November 24, 2017

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Record: 13 – 5 – 3

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Winnipeg Jets (13 – 5 – 3)

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Jets come home proud and mostly victorious

GLENDALE, Ariz. — They came home in better shape than they left, which isn’t always the case for many who spend multiple days in Las Vegas.

While their luck temporarily ran out on Friday night in Sin City in the form of a 5-2 loss, the Winnipeg Jets opened and closed their road trip with efficient 4-1 victories in Dallas and Arizona.

The 9-4-3 squad that returns to practice today is in prime position to keep the relatively good times rolling as they begin a three-game homestand on Tuesday against the same sad-sack Arizona Coyotes, followed by visits from Philadelphia and New Jersey.

Perhaps nobody is feeling better than goaltender Steve Mason, who got the proverbial monkey off his back by with a sterling 29-save performance on Saturday night in Glendale, giving him his long-awaited first win of the season. Sure, it came against a team that now sports a ghastly 2-14-3 record, but Mason held his team in the game until they finally got their legs going and pulled away.

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GLENDALE, Ariz. — They came home in better shape than they left, which isn’t always the case for many who spend multiple days in Las Vegas.

While their luck temporarily ran out on Friday night in Sin City in the form of a 5-2 loss, the Winnipeg Jets opened and closed their road trip with efficient 4-1 victories in Dallas and Arizona.

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS files</p><p>Man on fire Mark Scheifele celebrates his third-period goal against the Arizona Coyotes.</p></p>

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS files

Man on fire Mark Scheifele celebrates his third-period goal against the Arizona Coyotes.

The 9-4-3 squad that returns to practice today is in prime position to keep the relatively good times rolling as they begin a three-game homestand on Tuesday against the same sad-sack Arizona Coyotes, followed by visits from Philadelphia and New Jersey.

Perhaps nobody is feeling better than goaltender Steve Mason, who got the proverbial monkey off his back by with a sterling 29-save performance on Saturday night in Glendale, giving him his long-awaited first win of the season. Sure, it came against a team that now sports a ghastly 2-14-3 record, but Mason held his team in the game until they finally got their legs going and pulled away.

"You know what, when you don’t play a lot, sometimes it’s tough to keep that motivation, but I’ve been doing a pretty good job of staying positive and having fun with the guys. It’s just nice to finally walk away from a game with a good feeling. It’s been a long time coming, basically since the end of last season," Mason said following the win.

Connor Hellebuyck quickly wrestled away the No. 1 position from Mason early in the season, going on an incredible run that hit a small bump on the Vegas strip.

Coach Paul Maurice now appears to have a pair of netminders in a pretty good place, which he says will be needed as they begin a busy stretch of games, which sees them play almost every other day for a month.

"The number of games we’re going to play, we’re going to need both of them feeling good going in. Kind of propping each other up," Maurice said on Saturday night. "We’ve always had such great confidence in (Mason). Connor just got on such a run that he just couldn’t get back in the net. But this will go a long way. That’s the goaltender that we signed."

Mason said he’s kept a positive attitude, which is certainly made easier by the team’s success.

"It’s just one game at a time, you can’t look too far ahead and you can’t dwell on the past. Basically, you win and feel good about yourself and get ready for the next one. If you lose, same thing. It’s just a matter of staying even-keeled," Mason said.

Another player who returned to Winnipeg on an emotional high is Matt Hendricks, who scored his first goal of the season and helped kick-start Saturday’s comeback win after the Jets fell behind early.

"The great thing is seeing the guys that maybe don’t make the flashy plays, maybe don’t make the headlines, see them get rewarded. That’s what a winning hockey team looks like," captain Blake Wheeler said. "It can’t be the same guys every night, scoring goals, doing the same things. It’s gotta be the glue guys, who put their faces in front of pucks, getting rewarded sometimes. That was the happiest I’ve seen our bench all year, when he put that one in."

Hendricks wasn’t brought in for his offence, but rather many intangibles, including his leadership ability on and off the ice. The veteran centre said he’s already seen incredible growth from his new team.

"You want to take steps. It’s like a ladder. As the course of the season goes by, you want to keep climbing that ladder and taking steps. You’re going to have instances when you go back down a couple of rungs and you have to pull the bootstraps up and keep climbing. I’ve seen that, as a team and I’ve seen it through some of our younger individuals," Hendricks said.

He cited the play of Kyle Connor, who scored his fourth goal on Saturday to give the Jets some breathing room as they pulled away from Arizona during the third period.

In fact, the top line of Connor, Wheeler and Mark Scheifele had a fantastic game Saturday, coming off perhaps their worst game of the year a night earlier. Scheifele scored his 10th goal of the season — and 100th of his career — to put his team ahead, then added an assist on Connor’s goal. Wheeler had two assists, and sits third in the league in scoring.

"(Scheifele’s) game is just off the charts right now. I gave him that puck and I was just looking for where it was going to hit the net. I told him when I find him in the slot there, it’s normally going to hit the net. He’s just so lethal from there," Wheeler said. "I thought his game was outstanding (Saturday)."

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.caTwitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

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