Pack your bags, Winnipeg Jets -- its time to spread your wings.
Following a successful December, a month loaded with home dates which saw the club put up a 9-2-1 record at the MTS Centre and announce their intentions in the Eastern Conference playoff race, the Jets are now charting a different course. Winnipeg (19-14-5, 43 points, seventh in the conference) heads outside their comfort zone for the next six weeks or so, a stretch that puts the team on the road for 15 of its next 21 games.
On the surface, it appears to be a daunting task for a group that has just five wins in 17 games as the visitor and has been statistically better in most categories at home than on the road, but December has introduced a new factor to this Jets equation.
They are a confident team right now.
A different team, they say.
"When you look at the game (Saturday) and the games this month, I think our team play is really solid," head coach Claude Noel said after the 3-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on New Years Eve. "Were responsible and were playing with some real passion and doing some really good things. I dont see it changing on the road. There may be a little difference in battle level but all in all, weve done good.
"Were in a good place."
The players sense the climb to a higher altitude, too. Defenceman Zach Bogosian says the unpredictable days of November, when the Jets "were just getting (their) feet wet," have evolved into a more consistent effort on a nightly basis. Theyre not going to cower in the face of the task, they say, nor can they dwell on tough losses when they happen.
Theres still a long way to go, Bogosian adds.
"Look at (Saturday), how tight it was out there," he said. "Its a one-goal game. Who knows if one of those goals doesnt go in? You can look back at the end of the season (at these), but you just have to make sure youre moving forward.
"I think were a better team than we were in the first two months of the season."
The Jets, on a three-game win streak, head to Montreal for a game against the Canadiens Wednesday (6:30 p.m.). After the Habs, they face the Leafs on Thursday and the Buffalo Sabres Saturday before wrapping up a nine-day, four-game road trip next Tuesday (Jan. 10) in Boston.
The fact Montreal, Toronto and Buffalo all trail Winnipeg in the tight Eastern Conference -- eight points separate sixth spot (New Jersey, 43 points) from 13th place (Montreal, 35 points) -- gives the road games a little more weight. Thats not news to the players, as the standings watch has already become a point of emphasis on a daily basis.
The hope is Decembers mojo can carry into January.
"If you can get yourself separated (from the line) a little bit, like 10 points clear or whatever, youll feel a lot better about where youre headed as a team as opposed to every night grinding with six other teams playing and switching spots," defenceman Ron Hainsey said.
DEPARTURE: The Jets reassigned forward Patrice Cormier to the St. Johns IceCaps Sunday. The 21-year-old saw action in two games with the Jets, filling in for injured centre Jim Slater.
Slater has been dealing with a rib/oblique issue most of the week but was feeling better over the last 48 hours. He should be back in the lineup when the Jets travel to Montreal for Wednesdays game.
Cormier, who had no points in his short time in Winnipeg, has 13 points in 28 games with the IceCaps this season.
-- with files from Tim Campbell;
ITS simple, really. Capitalizing on a friendly December schedule has put the Winnipeg Jets in the top half of the Eastern Conference; approaching that success in a road-heavy stretch over the next six-plus weeks will keep them there. A look at what the Jets have in front of them and where the pockets of turbulence might be:
Starting with a game in Montreal Wednesday, the Jets play 15 of their next 21 games away from the MTS Centre.
Reason for worry: Winnipeg has looked like a different team on the road, unable to consistently match the same intensity they have at home.
Reason for optimism: Winnipeg has picked up at least a point in nine of the 17 away games this season.
The 15 road games on the docket: Montreal, Toronto, Buffalo, Boston, Ottawa, New Jersey, Carolina, New York Rangers, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, Florida, Montreal, Washington, Pittsburgh, and Minnesota. Outside of the Wild, all are against Eastern Conference members. Movement -- up or down -- will certainly occur.
Longest stretch away from home ice: Jan. 22-Feb. 5. The 15-day span has six road dates but is broken up by the NHL All-Star extravaganza in Ottawa (Jan. 26-30), making for two shorter travel itineraries. The Jets have a pair of two-game homestands this month and two one-game outings at MTS Centre in February to help chop up life on the road.
Scheduling woes: The Jets have four back-to-back blocks in the next 21 games. Its a scheduling reality that has been an issue for the club; Winnipeg is 0-5 in the second half of back-to-backs this season. More bad news: The Jets last road game of this stretch (Minnesota, Feb. 16) is followed by a home game against Boston the next night.
Power-play split: At home, Winnipeg is firing at a 21 per cent clip (16-of-76) with the man advantage, good for fifth in the NHL. As the visiting team, the Jets are only at 14 per cent (7-of-50), a deficiency that places them 25th. The power play needs to be better in the road whites.