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Jets surging after slow start

Offense, defense, goaltending contribute to four wins in past five games

by Tim Campbell @TimNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

WINNIPEG -- Quality leadership has steadied the Winnipeg Jets after a less-than-ideal start.

The Jets lost their first two games, allowing 13 goals, but have rebounded to win four of their next five, including a 4-3 victory against the Minnesota Wild, their Central Division rivals, at Bell MTS Place on Friday.

"There wasn't any panic," captain Blake Wheeler said of losing 7-2 to the Toronto Maple Leafs and 6-3 to the Calgary Flames to start the season. "The first two games probably went as bad as you could script it. That said, guys were coming to the rink with the right mentality."

Paul Maurice, who earned his 600th victory as an NHL coach on Friday, singled out Wheeler for guiding the Jets through the rocky start.

Video: Wheeler, Laine help Jets rally past Wild, 4-3

The timing was more than appropriate; the right wing had the game-winner against the Wild with 6:46 remaining in the third period; it was the 200th goal of his NHL career.

"Great leadership," Maurice said. "You get used to it, probably take it for granted.

"What he and Mark [Scheifele, Wheeler's center] have accomplished … playing a game from a leadership point of view the way we want everybody to think about the game, just hard and direct.

"He's been outstanding for us."

Wheeler was also a key figure Friday in a play that might have turned the momentum against the Jets.

In a 3-3 game with 11:18 left in the third period, he drove the net with the puck from the right wing and Scheifele jammed in the rebound. But after a coach's challenge by the Wild, video review determined that Wheeler had interfered with Minnesota goalie Devan Dubnyk and the goal was disallowed.

"We were saying the right things on the bench after it was disallowed," Wheeler said. "There's nothing you can do about that. Just try to get another one."

Wheeler's example has been infectious.

With eight points (one goal, seven assists) in seven games, he shares the Jets' scoring lead with Scheifele (three goals, five assists) and left wing Nikolaj Ehlers (six goals, two assists).

Video: MIN@WPG: Wheeler nets 200th career goal for late lead

Ehlers was named the NHL's First Star for the week of Oct. 9-15.

Production from other key players has also increased after the poor start.

Defenseman Dustin Byfuglien had two assists against the Wild and has five in five games. Right wing Patrik Laine scored two goals against the Wild, his third and fourth of the season.

Each of Laine's goals Friday came when he overpowered Dubnyk with a slap shot during a power play. It was the first time this season Winnipeg has scored more than one power-play goal in a game, a sign for Maurice that more things are clicking as the Jets get into the rhythm of the season.

"We got back to being real fast on it," Maurice said. "There are lots of places to put the puck and [Laine] is usually a good option.

"If your power play is going, the rest of your game settles. They don't feel like they've got to push it because it's a frustrating moment every time you get on the power play. We got back to skating. This wasn't our best game of the year. It was two really good periods. But we moved pretty well in four of the last five. We've been playing pretty darn well."

The power play will be a focus going forward. Laine gets plenty of attention there because he needs so little time and space to unload his extraordinary shot. But there are more elements than the 19-year-old Finland-born sniper when Winnipeg has the man advantage.

"I think the big thing about him is that he opens up other things, too," Scheifele said. "It's not always about opening it up for his shot. Sometimes it's opening it up for my shot or for the low guy or for Buff [Byfuglien]. That's a big asset as well."

The Jets have also taken steps in the right direction defensively.

After allowing 13 goals in their first two games, the Jets gave up 13 in the next five (2.6 goals against per game) with play away from the puck that's been more aware and determined. That has helped goalie Connor Hellebuyck win each of his four starts (4-0-0, 2.32 goals against average, .927 save percentage).

The Jets will have some time off to work on keeping momentum in each of those areas -- leadership, offense, defense and goaltending. Their next game is at PPG Paints Arena against the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; TSN3, ATTSN-PT, NHL.TV), the start of their first back-to-back set of the season. The Jets play at the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday (7 p.m. ET; TSN3, FS-O, NHL.TV).

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