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A Winnipeg Jets fan celebrates a goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre on Wedneday night. (Tom Szczerbowski-US PRESSWIRE/(2011) Tom Szczerbowski)
A Winnipeg Jets fan celebrates a goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre on Wedneday night. (Tom Szczerbowski-US PRESSWIRE/(2011) Tom Szczerbowski)

Jets feeling the love on road trip Add to ...

Rarely have NHL fans been so happy to see the opposing team come onto the ice.

The Air Canada Centre's ovation for the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday contributed to the excitement that seems to surround the NHL's newbie franchise, which makes a second Canadian stop on Thursday to take on the Ottawa Senators.

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“I was a little surprised by that, actually. It was a nice welcome,” said Derek Meech, the only Winnipeg-born member of the team.

Meech, who played his first game in Toronto - he took a costly late penalty - marvelled at the buzz surrounding his squad.

“It's cool, for sure, there's a ton of excitement,” he said. “It's a special thing to be able to pull on that jersey.”

There are of course excellent reasons to cheer the return of the Winnipeg Jets, not least of which is the fact that they have obliged by losing four of their first five games to open the season.

On the face of it, this is little more than a contest between two fairly awful NHL teams.

But this week is the Jets' introductory tour of the league's northeast division, and so the movable feast that has accompanied the team is contributing a fair bit of atmosphere.

There is a sense of just-happy-to-be-here about the Jets, but both Winnipeg and Ottawa badly need some confidence-boosting points, having combined for a 2-8-1 record to open the season.

“I'm anticipating a couple of pretty desperate teams tonight, it should be a good game,” said Winnipeg coach Claude Noel.

The Senators have stumbled out of the gate under new coach Paul MacLean, who said his prime objective is to settle his team down.

“The number one thing we want is to see them play with confidence,” he said.

Ottawa defenceman Sergei Gonchar rejoins the team after missing a game with a bruised ankle, and forward Jesse Winchester will play his first game of the season - he hurt his shoulder on the first day of training camp.

Goaltender Ondrej Pavelec will make his second start in as many nights for the Jets, Ottawa will start Craig Anderson, owner of a 4.99 goals-against average and .852 save percentage.

Follow on Twitter: @MrSeanGordon

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