November 22, 2017

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Record: 12 – 5 – 3

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Winnipeg Jets (12 – 5 – 3)

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Jets can't take it easy on Arizona

Friday loss in Vegas shows what can happen when Winnipeg faces a hard-working club

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)</p><p>Winnipeg Jets goalie Steve Mason, front, makes a sliding save on a shot by Arizona Coyotes centre Christian Dvorak during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Nov. 11 in Glendale, Ariz.</p>

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Winnipeg Jets goalie Steve Mason, front, makes a sliding save on a shot by Arizona Coyotes centre Christian Dvorak during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Nov. 11 in Glendale, Ariz.

All of the good stuff being created by — and radiating from — the Winnipeg Jets right now won’t simply continue as a matter of course.

One slip means a shoddy performance such as Friday night in Las Vegas will materialize.

Winnipeg was soundly outplayed and, ultimately, defeated 5-2 by a better-prepared, harder-working Golden Knights squad that takes just about every team it faces by surprise during its inaugural NHL season.

Credit the Jets for a bounce-back effort Saturday night in Glendale, Ariz. Despite a bit of a sluggish start, they found their legs against the wretched Coyotes and registered a 4-1 triumph to improve to 9-4-3 and remain in second place in the ultra-competitive Central Division.

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All of the good stuff being created by — and radiating from — the Winnipeg Jets right now won’t simply continue as a matter of course.

One slip means a shoddy performance such as Friday night in Las Vegas will materialize.

Winnipeg was soundly outplayed and, ultimately, defeated 5-2 by a better-prepared, harder-working Golden Knights squad that takes just about every team it faces by surprise during its inaugural NHL season.

Credit the Jets for a bounce-back effort Saturday night in Glendale, Ariz. Despite a bit of a sluggish start, they found their legs against the wretched Coyotes and registered a 4-1 triumph to improve to 9-4-3 and remain in second place in the ultra-competitive Central Division.

Winnipeg was six points back of streaking St. Louis (13-4-1) prior to the Blues’ battle with the Calgary Flames on Monday night, a point up on the Nashville Predators (9-5-2) and three ahead of the Dallas Stars (9-7) and Chicago Blackhawks (8-8-2).

The Blues have won of seven their past 10 games, while the Predators and Stars each have won six of 10. The Jets are holding firm, notching six victories while earning points in nine of 10. They’re fourth in the Western Conference and tied with a pack of clubs — Vegas, the Ottawa Senators, Columbus Blue Jackets, Washington Captitals and Pittsburgh Penguins — for sixth in the NHL.

That’s nice company to keep, for now.

They’ll need to maintain a sound defensive brand, receive terrific goaltending from Connor Hellebuyck and, when called upon, Steve Mason, and flash their obvious offensive gifts to stick it out over the long haul with the NHL’s elite.

Jets head coach Paul Maurice was asked after Monday’s practice if the team is prepared for a hectic block of time between now and the holiday season.

"Reasonably, right? But (there’s) no permanency to the first part," he said. "We’ve got to prove it every day. We’re reasonably healthy right now, so you’ve got to feel good about that. But I like the way we’re playing."

The Jets begin a three-game homestand tonight when the Coyotes have an opportunity to exact some revenge at Bell MTS Place. Game time is 7 p.m.

Winnipeg hosts the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday night. Winnipegger and 2017 second-overall draft pick Nolan Patrick, who has missed the Flyers’ last eight games with a suspected concussion, could make his return that night. The Jets then play the New Jersey Devils on Saturday at 2 p.m.

Maurice, who expected growth from his team that missed the post-season the past two seasons, said there’s enough evidence a fifth of the way through the 2017-18 campaign to suggest it’s occuring.

"We’re early into the idea of, ‘Does your team really understand the game it needs to play consistenly?’ But (players) are saying the right things on the bench when it’s not happening on the ice. What’s being said on our bench is right — we need to do this, play simpler, play faster. So, they’ve got a good grasp of where we’re trying to get to as a team," he said. "Of our last three losses (Vegas, Montreal and Columbus)... you don’t love your game, but over 82 you’re going to have them. We’ve rebounded pretty well in all of them."

Most encouraging was how the club addressed its deficiencies in Vegas and got back to the basics at Gila River Arena the following night, despite falling behind early.

"(We) transition to a real grinding, hard game on (the second of) back-to-back nights and didn’t change much down 1-0, which is a sign of growth for our team. Pretty patient with that game and got stronger as the game went, and got some real good goaltending (from Mason), too," he said.

Winnipeg centre Adam Lowry missed nine games with an upper-body injury but returned to the lineup last Monday in a 4-1 victory over the host Stars and then scored his first goal of the season four nights later in the loss to Vegas.

He said the Jets, still discovering what it takes to execute consistently, can’t afford to take the struggling ’Yotes (2-14-3) lightly tonight.

"You beat them at (their) home, they’re going to come out hungry, ready to play. They’re going to make adjustments to what you did successfully against them. Then you’ve got to find ways to counteract that," he said.

"For their record, they’re a lot better team. They have two wins on the year, that’s not very good. But you look at how hard they play, it’s tough to generate chances against them. Now that they have Antti Raanta back in net, he’s been very solid for them. They’ve got a lot of young guys up front who’ve shown a lot of promise."

The Jets will go with Hellebuyck between the pipes, despite a rough ride against the Golden Knights and a tidy effort by Mason in Arizona. Hellebuyck, 24, has been tremendous this season, posting an 8-1-2 record with a 2.44 goals-against average and .926 save percentage.

"His body of work says he absolutely deserves to be in that game," said Maurice.

"Long term, there’s a block in March that’s tough but this is our toughest month, right here, from now till the 11th, 12th of December we’re in every second night with two sets of back-to-backs in there.

"Both goalies, we’re going to need them both."

jason.bell@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPJasonBell

Read more by Jason Bell.

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