Leadership, commitment and determination have all been areas of question for the Winnipeg Jets since their return, but it is exactly these qualities pushing this team's success these days.

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Opinion

Leadership, commitment and determination have all been areas of question for the Winnipeg Jets since their return, but it is exactly these qualities pushing this team's success these days.

The Jets have flirted with the playoffs in all three of their previous seasons, while those runs proved ultimately to be hazy mirages, there's something much different about this group. The possibility of a collapse this spring is far more unlikely than it has been in the past.

The Winnipeg Jets’ Andrew Ladd (left), Mathieu Perreault (centre) and Blake Wheeler celebrate Perreault’s first-period goal against the Wild. As long as the club competes at a high level, coach Paul Maurice will be satisfied.

TREVOR HAGAN / THE CANADIAN PRESS

The Winnipeg Jets’ Andrew Ladd (left), Mathieu Perreault (centre) and Blake Wheeler celebrate Perreault’s first-period goal against the Wild. As long as the club competes at a high level, coach Paul Maurice will be satisfied.

 

The Jets have put themselves in a very solid position with a 19-11-7 mark after 37 games. They have some traits that set them apart from previous versions, most notably their goals against which was third in the league at an average of 2.25 per game heading into Monday's action.

'Our compete level is the most important thing we are right now and it's the most important thing getting built here right now'‐ Jets coach Paul Maurice

Winnipeg has become a much stronger possession team and sat seventh in the NHL in score-adjusted shot attempts (score-adjusted Corsi) which many consider to be a key statistical predictor for future success.

There are some numbers that will likely dip, such as Michael Hutchinson's ridiculous .940 save percentage and the team's highly ranked penalty kill.

Bearing his many battle scars, captain Andrew Ladd says the Jets must continue to play with a sense of urgency.

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Bearing his many battle scars, captain Andrew Ladd says the Jets must continue to play with a sense of urgency.

The Jets were eighth in the league with an 84.9 per cent success ratio on the PK despite spending the most time in the NHL on the kill. That can't continue.

Winnipeg is also missing five regulars at the moment: Zach Bogosian, Toby Enstrom, Evander Kane, Mark Stuart and Jacob Trouba. While they've managed to keep on rolling with a 9-2-4 mark over their last 15 games, the organization's depth is being heavily tested, and it wouldn't be a surprise to see the win-loss record fall off its current pace.

Jets coach Paul Maurice, however, says there's another factor that tells his team's story much better than any statistics can.

"Our compete level is the most important thing we are right now and it's the most important thing getting built here right now," said Maurice. "You can't worry about the results as long as that compete level is there. At the end of the year, regardless of what has happened, if you feel like you've taken a major step forward step in making that your foundation, your program is going to keep improving. It's the hardest thing to get into a room. To come out and compete hard every night. To identify yourself as that kind of player.

"I'm not trying to be humble. It has nothing to do with the systems. The success we've had in less than half a season is based on the compete level of the player and their willingness to prepare for each and every game."

The Jets have been here before in their second run as an NHL franchise only to come up empty when the regular season finally ended. While this team certainly looks and plays a different brand of hockey, the final proof will be whether or not they accomplish the mission of reaching the post-season.

The Jets stayed in the in the playoff race until March 3 last season when they were tied at 66 points with three other teams for the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference before fading down the stretch going 7-9-4 to finish on the outside.

Two seasons ago during the lockout-shortened 48-game schedule, the Jets were a playoff team until April 18 but went 1-2-1 in their final four games to miss out.

In 2011-12, the team's first season back in Winnipeg, the Jets fought the good fight until March 9 before bowing out with a 5-6-2 record over their final 13 games.

With 45 points already in the bank the Jets will likely need in the range of 50 more to safely be a playoff team in the Western Conference requiring a record of 25-20 over their remaining 45 games.

The games get harder in the second half, and Maurice knows his club will soon begin to face mounting opposition.

"The adversity is going to come in the form of pressure. There's going to be more pressure on our team, and a lot of others, and we all have to learn how to deal with it," said Maurice. "That's something we talk about after games when we lose leads. What happened in those games that we changed, that the pressure changed. That's what this whole year is all about, to establish and identity and to stick with it consistently. The adversity is still coming. It's coming in two big ways. The schedule and the pressure."

Every team below the Jets still clinging to playoff aspirations must now look at every game on the schedule as must-win. They will be bringing desperation, urgency and whatever emotional voodoo they can cook up to the rink every night. So, too, must the Jets, and captain Andrew Ladd says they've shown they have it under the hood to rev up their game.

"Once the playoff race hits, there's more desperation in people's games, but I think we've done a good job of having that night in and night out and that's why we've had some consistency," said Ladd. "Look at the standings, you can't afford to lose a stretch of games. We've had to have that urgency."

The foundation of this version of the Jets is built on keeping the puck out of the net and it shouldn't crumble in the same manner as that of the offensive-minded Jets teams of the past.

That test is now beginning, and it will last for the next three months or more.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless