Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Home needs to be sweeter

Jets have a chance to join playoff party if they can regain mojo at the MTS Centre

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There are warts, some of them much more visible than others. Then again, every team in the National Hockey League has blemishes it would prefer remain masked.

But as the Winnipeg Jets return home after a long stretch away from the MTS Centre -- nine of their last 11 games were on the road -- it might be time to take a breath and analyze where they've been, where they're at and where they are possibly headed. Remember, it was a month ago when the Jets were leaking oil after losing three straight at home to fall to 5-8-1. And with the nasty road stretch staring them in the face, the next chunk of the season was described as one that could define their season.

That may have been a bit premature, but here's what their 6-2-1 run on the road -- and grabbing 13 of a possible 18 points -- has done for the Jets: while they are still staring up at the Eastern Conference playoff teams, it has very much put them back into the post-season discussion. And with 14 of their last 23 games at home, it wouldn't be too much of a leap to suggest the franchise is in a glorious position to secure just its second playoff appearance -- and first in the last six years -- in franchise history.

If it can rediscover its home mojo.

Yes, in one of those odd developments that makes the Jets so confounding, this squad that was solid at home a year ago has really yet to find that magic through the first part of 2013. The Jets are just 4-6 at the MTS Centre this year, the lowest home point total in the entire league.

Discuss among yourselves but here are four key reasons why home hasn't been so sweet this year:

 

1. SPECIAL TEAMS

Excuse us for flogging this dead beast, but it must be pummelled again. The Jets penalty kill, which was absolutely horrid in four games this year and has skewed their percentage, is ranked 22nd on the road but just 28th at home. And the power-play numbers are worse: 18th on the road; 28th at home.

Here's the killer stat: a year ago the Jets sported the second-best home power play in the NHL (only Nashville was better).

What it means: This doesn't need a whole lot of explaining, really. The penalty kill numbers have improved drastically, but if the Jets are going to truly push for a playoff spot, their power play has to show a pulse. Winnipeg doesn't have a power-play goal in its last seven games and is an anemic 1-for-36 in its last 16 games.

 

2. THE GOOD START / SCORING FIRST THEORY

During the last four-game trip -- during which captain Andrew Ladd suggested his team played a game and a half -- the Jets were awful in the opening 20 minutes of their first visit in a 4-1 loss to Florida and just as bad in the opening frame of Sunday's shootout loss to New Jersey. But in their remarkable turnaround on the road of late the Jets, 7-2-1 in their last 10, have scored first in eight of those games.

By comparison, the Jets have scored first in just four of their 10 home dates.

What it means: Here's where the score-first theory, admittedly, loses some traction -- in three of the four games the Jets have won at home they did NOT score first as they rallied to beat Pittsburgh, the New York Islanders and Florida aver giving up the opening goal.

 

3. GOOD START THEORY, PART DEUX

If it's true a team can be lifted up by the home crowd -- as the Jets were on so many nights in their first season back -- then consider this: only once in their 10 home games have the Jets carried a lead into the second period (five times they were tied, four games they trailed).

What it means: Do they Jets wait for their faithful to lift them up, instead of the opposite? The evidence is far from concrete, but the answer could become clearer over the next month or so.

 

4. HIT THE BLEEPIN' NET

Just so there is no confusion, an NHL net is four feet high and six feet across. It only seems like it's smaller at the MTS Centre for the Jets. Consider this: the Jets, who are tied with Phoenix for the second-most missed shots in the NHL (only Ottawa has more), average 10.8 missed shots on the road this year, but 15.6 at the MTS Centre.

What it means: The Jets apologists will suggest it could be as simple as how statisticians measure shots/missed shots from rink to rink. But of the 10 home games this year, five have been decided by one goal and three others have included an empty-net goal. Translation: Aside from the season-opening 4-1 loss to Ottawa and Washington's 3-0 win earlier this month, the Jets have been in eight of their 10 home games. And if you can't hit the net in those tight contests, the chances of winning drop dramatically.

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

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 12, 2013 D2

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