Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

For 3-5-0 Jets, home is where the hard is

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WITH the Winnipeg Jets, it used to be revel in the MTS Centre and dread the road.

In recent days, games elsewhere have brought the results. So do the Jets fear stepping back on home ice tonight, where they have lost four straight?

"I don't, no," Jets coach Claude Noel said Wednesday, speaking for his team on a well-earned day off that followed four wins in five away games. "I think our players' hearts are in the right place. We just need to play well and be patient. The only thing that you're always somewhat worried about is when you come home off a long road trip.

"We dealt with that demon all the time last year and I thought we handled it pretty well. To me, there's too much support here (to go wrong). Sometimes you might fear overtrying, but that's a little different."

Heading for tonight's contest versus the New Jersey Devils (7 p.m., TSNJets, TSN1290), Winnipeg is 6-4-1 on the road and just 3-5-0 at the MTS Centre.

"Our homestand had not been good before we left, so it's time to get that area repaired," Noel said. "But it's the same thing, when you plug one hole, another one opens up."

The Jets plugged holes very well on the road. And their 4-1 mark on the trip might even have been better but for a third-period meltdown in Philadelphia.

That defeat in Game 3 of the trip did not lead to anything worse, despite the fact the Jets had nothing but grief to show for their visits to New Jersey and New York's Madison Square Garden last season.

"It's easy to say this but maturity would be one of (the reasons)," Noel said. "The fact that we have a belief system that we're better than last year and we feel that... when you look at that Philadelphia game, we've been through quite a few of those games this year."

The Jets were aided by many pluses, including scoring first in each of the five road games, and some timely goals later on.

You should add leadership to that, Noel said Wednesday.

"One thing you can't deny, at least from my standpoint, is the leadership of our team," he said. "And a lot of that has to be pointed at our leadership group, led by Andrew Ladd.

"He brings the will to the game. He brings that quiet confidence and he's been a big producer as well. I know Evander (Kane) has been on a streak but Ladder's bringing that confidence that we can get it done and he leads by example."

That confidence is also helping the team fix a record that was sagging badly in one-goal decisions.

The Jets, ignoring empty-net goals, have played what have turned out to be one-goal games in 10 of their last 11 outings. By winning three of four of those on the trip after losing four of those in a row at home, their mark on the 11-game stretch is 5-5.

"It's a real test on your resolve," Noel said. "A lot of times it tests your character and confidence, (because) it becomes brittle.

"We seem to embrace (close games) right now. We're not afraid of it. You could have looked two weeks ago during a stretch of time, where you play like you're waiting for the wheels to fall off, where now we're looking forward to the game and knowing a quiet confidence makes us feel like this is under control."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 28, 2013 D3

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