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Jets’ Maurice, Penguins’ Johnston have teams headed in right direction

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Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media
Penguins coach Mike Johnston talks with assistant coack Rick Tocchet on the bench during a game against the Stars on Thursday, Oct. 16, 2014, at Consol Energy Center.
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Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media
Penguins coach Mike Johnston talks with Patric Hornqvist and Sidney Crosby after calling a timeout during the third period against the Stars on Thursday, Oct. 16, 2014, at Consol Energy Center.
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Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice disputes a call during the third period against the Nashville Predators in an NHL hockey game Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014, in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The Jets won 3-1. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, John Woods)

WINNIPEG, Manitoba — One has been a head coach since 1995 and a veteran of more than 1,100 games with three franchises.

The other hasn’t hit the five-month mark of his first NHL head coaching gig.

Yet despite the disparate resumes, there’s no denying that Winnipeg’s Paul Maurice and The Penguins’ Mike Johnston have made immediate impacts on their clubs.

“I think it’s just a matter of how they come into the room and present themselves,” Jets defenseman Mark Scheifele said. “The way Paul does it, he has so much respect. When he comes into a room, he really commands it. He shows how much he cares. I think he instills that in all of us, to really care about each guy in this room.”

The Jets fired Claude Noel and hired Maurice on Jan. 12, 2014, and Maurice guided Winnipeg to wins in nine of its next 11 games. Winnipeg finished the year on an 18-12-5 run.

A 5-0-1 stretch with only six goals allowed has Winnipeg within two points of the Central Division lead this season, and an aura of confidence created by Maurice has been one of the biggest reasons.

“For us, it’s a guy who has come in with a lot of games under his belt, a lot of experience,” said Jets forward Chris Thorburn, a former Penguin. “For us as a young group, taking his wisdom and putting it on the ice, it’s been working out good, especially late.”

One link between the two is that they have both worked for current Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford, in Maurice’s case on multiple occasions.

Maurice was part of the Hartford-to-Carolina relocation in 1997-98 and was fired 30 games into the 2003-04 season. He spent two years as head coach of Toronto and then was rehired by the Hurricanes in 2008-09 — replacing his replacement from 2003, Peter Laviolette — then fired again in 2011.Penguins forward Craig Adams played for Hurricanes during Maurice’s first stint there and noticed how well he communicated well with players.

“He’s going to let the guys know what’s expected of them,” Adams said. “You could see when he came in last year they really turned things around pretty well.”

The Penguins’ regular-season record didn’t need much work, but it’s hard to deny what Mike Johnston’s uptempo approach has yielded thus far: the best power play in the league by far at 41.3 percent prior to Thursday’s game, the league’s best offense with 45 goals in 11 games and plenty of production from the team’s stars.

Not bad for someone whose previous NHL experience was as an assistant in Vancouver and Los Angeles.

“I never really watched his teams play a lot because I was in the West when he was coaching in the East,” Johnston said of Maurice. “Certainly, I’ve watched him lately, and I like their structure and their team play.

“That’s what you always look for when you’re pre-scouting a team, how much structure do they have, how much identity do they have to their game? I see a lot in the Winnipeg Jets now, and it’s starting to evolve.

“I’m sure he’s pleased with where they’re heading, especially in the last five or six games.”

Sounds familiar?

Jason Mackey is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at [email protected] or via Twitter @Mackey_Trib.

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