No banners up at the MTS Center yet, dude. (Getty Images)

Remember these guys? Andrew Ladd and Dustin Byfuglien make their return to the United Center since being dealt in salary dumps following the 2009-10 Stanley Cup run. After one middling season in Atlanta, the two are a part of the NHL’s long overdue return to Winnipeg, with Ladd donning the ‘C’ and Byfuglien carrying some new paper.

Here to help me preview the Jets is Winnipeg Free Press beat writer Ed Tait, who discusses the atmosphere in Winnipeg, the Jets still being the Atlanta Thrashers, and the two former Blackhawks. Enjoy!

Bartl: First thing, can you talk about the atmosphere in Winnipeg for the season opener and how the fans and players alike are embracing having hockey back in the city?

Tait: The season opener was like no other sporting event I’ve covered. There was a variety of different emotions shown by fans and players, from pure euphoria to sadness during the pre-game memorial to Rick Rypien. I saw grown men crying tears of joy, the Canadian national anthem has arguably never been sung louder in these parts and the MTS Centre concourse was jammed with people three hours before the opening face-off. The whole event had the feel of opening night and Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final morphed into one. The cool thing for fans now is this: after this road trip to Chicago and Phoenix the next home game is against Pittsburgh and everyone has their fingers crossed Sidney Crosby is back on the ice.

Bartl: Eventually, the excitement of having hockey back will turn to wanting competitive hockey. Do the fans realize they’re still cheering for the Atlanta Thrashers, who have yet to win a playoff game? Will the fans be a bit lenient with them this season?

Pipe down. (Getty)

Tait: There is this notion that fans have been so desperate for the NHL’s return that they will care little about what happens on the ice this season. That might be true to some extent but, sorry, not buying it. Jets’ management has said they want to make the playoffs this year, ditto for the players, and they’ve got a lot of ground to make up from what Atlanta did last year. My guess is that if this team struggles there will be pressure on the team to make upgrades – fans may be lenient now, but they are paying top dollar and want a winner. This ‘grace period’ might not be as long as so many believe.

Bartl: That being said, from watching them in their loss to Montreal, what are the Jets’ strengths and weaknesses, and how are they going to match up with the Blackhawks’ offensive weapons?

Tait: It’s hard to identify many strengths after a 5-1 loss, but the Jets sport a deep and gifted defensive corps led by Tobias Enstrom, Dustin Byfuglien, Mark Stuart and Zach Bogosian and there is some young talent up front – Evander Kane, Bryan Little, Alex Burmistrov – that must grow their game quickly. Ondrej Pavelec was lit up on Sunday and he’ll have to be a lot better against the Blackhawks. The Jets were 0-for-7 on the power play, sloppy defensively and hardly opportunistic when they did get their chances against Carey Price.

Bartl: Byfuglien (at times) and Andrew Ladd were beloved players in Chicago. Many were upset to see them go and they’ll likely get warm receptions. What are their feelings about coming back to Chicago for the first time?

Tait: Ladd was swarmed by the media on this subject the other day. It’s the first time back to Chicago for both guys and the Jets’ captain said he was going to take some time to look at the Stanley Cup banner and meet with some of the staff he got to know during his time there. But once the puck drops the nostalgia ends for these guys. The Jets need to get away from the glare they’ve been under in Winnipeg and this road trip might be the perfect tonic.

Bartl: What do you feel the the Jets need to do in order to steal a victory at the United Center?

Tait: Tough task against a club many feel might be the best in the Western Conference this year. Three things: 1. Pavelec has to be much, much sharper; 2. They need their offensive weapons like Ladd,  Little, Blake Wheeler and Kane to crank it up and be bigger around the net; 3. The power-play MUST generate more chances. But it’s got to be everybody across the board. I’ll use this analogy: the Jets had a team building event at the Winnipeg Rowing Club last week and if everybody doesn’t have their oars in the water and working in unison every night there will be more of what we saw in Sunday’s loss to the Habs for this crew.

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