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Jets need to overcome road woes

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Please return to your seats, Winnipeg Jet fans, fasten your seat belts and ensure your tray tables are in their full upright position.

Yes, after a long stretch at home that featured mostly sunny skies, this occasionally astounding, sometimes-confounding hockey team is jetting off again for games this week in Vancouver and Calgary as part of a schedule that will see them play nine of their final 15 outside the friendly skies of Friendly Manitoba.

And if their previous road woes have taught us anything about this bunch, it's this: it may soon be experiencing turbulence so severe everyone may be scrambling to find those air-sickness bags.

Then again, let's spin this another way...

Consider this: while they do sport one of the NHL's ugliest road records at 11-17-4, the Jets are 4-3 in their last seven away from the MTS Centre, are coming off a 5-1-2 homestand and are 6-2-2 in their last 10 -- all respectable numbers that has everyone in their colours sticking out their chests with pride.

Question now is, can they take this act playing to such rave reviews at home onto the road and have the same success?

"We're in a good place right now," head coach Claude Noel said Tuesday. "We've used this homestand to our advantage to get back in the standings and get back above the (playoff) line and build a little bit of confidence in our game. This will be an opportunity to see if we can push it forward here."

It's more than just that, of course. The Jets are likely going to need in the neighbourhood of 20 points in their remaining 15 games to be playing meaningful hockey in mid-April and so a chunk of that MUST come on the road. Of their nine road games, six come against Eastern Conference rivals and four are against Southeast Division opponents.

Now, knowing that they can't magically teleport 15,004 crazies to their remaining road games, the Jets have instead come up with a new term they hope will help them transfer the energy they benefit from here to the road.

It's called '"creating their own noise" and it apparently comes courtesy Dustin Byfuglien from the post-game chat following Monday's 3-1 victory over Buffalo.

"Buff said (Monday) it's about creating our own noise," said winger Chris Thorburn. "Obviously we're going into some pretty hostile buildings. We've got to play our game and execute our game plan. We've kind of dumbed things down here. It's baby steps. For a lot of us this is new, being in this kind of a race this late in the season. It's exciting. It's fresh. We're proud to be in this position.

"We've just grown as a team. We've become closer and we're just learning how to win. Whether it's experience or whatever it is, it's worked out well for us. We've developed a lot of team toughness throughout the course of the year. It's gotta show coming up on this road trip."

Translating their home success to the road -- creating their own noise, to use their phrase -- must come via the same elements of their game that have made them so dominant in their building: solid goaltending, outstanding special teams and offensive production from all 18 skaters, particularly their top six.

But it's also about putting their foot on the gas in enemy territory, just as they do here at home.

"For me it doesn't matter if we're playing at home or the road," said captain Andrew Ladd. "We want to do the same things. Obviously, speed and pressure is a big part of our game, but making smart decisions is part of our game, too. It's taking the things were doing well now and translating them to the road. It's realizing what's making us successful.

"At the end of the day, it's great to have the energy we have here, but you still need to do the little things. That's who we are. That's our identity and that's what makes us tough to play against. Now we have to do that on the road."

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

 The race

 The Winnipeg Jets have two potential routes to the post-season: winning the Southeast Division outright and qualifying as the third seed in the Eastern Conference, or by finishing in the top eight in the conference.

 Here’s a look at the Jets and the teams they are battling at this stage:

AWAY GAMES

THURSDAY, MARCH 8  Jets@Canucks

FRIDAY, MARCH 9 Jets@Flames

TUESDAY, MARCH 20 Jets@Penguins

FRIDAY, MARCH 23 Jets@Capitals

SATURDAY, MARCH 24 Jets@Predators

 FRIDAY, MARCH 30 Jets@Hurricanes

 SATURDAY, MARCH 31 Jets@Lightning

 TUESDAY, APRIL 3 Jets@Panthers

 THURSDAY, APRIL 5   Jets@Islanders

 

HOME GAMES

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 14 — Stars@Jets

FRIDAY, MARCH 16 — Capitals@Jets

SUNDAY, MARCH 18 — Hurricanes@Jets

MONDAY, MARCH 26 Senators@Jets

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 28 Rangers@Jets

SATURDAY, APRIL 7 Lightning@Jets

 

THE ROAD AHEAD

 The Jets are going to have to make some serious improvements to their road game in order to lock down a playoff spot. Here’s some of the evidence:

 ● The Jets have 15 games remaining; six at home, nine on the road.

 ● Winnipeg’s road record of 11-17-4 ranks 25th overall.

 ● The Jets are 4-3 in their last seven road games; 10-13-1 since opening the season with a 1-4-1 mark away from the MTS Centre.

 ● Winnipeg has scored 74 goals on the road, an average of 2.31 per game.

 Its goal-differential on the road is -32 (74 GF, 106 GA). At home the Jets average 2.91 goals for and have a +21 ((102 GF, 81 GA) goal differential.

 ● The Jets have the No. 1-ranked home power play (24.8%) but are 28th on the road (12.6%).

 ● The Jets have the 17th-ranked home penalty-killing unit (83.1%), but are 26th on the road (78.3)

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 7, 2012 D1

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