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Better pace, fast start key for Jets' success

by Patrick Williams continues its preview of the 2014-15 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout September.

The Winnipeg Jets believe they can make the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since the franchise relocated to Winnipeg despite a roster mostly left intact after the team finished at the bottom of the Central Division last season.

However, the to-do list is lengthy for coach Paul Maurice, who will begin his first full season with the Jets.

The Jets' power play was 25th in the League, and their 18 home wins were the second-fewest in the Western Conference.

Of course, any improvements the Jets might make this season could be for naught if their goaltending does not improve. Winnipeg was 22nd last season at 2.82 goals-allowed per game, and Ondrej Pavelec had a .901 save percentage, a career full-season low that ranked him 46th among 51 qualified NHL goaltenders.

Here are the three most crucial issues the Jets need to resolve in order to have success this season:

1. Play with "pace" -- Speak with anyone on the Jets for even a minute or two, and the word "pace" inevitably enters the conversation.

The Jets' best asset is their speed.

"I think [Maurice] came in and realized our team is a team with size that can skate," right wing Blake Wheeler said. "He kind of took the handcuffs off a bit, let us skate, let us get up and down the ice, and I think that made it tough on other teams."

With an upgraded organizational commitment to fitness, the Jets believe they can wear down opponents. Captain Andrew Ladd believes that improvement can begin in the high-tempo practices Maurice implemented last season.

"When Paul got here, the way that we practiced really translated to games at the end of the [season] and the way we played with speed," Ladd said. "We're going to have to do that on a consistent basis and that will be the biggest thing for us.

"The teams that I have been on that have been successful in the past, we've practiced extremely hard.

2. Improve against the Central Division -- Only the Buffalo Sabres (7-18-5 against the Atlantic) and the Edmonton Oilers (8-17-4 against the Pacific) had fewer wins in divisional play than did the Jets, who went 9-15-5 against the Central Division last season.

Somehow they must improve within the division despite the significant upgrades that every other Central Division team made this summer.

"We had a lot of games last [season] against good teams that were one-goal games," center Bryan Little said. "Maybe a couple of changes and we can make those games go our way. We know we can play with those teams."

3. Avoid another slow start –- Add this area as another entry that the Jets hope improved fitness can correct.

The Jets began last season with five wins in 15 games; in 2012-13 they won six of their first 15, and in 2011-12 it was five wins in their first 15.

The opening two months of 2014-15 pose a significant challenge. Along with a season-opening road trip of three games in four nights at the Arizona Coyotes, San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings, the Jets also have four- and five-game road trips before mid-November.

In all, 12 of the Jets' first 19 games are on the road.

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