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Maurice wins Winnipeg coaching debut

The SportsXchange

WINNIPEG, Manitoba - It's just one victory, but new Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice says he'll never forget it.

He even has a memento -- the game puck, courtesy of captain Andrew Ladd -- from his coaching debut in Winnipeg as the Jets posted a convincing 5-1 victory over the Phoenix Coyotes on Monday night at a raucous MTS Centre.

"I'm not much of a collector of stuff. I've got a jersey of every team I've coached, I've got three or four pucks that mean a lot to me and certainly that's one of them," said Maurice, in his first postgame media scrum since being hired Sunday to replace Claude Noel. "That means a lot to me that Andrew gave it to me after the game, and I'll cherish it.

"I give every rookie player the same speech. You can go on to every national league award and you can win 10 Stanley Cups, but you're only going to get one first game in the NHL. So when you get behind that bench and they're playing the national anthems, you soak it in and you enjoy every minute of that game.

"It was a very special moment for me and I'll cherish it."

Winnipeg lost its previous five games, including back-to-back stinkers at home to the Tampa Bay Lighting and Columbus Blue Jackets that spelled the end for Noel and assistant coach Perry Pearn.

Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff saw enough and made the moves, enlisting the aid of Maurice, a coach with nearly 1,100 NHL games under his belt with the Hartford Whalers, Carolina Hurricanes and Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Jets (20-23-5) responded with their most complete effort in weeks.

Phoenix (21-15-9) suffered its third consecutive loss.

The Jets, who led 2-1 and 3-1 at the period breaks, received goals from five forwards, centers Olli Jokinen and Eric O'Dell, and right wingers Blake Wheeler, Michael Frolik and Devin Setoguchi.

Setoguchi snapped his 18-game skid without a goal with a third-period, power-play blast.

Phoenix defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson scored the game's first goal with the Jets a man short at 12:16 of the first period. But it took just 36 seconds for the Jets to counter with Jokinen's 12th of the year.

"We did the one thing we talked about, that when adversity came the first step was to get that next goal," Maurice said. "The bench didn't get quiet, we stayed positive, and that's the first step to handling adversity through the course of a game. It was really important to get that goal to make it 1-1 and settle everybody down."

Maurice, 46, who coached in Europe's Kontinental Hockey League last winter and did some television work this season, arrived in Winnipeg late Sunday night and had just over an hour with his new club during Monday's morning skate. He did some minor tinkering with the Jets' lines, in part because left winger Evander Kane was scratched for the second straight game because of a hand injury.

He also gave the start to goalie Ondrej Pavelec, who had mediocre performances against Tampa Bay and Columbus.

Pavelec benefited from a sound defensive effort by the Jets, and consequently, he wasn't overworked. He made just 18 saves in the win.

Mike Smith was much busier, stopping 33 shots in the Phoenix net.

"We worked extremely hard and all 60 minutes we played the way to win the game, and I think we deserved it," Pavelec said. "But we all know it's just one game, so we'll be back (Tuesday) and work hard.

"This wasn't easy, with what happened (Sunday) and a new coach, but I think we responded really well. Everybody was excited. I was a little bit nervous, and didn't really know what to expect. But everybody did a great job. It was a good two points for us."

At one point during a dominant third period for the Jets, fans gave the club a standing ovation and chanted "Maurice, Maurice."

Ladd said the club had plenty of inspiration to get back in the win column.

"When you have a coaching change, it usually gives your dressing a jolt and makes everyone look at themselves in a mirror and tell yourself you have to be better," he said.

The Jets head west to face the Calgary Flames on Thursday.

There's no rest for the Coyotes, as they visit St. Louis to face the Blues on Tuesday night. Before the back-to-back road games, Phoenix muddled through a six-game home stand that produced a 2-4-0 record.

Coyotes captain Shane Doan said it's the responsibility of each player to do everything possible to stop the slide.

"It has to be a personal issue with your own play," Doan said. "If one guy in here thinks it's someone else's fault, they're wrong."

NOTES: Phoenix C Shane Doan posted the 498th assist of his career. The Coyotes captain, 37, returned to the lineup in early January after missing a month with Rocky Mountain fever, a bacterial disease he likely picked up after a horseback ride with his family. ... Entering the night, Phoenix had not lost a one-goal game in regulation this season, posting a 9-0-9 record. ... As C Mike Ribeiro goes, so do the Coyotes. Prior to Monday, the team was 7-0-1 when he registered a multi-point game. ... Jets C Mark Scheifele posted his 17th assist of the season, the top total among NHL rookies. ... Winnipeg began the game 29th in the NHL in team faceoff efficiency (46.2 percent). A big reason for the club's struggles is the prolonged absence of C Jim Slater, who missed his 40th consecutive game Monday after undergoing hernia surgery in late October. The Jets say he is still a few weeks from resuming skating.

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