Jets at best against best

Winnipeg Jets' Andrew Ladd (L) holds back Florida Panthers' Matt Bradley (22) after a shot on net...

Winnipeg Jets' Andrew Ladd (L) holds back Florida Panthers' Matt Bradley (22) after a shot on net during the second period of their NHL game in Winnipeg on Nov. 10, 2011. (REUTERS/Fred Greenslade)

Paul Friesen, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:27 PM ET

Andrew Ladd has a theory about his Winnipeg Jets that represents both good news and bad news.

Ladd’s belief isn’t exactly time- and battle-tested. But by the end of this month, it could be.

At the very least, some of the NHL’s upper-tier teams, the Washington Capitals, Philadelphia Flyers and Boston Bruins, will have taken a run at it to see exactly how solid it is.

If it stands up, Ladd may be onto something.

“We feel we play our best hockey against the top teams,” the captain was saying, following the Jets 5-2 win over visiting Tampa Bay, Monday. “We always have. They seem to bring the best out of us.”

Recent history offers up some evidence to support Ladd’s theory.

Playing the NHL’s worst team last weekend, the Jets conked out against Columbus, two days after 60 minutes of futility against Florida.

Cue Monday night, and they rise to the level of the Lightning, who might not be lighting it up so far this season, but who were a conference finalist last spring.

Going back further, the Jets pushed division front-runners Buffalo and Toronto to overtime or a shootout, edged the powerful Penguins and Flyers, but dropped points to the Coyotes and Devils.

Summing up, four of the Jets six wins have come against teams playing winning hockey.

Is there a rational explanation for it?

“No,” Ladd said. “You try. I don’t know if it’s more urgency or more attention to detail. But it’s something we need to make a habit of doing every day.”

The next little while, they’ll get a chance to do just that.

This week, it’s visits by two first-place studs in the Caps, Thursday, the Flyers, Saturday — combined record, 20-8-4, as of this writing.

Then it’s a return visit to Washington, followed by stops in Carolina and Boston. Not a soft landing place in the bunch.

“We’re not worried about that,” Ladd said, referring specifically to this week’s task.

Seems his goaltender shares his optimism.

“We’ve got Washington and then Philly — it doesn’t matter,” Ondrej Pavelec said. “Another big team. It’s not easy. Again it’s going to be with one of the best teams in the league coming to our building. We have to stick with the plan, stay disciplined and we’re going to be all right. I’m pretty sure we’re going to be ready for them.”

Pavelec points out there really are no easy games in the big leagues, which brings us to the downside of Ladd’s theory.

With the Jets, many of the so-called “easier” games have been murderous. If this is, in fact, a team that plays up to the level of its opposition, then its played down to it, too.

And that won’t get you anywhere in the standings.

Not to mention what it does to the confidence.

“It’s tough sometimes when things aren’t going your way,” Ladd acknowledged. “You’re trying hard and things just seem to keep going the other way on you. You want to turn it around as quick as possible, and get a good feeling back in this room.”

Consider it done, thanks to a three-goal win over the Lightning.

“Hopefully that leads to a good feeling about what we did, and how we got that success,” Ladd said. “And we can continue to do so.

“It was a good opportunity against a top team to prove what we can do.”

They’ll get two more this week, top teams with the Stanley Cup squarely in their sights, not to mention one with the thing in its trophy case, the week after.

Precisely what the 6-9-3 Jets need, apparently, to climb back to .500 and respectability.


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