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Jets hoping to regain some home-ice magic when the Predators visit Friday

10/14/2014 03:35 EDT | Updated 12/14/2014 05:59 EST
WINNIPEG - The Winnipeg Jets' leading scorer last season says there's no mystery behind their failure to shine on home ice.

"Look at our record overall," forward Blake Wheeler said Tuesday after practice. "There's a reason we are where we are."

But that doesn't mean they can't get better and he agrees improving on home ice is one key to the kind of success the team is gunning for under new head coach Paul Maurice.

"We need to better at home, we know that. We take care of business at home and keep our head above water on the road, that's kind of the recipe for success in this league, you look at the top teams.

"It's tough to win on the road, so you've got to be good at home."

The Jets are looking to a five-game homestand starting Friday to help generate some momentum, after going 1-2 on the road to open their NHL season.

They won their first game 6-2 against the Arizona Coyotes but they dropped their next two in Los Angeles and San Jose.

After playing against two California powerhouses, the Jets face lower-ranked teams at home starting Friday when the Nashville Predators visit, followed by the Calgary Flames, Carolina Hurricanes, Tampa Bay Lightning and Colorado Avalanche.

Home ice didn't do them much good last season when they went 18-17-6 at home and 19-18-4 on the road, finishing 22nd overall and out of the playoffs for the seventh season in a row.

Centre Bryan Little says they want to get back to the way they played at home in their first season in Winnipeg, when they made the MTS Centre a tough place to visit going 23-13-5.

"I think we want to establish that early, that it's going to be a hard night when you come to Winnipeg," said Little.

Maurice says he recalls the Jets first season in their new home in 2011-12, after the former Thrashers relocated from Atlanta. He brought the Carolina Hurricanes to town.

"You'd get here at three or four in the morning and be down three goals before the national anthem was over," he said. "It's just a great building. You've got to take advantage of that."

The MTS Centre may be the smallest arena in the NHL at just over 15,000 seats but it's also sold out for years to come. The problem has been giving those committed fans something to cheer about.

"You want to make sure that you come out and give this building a reason to get up and get going,"

Maurice said . "They'll start going, we know that, and we've got to keep them out of their seats."

Meanwhile, Maurice said they still don't expect forward Evander Kane back any time soon after injuring a knee in a collision with linemate Mark Scheifele. He said last week it would be two weeks before Kane is even reassessed.

"After that it will be week to week. Other than the fact I had thought originally it was going to be month to month, to be honest with you, we took it as good news," Maurice said.

Wheeler raised some eyebrows this week by taking the NHL lead in penalty minutes (22) after a couple of fights.

In the most recent in Los Angeles with Robyn Regehr, the six-foot-five, 225-pound right-winger he said he was just standing up for Scheifele, the sophomore centre who has worked his way to the top of Winnipeg's lineup.

Neither Wheeler nor Maurice say they expect the player to be a regular enforcer, but they also weren't apologizing for the rough stuff.

"We don't have him set up as the designated go-to guy in those situations, it just happened right in front of him," Maurice said.

"We've come to expect and appreciate his level of intensity in games and that's going to happen. . . He's better when he's not sitting in the box for 17 minutes but you certainly have to respect the level that he's playing at."

Wheeler led the team with 28 goals and 69 points last season and has two goals and an assist so far this season.

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