuck to it. Now we realize if we play that way we can score a lot of goals but also play good defence.

"It's great to have the results, it's great to have the three wins. But it's more about how we're playing. More than anything, it should just have us wanting to keep playing that same way.

"It makes it more fun to come to the rink."

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

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 22, 2011 D3

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