Winnipeg Jets have already won over fans, now they look to win gamesNHL.com @NHLdotcom
WINNIPEG - The Jets have already won the hearts of NHL-starved Winnipeg hockey fans.
Now the reborn NHL team wants to start winning games to cement that relationship.
The Jets get their first chance Tuesday night when they play a split-squad home-and-away exhibition series against the Columbus Blue Jackets
Selling tickets will be no problem win or lose in Winnipeg. The MTS Centre, at just over 15,000 seats the smallest arena in the NHL, is sold out for years. The team is so hot it held back a handful of walkup tickets it will sell through a lottery system each month.
But the new Jets want to prove they can put together a winning combination on the ice. In their last season as the Atlanta Thrashers they started well but lost their legs in the stretch, finishing out of the playoffs.
They've got a new general manager, a new coach and new owners to go along with their new home, but the team is largely still the same, with the addition of promising draft pick Mark Scheifele, who performed well in the recent Young Stars tournament.
Defence is one spot where they know they can use some work, admits blue-liner Tobias Enstrom.
"We got off to a good start but had a lot of young guys," he said.
"It's tough to get into a league 20 years old, 19 years old, it kind of showed at the end of the season. They got a year older this season, so we're looking for a better season this year."
The team needs solid performance from its young defencemen such as 21-year-old Zach Bogosian, who signed a US$5-million, two-year deal a few days before training camp opened.
The there's Big Buff, the nickname for Dustin Byfuglien, the six-foot-five defencemen who is going to be playing with some legal issues hanging over his head. He is facing possible charges in his home state of Minnesota for refusing a blood or urine test after he was picked up while boating.
Team captain Andrew Ladd says knitting it all together means showing up every night, no matter who you're playing.
"I think our consistency has got to be better," he says.
"A lot of times last year we played our best games against the top teams in the league which is kind of weird. Being a young team, you have to show up every time, whether you're playing the Detroit Red Wings or teams that are lower in the standings."
Their regular season starts Oct. 9 at home against the Montreal Canadiens.