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Jets on mountain collision course

Next 7 opponents are .500 or better

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There are going to be other testy stretches of the NHL schedule for the Winnipeg Jets -- eight of nine on the road around the all-star break, for instance -- but the season-long road trip of seven games that starts Thursday in Philadelphia's Wells Fargo Center is looking like a tall collection of mountains.

Not a single one of Winnipeg's seven upcoming opponents, heading into Tuesday night's play, had a losing record.

So at 2-5-1 through eight games, the Jets will be well-advised to keep that massage therapist on hand for the strained neck muscles. There will be plenty of looking up to see where they'd like to be.

Up is the direction the team should contemplate soon, otherwise any participation in the playoff discussion will be an act of sheer folly.

Just to get back home at .500 for the Nov. 10 MTS Centre game against Florida will require a trip of 5-2, which is quite a distance from Winnipeg's current GPS standings location.

Head coach Claude Noel knows all these things. And whatever their shortcomings so far, his players know them just as well.

"You have to have targets, you just have to always reassess your targets," Noel said Tuesday, a recharge day off for his club ahead of its time away.

"And the judgements that you make are: Are your targets too far away? Do they seem unreachable? If you think that they are, then you have to rein in the targets and make them closer and more reachable. That's really all that goal setting is.

"I think they are still reachable. I think our group still thinks they are."

"The cautionary area there would be that you have negativity and frustration and poor values that come into play and when those values come into play they are negative distractions and that's where you have to try to get them steered in the right direction."

The distractions are many. Good efforts that result in losses like Monday's against the Rangers. Poor efforts that result in losses like those against Montreal, Phoenix, Ottawa. Too many penalties. Too many power-play goals against. Too few game-gripping performances.

According to the coach, there are no white towels just yet.

"If we're going to be a playoff team, which I think we're capable of, then you're going to have to win on the road," he said. "There's no question. Your target has to be being a .500 team. We're a little ways away from that so that's the first step. We've got to win one and then go from there."

Philadelphia is not a popular choice for places to start. But like he said, you've got to start somewhere and go from there.

The last five periods-plus of Jets hockey, were it the only basis for a judgment on this team, would not lead to worry or panic. Which probably prompted this comment from Noel: "I think we're doing the right thing in the right areas and trying to get this thing into the right areas."

He has seen both good and bad in the first eight games, so building and growing are surely factored into the big-picture gameplan.

The smaller picture is what requires the attention, however.

"You're dealing with four-point games," the coach said. "If you're going to get into the playoffs you have to take advantage of clean wins, especially in your division and your conference. You have to knock somebody out and not knock ourselves out in the meantime."

In dealing with this big picture, a method that served the franchise well through a challenging summer might be the best course.

GM Kevin Cheveldayoff and assistant GM Craig Heisinger were fond of saying that when the big picture -- like moving two franchises in 106 days -- looked darn near impossible, they just put on the blinkers, went to the daily checklist and concerned themselves about stroking off items one by one.

Why not the upcoming road trip, too?


Thursday: at Philadelphia, 5-2-1

Saturday: at Tampa Bay, 3-3-2

Monday: at Florida, 5-3-0

Thurs., Nov. 3: at NY Islanders, 3-3-0

Sat., Nov. 5: at N.J. Devils, 3-2-1

Sun., Nov. 6: at N.Y. Rangers, 3-2-1

Tues., Nov. 8: at Buffalo, 5-2-0.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 26, 2011 C1

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