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Jets No. 1 on buzz charts

NHL still talking about smooth relocation, fan intensity

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BOSTON -- On artistic merit, the story of the Winnipeg Jets continues to be a smash hit around the NHL.

A team is relocated to Canada in the middle of 2011, making seven franchises north of the border, and the fan frenzy inside and outside of Winnipeg continues unabated into 2012.

Tongues are still wagging in many corners of the league about the smooth transition and the enthusiasm of Jets supporters.

On the ice, the team is trying to satisfy its vocal fans.

One supposes the good news to the halfway point of the 82-game schedule is that the team is in the playoff hunt, something many did not anticipate.

The Jets are 20-16-5 for 45 points. They were in ninth place in the Eastern Conference on Sunday, just one point off the playoff line.

For the optimists in the crowd, Winnipeg was just three points behind Southeast Division-leading Florida and teams 5 through 8 in the conference standings were all within three points.

"It's the 41-game mark and it feels like there are only 12 games left," Jets coach Claude Noel was saying Saturday, talking about the already-important run of games. "But it's fun. The competition's good.

"At this time of year, there's another level that gets reached at the 41-game mark, and there's going to be another level that gets reached at the 60- and 70-game poles. It's all good stuff."

And there's the heart of the matter.

Noel has been openly throwing out a 96-point goal since the season began. It's the number he believes provides a certain berth in the Stanley Cup tournament.

If that's the case, the Jets have some work to do. To reach Noel's goal, they'd have to collect 51 points in the second half's 41 games, no easy task considering the elevation of play he mentioned.

And lurking nearby as this story continues will be the performance of the Jets last season when they were the Atlanta Thrashers.

An excellent first half which saw the team highly ranked in the conference standings turned into a second-half flop, and the Thrashers finished 12th of 15 teams, had just 34 wins and were 13 points off the playoff line.

"Last year is last year," Jets captain Andrew Ladd said. "I'm not concerned about last year. We're looking forward to what we're doing right now.

"We're still in the mix. With that happening last year, we have to be able to learn from that. I know we have the group in here to do it."

The group is little changed from last season and a familiar roster is finally getting to a comfort level with new management and new coaching staff.

Veteran goalie Chris Mason, the oldest player on the team at 35, said nobody's shying away from the second half because of last season's result.

"We learned last year that the games get a lot harder in the second half," he said. "We tailed right off. But I don't feel like that this year. I feel the guys are just more focused and their understanding of how this team has to move is better."

JETCETERA: After the 2-1 overtime win Saturday in Buffalo, the Jets took Sunday off as a recharge day...They will play the Bruins here Tuesday, but it will be without D Dustin Byfuglien, who remains out with a lower-body injury.

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

 

 

No. 9 on points charts

 

Record: 20-16-5, 45 points

Rank: Ninth in Eastern Conference

Goals deficit: -10 (109-119)

Home record: 14-6-1

Road Record: 6-10-4

Power play: 25 goals, 18.8 per cent, No. 10

Penalty kill: 30 goals against, 82.6 per cent, No. 14

Best streak: Four wins

Worst streak: Three losses (start of season)

Standout stat: 14 home wins, tied for first in the conference.

Worrisome stat: A deficit of 61:42, power-play time minus penalty-kill time, worst in the NHL.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 9, 2012 C3

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