By: Adam Wazny | Friday, April 5
Montreal Canadiens' Michael Ryder scores on Winnipeg Jets' goalie Ondrej Pavelec during first period of their game on April 4 in Montreal. Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press
The great hope for a season that's drifting away from a battered Winnipeg Jets club arrives in the form of an extended home stand, and this scheduling relief could possibly be good news for a group that's fighting the current of a five-game slide.
Sadly, 'could possibly' and 'maybe' is as definitive as it gets for the Jets. Home used to be a safe haven, a shelter to combat the elements of questionable defensive play and a lack of talent up front, but that's gone. Washed away by expectation and roster depth.
These days, there's no certainty of success in the six-game stand, which opens against the Philadelphia Flyers Saturday afternoon (2 p.m., Hockey Night in Canada), nor is there any conviction the Jets can suddenly right things in a barn that's hosted some of their worst hockey of the season.
MTS Centre has not been kind to Winnipeg in 2013. The Jets (18-19-2) hold a losing record at home (8-9), with just one win in their last four tries. For whatever reason -- the usual characteristics of a sub-.500 team apply -- the Jets have struggled mightily to find the results from a season ago, when they put up a 23-13-5 record and rode that wave into unforeseen playoff aspirations. The magic hasn't been there this time around, and there's no tangible reason to think the right card will suddenly turn up or reveal itself behind Claude Noel's ear.
But there's always hope for a dramatic rescue, and home ice is the lifeboat for the Jets. The sharp drop off in recent results (two wins in the last nine) has brought the club back to the pack in the Southeast Division. Winnipeg sits first place with 38 points, but a surging Washington squad now joins them. While the Jets have the edge in the first tiebreak (ROW -- regulation/overtime wins, 17-15), the Capitals still have two games in hand and in turn, the upper hand in the big picture.
Feeling a little queasy? Here comes sickness.
Philadelphia, Buffalo, Florida, Tampa Bay, Carolina and the New York Islanders -- those are the teams on tap for the Jets over the next 16 days. Only the Islanders are currently in a playoff position. That's something, right? On top of this, Winnipeg has a full four days off in the middle of the home stand; time to recharge the batteries for a final playoff push. Sounds good. That feeling is called optimism.
But the Jets only have an 8-7 record against those teams, with three of the victories needing overtime to complete. The Flyers have won four straight games. The Lightning and Hurricanes carry aspirations for the Southeast crown. The signs suggest tough games ahead. That feeling is anxiety. You probably have experienced it throughout the course of the season.
Home is where the heart is, even if that heart is barely beating. Through 17 home dates, the Jets have scored 39 goals for a 2.29 average. Coming into Thursday's play, that was good enough for last in the NHL. In the last four games at MTS Centre, Winnipeg has five goals and -- surprise, surprise -- have struggled on the power play, going 1-for-14 in this span.
Side note: through this five-game losing streak, the Jets have scored just six times and are 0-for-16 with the man advantage.
For a club that struggles to find the net as it is, the power play should at least generate some wind in the sails: even if the score doesn't materialize, there needs to be some offensive momentum taken from the man advantage if you're the Jets -- and if you're the crowd. Lately though, the power play has been an anchor, dragging the team and the energy of the entire city down until both eventually disappear from existence, leaving only frustration and anxiety in its wake.
Huh. That's kind of how it's been going lately, hasn't it?