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How to be a perfectly rotten host

Jets striving to make the MTS Centre a miserable place to visit

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The Winnipeg Jets didn't author the 'How to protect thine house' manual -- after all, it's been a sporting commandment since somebody started keeping score -- but they did pen their own compelling chapter against the Tampa Bay Lightning earlier this week.

And now the goal of Claude Noel, Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien & Co. is to do it again. And again. And again. And again.

Yes, call it ambitious or pure folly, but this occasionally confounding Jets squad that has teased and disappointed through the early stages of the 2011-12 season is intent on turning the MTS Centre -- packed every night with 15,004 diehards -- into one of the NHL's hated destinations for visitors.

"We have the tools in place. We have a great building. We have great fans," said Jets' defenceman Mark Stuart the other day. "It's about jumping on teams right away with the first few shifts, sticking up for each other and playing physical. It can be like a pack mentality at home and fans feed off it.

"Now it's just a matter of putting that effort in place consistently to form that identity because it's a process. The teams that have done that over the last few years, it took them awhile to develop and establish that their buildings are hard places to come into and play."

It's true: Right now all this is still mostly theory with just a few snippets of anecdotal evidence, many of which were served up in Monday's 5-2 victory over the Bolts that evened the Jets home record at 3-3.

No doubt there have already been some duds at the barn -- the 5-1 opening loss to the Montreal Canadiens when the home side was seemingly swallowed up by the moment and last week's stinker against the Florida Panthers in which an indifferent Jets squad was actually booed -- and some thrilling efforts as well.

And count the win over Tampa as one of them. In fact, consider Monday's victory the perfect how-to-win-at-home blueprint, the keys to which are:

-- Jump on a team early: Evander Kane scored less than five minutes in to ignite a crowd that had given the Jets a standing ovation -- the same team that was winless in five games going in and was awful in its last home performance -- before the opening faceoff;

-- Fuel the enthusiasm by keeping the pedal to the metal: Dustin Byfuglien's goal less than nine minutes after Kane's opener had the crowd whipped into a lather;

-- Some luck/solid special teams: Tampa's Steven Stamkos hit the post one minute into the second and the Jets then killed off a double-minor to Zach Bogosian before a power-play goal by Mark Flood increased the lead to 3-0;

-- Count on your last line of defence: goaltender Ondrej Pavelec covered up any defensive breakdowns with some stellar play in the Jets net.

Now while teams are still in their developmental stages, the Jets are into a critical stretch that will be pivotal in shaping how 2011-12 is remembered.

Monday's win over Tampa was the first of a three-game homestand this week with games against Washington and Philadelphia on Thursday and Saturday. And following a road trip next week that takes them to Washington, Carolina and Boston, the Jets then enter a stretch where they will play 13 of 15 games at home to finish up the calendar year.

In short: a ticket to the playoffs surely won't be punched in December, but the Jets could miss the post-season train without a dominant run here.

""It's important for us to get some wins here," said Jets winger Tanner Glass. "This is a city that knows its hockey and is a knowledgeable fan base. And so they're not going to just mindlessly cheer for you. You've got to give them a reason.

"And you've got to do it consistently."

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

A tough place to play

Top five home records in 2011-12... (Entering Wednesday's action)

Chicago Blackhawks: 7-1-2 (11-4-3 overall)

Pittsburgh Penguins: 6-1-1 (11-4-3)

Washington Capitals: 6-1-1 (10-4-1)

Edmonton Oilers: 6-1-1 (9-6-2)

St. Louis Blues: 6-1-1 (9-7-1)

Notable: Last season 23 of the 30 teams posted a winning record at home; that group did not included the Atlanta Thrashers (17-17-7), who finished 25th overall.

In 11 years in Atlanta the Thrashers posted a winning home record just four times.

The previous incarnation of the Jets (1979-80 to 1995-96) had a winning record at the old Winnipeg Arena in nine of 17 seasons.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 17, 2011 C2

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