By: Adam Wazny | Monday, March 11
Winnipeg Jets' goalie Ondrej Pavelec dives to make a save on New Jersey Devils' Patrik Elias during the first period of their game on March 10. (Mel Evans/Associated Press)
They don't ask how, they ask how many.
Keep telling yourself that, Jets fans. Write it down on a piece of paper and put it on the fridge. Say the words aloud and repeat them to anyone who will listen. Call the parents and make sure they get the message, too. Shout it from the rooftops. Convince yourself nothing else matters.
Watching the Jets over this last road trip -- a four-game jaunt where they somehow managed to extract five out of a possible eight points -- a wave of mixed emotions and reality came crashing down on observers. Winnipeg managed to stay right in the mix for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference over the road trip, and in the end that's what counts, but the way they played has raised a few eyebrows, and not in a good way.
"Unbelievable," was the notable quote from an exasperated Claude Noel after a 3-2 shootout loss to the New Jersey Devils Sunday night.
The head coach was referencing his club's brutal play in the first period but he could have been talking about the month of March, or the year in general. If held up to the lights after an injection of truth serum, he might admit as much. Noel watches the games, too, after all, and is probably just as mystified as everyone else.
Winnipeg is 2-2-1 in the last five games. Other than the Tampa Bay result last Thursday (a 2-1 win), it's hard to identify any of those as a full 60-minute effort that didn't require outstanding goaltending to grab at least a point. But yet somehow, some way, the Jets are still in the playoff conversation, and will probably be for the rest of the season.
Unbelievable is one way to put it.
The Jets are living dangerously these days. When they don't out-hustle the opposition by a large margin -- an internal work ethic that is still an unknown commodity -- the Jets aren't able to dictate the pace of play and take long stretches off during games. They are too quick to count on goaltenders Ondrej Pavelec and Al Montoya to cover up for shabby defensive coverage.
The power play is powerless.
Though two points out of a playoff spot, Winnipeg could just as easily be two points out of the basement (actually, the Jets are only six points up on last-place Florida, so there you go).
The Jets (12-11-2) have hung around the playoff line in spite of themselves. They've taken advantage of some poor efforts on the other side and found ways to keep the bounces from bouncing into their own net. Maybe Noel is onto something -- it is unbelievable how they've managed to stay consistent in the standings following inconsistent showings on the ice.
But here's the thing: Despite the smoke and mirrors, despite the flaws in the fabric and despite the occasional smile of fortune (ie: the Jets never faced goaltender Martin Brodeur in three Devils games this season), Winnipeg wakes up this morning with the toughest part of the schedule behind them. Nine of the final 23 games are away from MTS Centre, with half of those 14 home dates against Southeast Division opponents. The slate is not without its tough matchups (Boston, Pittsburgh, two with Montreal) but as a whole, the next seven weeks offers a golden opportunity for the club.
As unbelievable as this sounds, the Jets could have plenty to say about how the Eastern Conference playoff picture shakes down. That's reason for excitement.
The reason for concern, however, brings us to the aforementioned mixed emotions: it's just hard to envision a scenario where the current brand of erratic play yields those required results.
The Jets simply aren't that convincing.