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FRIESEN: ‘Playing for each other’: Jets’ hot start has strong underpinnings – Toronto Sun

William Karlsson #71 of the Vegas Golden Knights tries to get around Brenden Dillon #5 of the Winnipeg Jets in the second period of their game at T-Mobile Arena on October 30, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Golden Knights defeated the Jets 2-1 in overtime. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
William Karlsson #71 of the Vegas Golden Knights tries to get around Brenden Dillon #5 of the Winnipeg Jets in the second period of their game at T-Mobile Arena on October 30, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Golden Knights defeated the Jets 2-1 in overtime. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images) Photo by Ethan Miller /Getty Images

Five straight games without allowing more than two goals.

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Six straight games without allowing a third-period goal, making them the NHL’s stingiest team in the final 20 minutes.

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An 8-3-1 record, the best 12-game start in their rebooted history, good for first place in their division.

It all seems a little too good to be true for the Winnipeg Jets.

So is it?

Part of this job is to poke at nice, shiny things to find out if they’re real.

I wasn’t about to poke defenceman Brenden Dillon – did you see what he did to Dallas forward Ty Dellandrea, Tuesday night? – so I just asked him.

Thankfully, he laughed.

“I don’t know,” Dillon began. “As much as we’re excited about the start, we’re only 12 games in. There’s a lot of runway left. Every team talks about it, though. A start is really important.”

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Over to Kyle Connor, a safer choice. I don’t think he’s thrown a punch in his career, yet.

Is this team this good?

“It seems that way, doesn’t it?” was his reply.

I guess. But last year’s team was 9-3-3 at one point, and we all know how that turned out.

So you can understand how some might have doubts.

“I can understand that question,” Connor said. “I’ll say that this group, this room, is in a lot better place than it was last year. As a team, we really worked on coming together and being better teammates. Personally, just the relationships throughout, everybody in this room has been a lot better. We’re playing for each other.”

Now we were onto something.

It’s one thing to put up some nifty numbers early in the season, another entirely to build something sustainable.

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A team with the Jets’ skill can score in bunches, leading to a run on points in the standings. Like a four-game win streak in which they scored 18 goals early last season.

That won’t last.

If the same players focus more on teamwork than putting up numbers, it might.

Dillon says it may not produce as many highlight-reel plays, but it wins.

Reminded his team was 9-3-3 a year ago, Dillon was surprised.

“It didn’t feel like it,” he said, just another reminder of how disjointed that group was.

Told about Connor’s comment regarding the improved relationship between teammates, Dillon agreed wholeheartedly.

But how did it happen?

“I don’t know what it is,” he began. “Something in the water this year? A lot of the guys here get along really well. We all know we’ve got different roles, we’re different puzzle pieces… we’ve maybe just had a better understanding. It’s black and white. This is what your role is. Everything’s better defined. Communication has been unbelievable this year.”

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They’re not just referring to talks around the whiteboard or in the video room, either.

It’s often personal.

“It’s a busy, stressful life,” Pierre-Luc Dubois said. “And sometimes… you kind of get lost in it all. Nobody can relate to you more than the guys in here. We all have essentially the same life… we live the same schedule and everything like that. So this year we’re leaning on each other a bit more and trying to support each other a bit more.

“That’s a key part of our success early on.”

It seems a housecleaning of the coaches’ offices was key, too. A new set of voices. A fresh start.

Call it Paul Maurice’s parting gift.

“It’s their room,” is how the new voice, Rick Bowness, put it. “They wanted the room. That was made very clear in the summer, and we gave it to them. And they’re taking full advantage of it. Now, do we have to help them along the way? Yup. Give them some guidelines? Yup. But it’s still their room. They wanted it, and they got it.”

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What, exactly, does that mean?

“It means everyone has a voice,” Bowness said. “It means everyone’s part of what’s going on here. Everyone. And never be afraid to bring up something you’re thinking about as a player. I’ve been in rooms as a player, and that’s always the atmosphere that I wanted.”

Coaches don’t need to monitor everything that’s going on, Bowness continued. They don’t want to know.

The players can deal with it.

“They’re not little kids. They’re men. They’re professional athletes. They are accountable, they are responsible for what goes on. And they’ve grabbed it and run with it. And give them a lot of credit.”

The credit is on the NHL standings board for everyone to see.

Which brings us back to the original purpose of this column: is it for real?

“I believe in this team. That’s all I can tell you,” Bowness said. “And they believe in themselves, and that’s the most important thing.”

Only time will reveal the real answer.

For now, the players will just take the feeling in that room they’ve reclaimed, compared with the rotten feeling it contained most of last season.

“Night and day,” Dillon said. “Just feels really good.”

pfriesen@postmedia.com

Twitter: @friesensunmedia