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Mission playoffs: Plenty to address as Jets get back to work

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PHILADELPHIA, PA -- They are gathering again after brief winter interludes that took them to the east coast, west coast, the home base on the Prairies, the Caribbean and points unknown with one, singular goal in mind:

A spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The Winnipeg Jets get back to work after the NHL all-star break with a practice at the University of Pennsylvania this afternoon. They are currently in 10th spot in the Eastern Conference, sporting a roster that desperately needs to get healthy and an offence that needs a spark -- all with 32 games left in the 2011-12 season in which to crank things up for an invitation to the NHL's annual post-season sprint to glory.

Consider this, then, a bit of a refresher on the Jets and what's ahead:

 

The Standings

-- The Jets are 22-22-6, 10th in the Eastern Conference and 22nd overall. That leaves them with 50 points, five back of Toronto, Washington, New Jersey and Florida -- all clustered together with 55 points in the conference.

-- Washington and Florida lead the Southeast Division, meaning the Jets are five points out of first place in their division and the third overall seed in the playoffs (behind the winners of the Northeast and Atlantic Divisions).

-- Worth noting: The Jets are also five points out of 15th in the Eastern Conference -- Carolina has 45 points -- while the Tampa Lightning have won four straight to improve to 21-23-4 and 46 points. That's four back of the Jets and with two games in hand.

-- Worth noting, the sequel: After a dominant stretch in December -- 10-3-1 -- the Jets are 3-8-1 in January. And as much as they want to distance themselves from the past -- the Atlanta Thrashers made the playoffs once in 11 seasons and have been absent for the past four springs -- this franchise took a similar nosedive at this time last year. From Game 50 to the end of last season the Thrashers went 11-18-3 and completely tumbled out of the playoff fight.

The schedule

-- The Jets are in the middle of their second-longest road trip of the season, even if it is busted up by the all-star break -- Winnipeg is 0-2 on this six-game trek after losses last week in Raleigh and in New York and resumes Tuesday in Philly and with games Thursday in Tampa, Friday against Florida and Sunday in Montreal.

-- Winnipeg has 16 games remaining on the road, including six of their next seven, before an eight-game homestand that runs from Feb. 17-March 5.

-- The Jets road record is an awful 7-14-4; 22nd overall in the league. If they can tread water for this next stretch, that chunk of games next month at MTS Centre may very well define whether this bunch are spectators or participants in late April.

Sick bay

The Jets aren't saying much about the returns of Evander Kane (concussion; missed three games); Dustin Byfuglien (knee, 15 games) and Tim Stapleton (lower body, three games). Depending on the severity of Kane's symptoms, he could be at work as soon as Tuesday in Philly; Byfuglien was trying to get comfy wearing a knee brace and Stapleton may be good to go. A team spokesman said Sunday the trio's status for the road trip beginning today was 'undetermined.'

 

What's working

-- The Jets penalty-kill unit is operating at an 83.7 per cent clip, good for 11th best in the NHL. It has been especially effective of late, killing off 20 of the last 21 short-handed situations, a 95.2 per cent rate.

-- Winnipeg is 16-7-2 when scoring first.

-- The Jets are 15-8-2 at home, the ninth-best home record in the NHL.

-- Both Ondrej Pavelec (.909 save percentage) and Chris Mason (.910) continue to give the Jets excellent goaltending.

 

What's not

-- With Byfuglien and Kane out, the Jets scoring has gone south, especially in January. Winnipeg has been outscored 35-20 this month and has been held to one goal or less 18 times this season. The Jets are averaging 2.46 goals per game, 22nd in the NHL.

-- The Jets are 3-6 in overtime and 1-3 in the shootout.

-- Two numbers that scream out to the Jets' lack of scoring and their resiliency -- some would say mental toughness: the club is 1-11-1 when trailing after the first period this year and 0-16-3 when behind after 40 minutes. Comeback artists they are not.

-- Winnipeg's record in the second of back-to-back games is now 0-8 -- with five more scheduled this season, four of them on the road.

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 30, 2012 C3

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