Build­ing mo­men­tum

Jets look­ing strong at home, now for a solid road swing

Winnipeg Free Press - Section D - - FRONT PAGE - By Tim Camp­bell

THEIR t wo games at home this week — most of De­cem­ber, in fact — are the stuff on which the Win­nipeg Jets could build some mo­men­tum in the Cen­tral Di­vi­sion.

But there is quick­sand with the predica­ment they are in. Ev­ery point for the stand­ings is help­ful, but when you get so far be­hind, ground is amaz­ingly dif­fi­cult to make up.

The Jets ran their De­cem­ber record at the MTS Cen­tre to 6-1-0 af­ter de­feat­ing the Detroit Red Wings 4-1 Tues­day night, and have looked fre­quently like a play­off team when they play here.

But for all the im­prove­ment, they have only wob­bled be­tween six and eight points back of the Western Con­fer­ence play­off line.

Build­ing a streak and eat­ing into the deficit also re­quires a bet­ter road record, and that op­por­tu­nity is straight ahead with a five-gamer start­ing Thurs­day in Ari­zona.

“We got a lit­tle rest,” said Jets right-winger Blake Wheeler, asked about im­prov­ing for­tunes at home af­ter a two-as­sist night gave him to 37 points in 36 games this sea­son. “The sched­ule was pretty daunt­ing in Novem­ber. We’ve been able to catch our breath at home.”

Jets coach Paul Mau­rice was claim­ing progress as his team moved back to the .500 mark at 17-17-2.

“For al­most a month now, you can talk about it in terms of wins, not stay­ing with it,” Mau­rice said, his team now 11-4-2 against the East­ern Con­fer­ence. “That’s one of the rea­sons that made us suc­cess­ful, and we just want to con­tinue to do that.” The Jets took an odd path to pounce on the vul­ner­a­ble Red Wings, who had played Mon­day in Min­nesota and lost 3-1.

Win­nipeg spent six of the game’s first seven min­utes in the penalty box and by some sleight of hand forged a 2-0 lead be­fore 11 min­utes had gone by.

Ja­cob Trouba’s short-handed goal at 4:27 and An­drew Ladd’s five-on-three goal at 10:29 were the re­wards.

“You’re ner­vous when you’re in the box for six straight min­utes, but our penalty kill now is as good as it’s been all year,” Mau­rice said. “They’re a good team — really, really quick, with high skill level.

“Even some of the things that didn’t look dan­ger­ous were dan­ger­ous un­til they weren’t. We knocked a bunch of stuff down, and Con­nor (Helle­buyck) played a really strong game. But I thought we had enough en­ergy and our penalty kill was play­ing with enough pace that you’re not stand­ing on the bench sure they’re go­ing to rip one by you.” The Red Wings had six power plays, four in the first alone, but the Jets killed well above their av­er­age (77.7 per cent, 26th in the NHL) Tues­day.

Detroit’s sixth power play was the only suc­cess­ful one, pro­duc­ing Pavel Dat­syuk’s goal early in the third, but only to make it 4-1.

Mau­rice said he had no prob­lem with the radar blip, since his team has been bet­ter in this depart­ment of late.

“You can do that as long as you’re not do­ing that ev­ery night,” he said. “We’ve been really good with our dis­ci­pline and our sticks, and in the last three or four games there’s been a big change.” Jets goalie Con­nor Helle­buyck was the best net­min­der in the game, han­dling 33 of Detroit’s 34 shots, in­clud­ing break­aways by Dar­ren Helm and Dat­syuk. And Helle­buyck has looked an­other level more com­fort­able this week, now hav­ing started 10 NHL games. He’s 7-3-0.

“A lot more com­fort­able,” the 22-year-old rookie said. “Nine games more com­fort­able. And a month more com­fort­able. Time will tell.”

Helle­buyck said that not only he, but the en­tire team, ben­e­fited from the Christ­mas sched­ule break.

“I don’t know that I re­al­ized how much harder this level is than the AHL,” Helle­buyck said. “The AHL’s hard, but it’s more main­tain­ing. Here, you have to go as hard as you can ev­ery night and even in prac­tice, guys ex­pect the same out of you.

“So it’s al­most a lit­tle more stress on the body.”

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