WINNIPEG — The Jets may have given their fans a bit of a reality check to start the season.
Expectations are sky high after the team made franchise history by reaching the NHL Western Conference final last season, but players kept stressing that success doesn't instantly happen. They confirmed that with their season-opening road trip, starting with a 5-1 victory over St. Louis followed by a 5-1 loss to Dallas.
"It shows that no matter what kind of team you have, if you're not playing your best you can lose to anyone on a given night," veteran centre Bryan Little said after Winnipeg's practice Monday. "It's that good of a league, that good of a division that we're in."
Fans will see this year's version for the first time in Winnipeg's home-opener Tuesday against the Los Angeles Kings.
Top-line sophomore winger Kyle Connor leads the Jets in points after scoring once in each game and adding an assist.
"Let's not get it wrong, it's a very good league," Connor said. "It's tough to win here, especially with what we did last year.
"Everybody's going to bring their best. They want to come out and show that they can compete with us."
Dallas scored a trio of power-play goals and the Jets finished the road trip with a total of nine penalties.
Winnipeg goalie Connor Hellebuyck was kept busy, facing a combined 77 shots. He didn't really mind.
"It's a lot," Hellebuyck said. "You know what, though, I love it. It's so much fun playing. I think the guys know that I'm ready to play."
He's not worried about the team's opposite results.
"You just take a look around and everyone is exhausted after practice," he said. "They're working hard and you can still see they've got that swagger, so I think the character is in this room and we just need to continue to work and build together."
The Kings only game in Winnipeg this season gives fans the chance to see forward Ilya Kovalchuk, who began his NHL career in 2001-02 with the Atlanta Thrashers but left the league after the 2012-13 season. The 35-year-old had been playing in the Kontinental Hockey League in Russia.
"I don't really know exactly what to expect," Hellebuyck said of Kovalchuk, who has a pair of assists for the Kings. "I've played him in a world championship before. I don't remember him getting any clean shots against me, but he's an A-plus scorer so I'm gonna definitely have to bear down on him."
Little was a teammate with Kovalchuk on the Thrashers, who were bought and relocated to Winnipeg ahead of the 2011-12 season.
"I just remember sometimes being able to give him the puck and he would just kind of go end to end and shoot it through somebody top corner and I'd be like, 'That's the easiest assist of my life,' " Little said.
"I had quite a few of those the first couple of years. I knew what to do, just get Kovalchuk the puck."
He's not sure what to expect these days.
"You don't see too many KHL games and I haven't seen him play much the last few years, so it's kind of cool to see him back in the league, seeing what he's capable of still."
Kings starting goalie Jonathan Quick was put on injured reserve after suffering a lower-body injury during a practice Saturday.
He was in net for his team's 3-2 overtime loss to San Jose Friday. Backup Jack Campbell picked up the win in Sunday's 4-2 victory over Detroit and is expected to start against the Jets.
Judy Owen, The Canadian Press