With a new coach and a new attitude, the Winnipeg Jets are erasing memories of last year's desultory season.
"We're the same team, but we're playing the way we're capable of playing now," said right wing Paul MacLean, whose Jets have been among the NHL's most-improved team the first month of the season.
"We're showing up and working a lot harder with a lot more confidence. Last year was tough on us. We went through a lot of changes, we just lost a lot of our mental drive. This year, we are a more confident hockey club and we believe in ourselves."
Part of that belief has been instilled by Dan Maloney, who came over from Toronto to coach a team that dropped off considerably in performance last season. The season before, the Jets had one of the best records in the NHL.
"The coach has given us more discipline, and given us the work-ethic factor that we had lost last year, and we're getting back to that level of play that we had then," MacLean said.
Explaining the early success of his team, Maloney said:
"We've been really working on our own zone, working on our specialty teams. The power play generally has been pretty good, too."
New York Islanders Coach Terry Simpson has a theory on why hockey is a humbling sport:
"You have both physical and mental battles to win. Besides that, you have to fit that all into a team game, at high speed. When you think about it, you have to do it with artificial feet and artificial hands, skates and sticks. So when you put all those things together, maybe there's a lot more room for error than in other sports."
Regarding "Rendezvous 87" in Quebec in February, General Manager Phil Esposito of the New York Rangers thinks the NHL All-Stars will be at a disadvantage when they meet the Soviet Union in a two-game set.
"It's stupid, really," he said. "We'll send guys in there on Monday night from various teams. Then on Tuesday night, they have to be a team to play against a team that's been together for eight years. How in God's name can you expect these (NHL) guys to win? If they do, it will be the greatest feat in the history of hockey.
"The only way to prove which system is better is an interlocking schedule over an 80-game season, or if we get the greatest players in the NHL and have them play together as a team for a year or two. If I had a vote on this year's All-Star game concept, I would have said no. The NHL has nothing to gain and everything to lose," he said.
The tall and the small of the NHL, according to a recent news release from the league:
Defenseman Kjell Samuelsson of the New York Rangers is the NHL's tallest player at 6-foot-6 and Pittsburgh goaltender Roberto Romano the shortest at 5-6. Philadelphia goalie Glenn "Chico" Resch is the NHL's oldest player at 38 and Los Angeles rookie Jimmy Carson the youngest at 18 years, 3 months.
Average height, weight and age: 6-0, 191 pounds and 25.7 years.