At this point in the season I’m not going to predict that the Winnipeg Jets will make the playoffs.
But with the way this team has been playing — putting in solid efforts more often than not, playing with plenty of energy, and working hard to make scoring chances — the Jets can tilt the odds in their favour by continuing to pursue the brand of hockey that suits them best.
With a 7-4-0 record when playing at the MTS Centre, home ice advantage appears to be huge for a group of players that has only called Winnipeg home since training camp opened this past September.
Life on the road can be difficult, and it’s made especially difficult when your team plays out of the Southeast Division — despite being the most northwestern situated team in the Eastern Conference.
With the NHL division realignment slated for next year, Winnipeg’s travel schedule should be much less hectic for future seasons. Until then, the Jets will have to be as consistent at home as they were during their November home stand, in which they battled three tough opponents over the course of six days.
The Jets played games against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Nov. 14, the Washington Capitals on Nov. 17 and the Philadelphia Flyers on Nov. 19, and managed to string together their most impressive winning streak of the season. All three teams are considered to be early playoff contenders and feature rosters peppered with superstar talent.
But the Jets were not merely up to the challenge of playing against perennial playoff contenders — they dominated, outscoring the Lightning 5-2, the Capitals 4-1 and the Flyers 6-4.
Lacking a stud forward like Sidney Crosby or Claude Giroux to rely on for offence, the Jets have counted on production from all four lines. Evander Kane has emerged as one of the team’s most reliable offensive weapons.
It’s important to remember that it hasn’t been all sunshine and lollipops for the Jets 2.0. They seem to constantly find themselves taking inopportune penalties and have had been shorthanded well over 100 times so far this season.
Fortunately, goaltender Ondrej Pavelec has found consistency between the pipes. Pavelec’s not a likely candidate for the Vezina trophy, but he’s proven to be clutch when he needs to be. He’s also been getting help from the skaters in front of him, who have done a solid job clearing the puck, getting into the shooting lanes and sacrificing their bodies to block shots.
Sustaining their winning ways at home, where they enjoy the support of passionate sold-out crowds, will be key if the Jets want to qualify for the post-season tournament, and December looks to be the critical month.
Starting with their 1-0 victory over the Phoenix Coyotes on Dec. 1, and finishing up with their game against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Dec. 31, the Jets will play 12 of 14 games at home during the month.
The Jets must capitalize on points up for grabs in December. If they falter, it’s simply going to be that much harder to make a late push for a playoff spot. To start 2012, they embark on their heaviest travel schedule of the season, where they play 15 of 21 games on the road.
There’s no telling how the second half of the season will pan out, but it’s possible the Jets will ground their playoff chances if they don’t take full advantage of December’s light travel schedule.