BUFFALO – Whether the Winnipeg Jets can resolve their road woes figures to go a long way toward determining just exactly where they fit in the Eastern Conference playoff mix.
The Jets will hit the halfway point of their season Saturday night when they visit the First Niagara Center to meet the Buffalo Sabres. They will do so fresh off consecutive losses in Montreal and Toronto in which they were outscored by an 11-3 margin. Those losses come right after the Jets had outlined much better road play as a key goal for the second half of the season.
“We’ve got to find a way,” captain Andrew Ladd said after a 4-0 loss Thursday night to the Leafs.
Those two losses may have taken a bit of the luster off a franchise-best month of December in which they ran off a 9-2-1 mark in 12 games at MTS Centre. The Jets’ 14 home wins are third-most in the League, tying them with the likes of Chicago, Washington and Boston.
“You’re always going to be a bit more comfortable in your own arena,” injured center Bryan Little said. “It definitely helps with the energy.”
On the road, however, the Jets just 26th in the NHL with a 5-10-4 road mark. Away from Winnipeg, the Jets have only two wins since Nov. 3 when they had just won their third consecutive game in the midst of a seven-game road trip.
“I think that it’s just a matter of trying to bring that energy and that work ethic to the road,” Little said. “It’s hard. You play in front of your own fans and you’ve got 15,000 loud fans right on your back. We’ve got to find a way to play like that on the road, too.”
With seven of their remaining 11 games in January on the road, the Jets will need to rectify their road difficulties in order to mount a serious push toward a playoff spot. Veteran goaltender Chris Mason believes that a much more concerted approach toward road hockey is needed.
“We have to sit down and look at ourselves,” Mason said.
After an optional practice on Friday afternoon at the First Niagara Center, coach Claude Noel attempted to frame the Jets’ road woes as one more obstacle that needs to be addressed in the long NHL season.
“To me, there is no panic, there is no crisis, there is no nothing,” Noel said. “You guys can determine that. This is all part of the season. If you look at it, we’ve played 40 games. You’ve got 82 that you’ve got to play. This is how the ebb and flow of the season happens.”
Rather than focus solely on the road problems, perhaps the Jets can take solace that they are still in the playoff mix even with their poor road play, to hear Noel’s perspective.
“How do we manage this?” Noel asked rhetorically. “Is it adversity? How do we deal with it? Those are the challenges, and that’s great. That’s why you have the big rewards when you do make the playoffs, and if you can win in the end, because you invest so much.”
“There is no manual,” Noel continued. “There is no right way. There is no wrong way. It is, ‘Does it work?’” That’s what our job is, and that’s what makes the job really interesting.”