Jets an up and down enigma

Winnipeg Jets' Nik Antropov (L) takes a shot on Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Dwayne Roloson...

Winnipeg Jets' Nik Antropov (L) takes a shot on Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Dwayne Roloson during the second period of their NHL game in Winnipeg, November 14, 2011. (REUTERS/Fred Greenslade)

Paul Friesen, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:27 AM ET

If you can figure out these Winnipeg Jets, get in line to be the NHL’s next genius head coach.

Because just when you think it’s time to write them off as a division cellar-dweller this season, the Jets turn in a performance like Monday night’s 5-2 win over Tampa Bay.

As bad as the Jets had been in losing five straight — and as horrid as they were the last time we saw them on home ice — Team Terrible was Team Terrific against the Lightning, one of the NHL’s final four in last season’s Stanley Cup playoffs.

This is a group that couldn’t figure out lowly Columbus the other night?

The Lightning must have thought they’d made a wrong turn at Minneapolis and ended up in Edmonton, where the high-flying Oilers are proving that going with youth isn’t necessarily a losing proposition.

The Jets not only did all the little things right, Monday, they figured out the big ones, too.

Like special teams.

If striking on their first power play wasn’t enough to shock us, they killed penalties like their lives depended on it, a perfect six-for-six while building a 4-1 lead through two periods.

That stretch included the key point of the game, a two-man advantage the Jets handled, albeit with some white-knuckle moments, to close out the second.

Going into the game, Jets boss Claude Noel said his team was tired of losing, and that’s exactly how it came out of the gate.

Bumping, grinding, working, even finishing, the Jets jumped on the trapping Lightning for two goals in the first 20 minutes, while surviving a few scary shifts in their own end — and getting bailed out, as usual, by Ondrej Pavelec, who’s made 10 straight starts and looks like he wants another 64.

Given their brief history, not to mention Tampa’s penchant for slow starts and strong finishes, you figured it was far from over.

But instead of crumbling as the game went on, the Jets kept it up. And now they’ve reached the 18-game mark with a 6-9-3 record and a sliver of hope that better days are ahead.

Wish at your own peril, though, because one game doesn’t come close to wiping out the rest.

Typically, this would be about the time Noel would have seen enough to know what he has, and what he hasn’t.

In a normal year, on a normal team, the head coach would have a handle on his team’s potential, its strengths and its flaws.

Apparently, this isn’t a normal year, or a normal team.

“Normally you’re going to know your team within 15, 18, 20 games,” the former Manitoba Moose head man was saying before the game, Monday. “I’ve seen it go longer than that — 25. It was longer last year.

“This year there are some complexities. The complexity is we are a group that has left Atlanta and has come to a new environment. That’s where the complexity lies.”

And that’s when Noel made an interesting statement about his team’s identity.

“Our identity and the standard of work we want is very clear,” he began. “It’s in St. John’s. It’s in St. John’s because the Manitoba Moose have been here for 15 years, and that identity’s been forged with people in the past, with me last year. And so there it’s a well-oiled machine. They’re doing well, everything’s good, leadership’s good, and it’s mature and it’s really well-driven.

“We’re going to get to that point. It takes a little longer because of the situation we’re in.”

Monday night, that identity snuck into town for a few hours.

Noel’s challenge: get it to take its coat off and stick around.

How close, or far, is he?

“I don’t know, yet,” Noel said. “You’d have to ask me in about three weeks. I’m hoping it doesn’t take too long, but I’m expecting it’s going to take longer than usual.

“And that’s OK.”

Only if there are a few more nights like Monday’s.


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