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.500 a way of life for Jets

Team seems destined to balance every win with a loss

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Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press
Winnipeg Jets head coach Claude Noel has some words of wisdom for defenceman Grant Clitsome at practice.

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Ruth Bonneville / Winnipeg Free Press Winnipeg Jets head coach Claude Noel has some words of wisdom for defenceman Grant Clitsome at practice.

Nobody does .500 quite like the Winnipeg Jets.

Short term, long term; this year, last year; this week, last week — whatever time period you choose to examine, odds are the Jets are hovering somewhere very close to .500.

The team finished three games above .500 last year, two games above .500 the year before and are presently, at 7-9-2, two games below .500. The Jets in their return to Winnipeg are almost perfectly middle of the road at 68-65-15.

The current team's failure to win two games in a row since the first week of the 2013 season is really just more of the same from a Jets franchise that at times almost seems predestined to win at almost exactly the same pace as they lose.

'It's a big mountain to climb, but you have to take baby steps to reach there'

-- Olli Jokinen

Just take the last week for example. A loss to Chicago last Saturday was followed by a win over Detroit on Monday, followed by a loss in Chicago on Wednesday, which was followed by a win over Nashville on Friday.

And that is simply not good enough to make the NHL playoffs — not last year or the year before and, in all likelihood, not this season either.

"We have to win games. We're two games below .500 and if you want to make the playoffs in this conference, you have to be 14, 15 games over .500," Jets forward Olli Jokinen ventured Saturday following practice at the MTS Centre.

"It's a big mountain to climb, but you have to take baby steps to reach there. We took a step forward (Friday in a 5-0 win over Nashville). But that's a really small step and we have to take another small step tomorrow."

Actually, a win over the San Jose Sharks at the MTS Centre tonight would be a huge step for these Jets. For starters, while the Sharks have been slumping of late, they've still got the third-best record in the Western Conference (10-2-4) and, unlike Winnipeg, collect their wins in bunches.

If the Jets beat the Sharks tonight, it would represent the first time they've won back-to-back games since the first two games of the season, when they knocked off the Edmonton Oilers and Los Angeles Kings to open the season 2-0.

The last week has been typical of the Jets' struggles for consistency — a pair of terrible losses to the Blackhawks interspersed by solid wins over talented opponents in the Red Wings and Predators.

So what gives?

Jets head coach Claude Noel was asked that question on Saturday.

"For me the search for consistency doesn't only lie in the opponents, for me it's in ourselves," said Noel. "And that's what we're trying to get better at, getting the 60-minute game... And the search continues. If we're going to have to rely on each other, consistency is going to have to be a big factor. Trust is going to have to be a big factor...

"And that's what we're trying to build."

Noel's charges have heard the message, even if they've thus far proven unable to execute the coach's instructions.

"We have to put some games together, some really good games together, and get some wins," said goaltender Ondrej Pavelec.

"It seems like we're not able to win back-to-back games. And that's what you have to focus on, to keep going and to beat the Sharks... If you look at the standings in the West, it seems like everyone is winning around us. We have to keep going."

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 10, 2013 B3

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