Winnipeg Jets head coach Claude Noel has suggested several times this season that while his team is not yet playing -- or winning -- at the level of a playoff team, he believes they are "close."
Well, it turns out the numbers not only back up Noel's assertion, they suggest the Jets are "closer" -- at least in one sense -- than any other team in the NHL right now.
With a 2-1 defeat to the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday night at the MTS Centre, the Jets have now been involved in 19 one-goal games this season, tying them for the league lead in that category with the New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders and Calgary Flames.
Of course, being involved in one-goal games is one thing. Winning them is quite another -- as the woeful Flames and Islanders can attest. And therein lies the rub when it comes to the Jets, who are just 7-8-4 in one-goal games this season -- a .421 winning percentage that ranks them 22nd in the NHL.
The portrait that emerges is one of a team that can compete with any other team in the league -- like they did this week against the Blues -- but which must still learn how to win -- as they didn't Tuesday against the Blues.
So what now? What do you do after a game that saw you grind out 60 minutes of what by consensus was some of your club's best defensive play of the season only to lose in the dying minutes of the third period on a seeing-eye, knuckle-puck goal?
Buckle up and buckle down.
"It's really disappointing," Jets defenceman Mark Stuart said, "but you've got to move on and get ready for the next game. So that was our focus today -- having a good skate and a good practice and getting ready for Colorado."
Indeed, if there was any silver lining behind the tough loss to the Blues on Tuesday, it was that the Jets didn't have much time to feel sorry for themselves with the Avalanche already in town to provide a new test at the MTS Centre tonight.
If past performance is the most reliable predictor of future performance, expect yet another close-checking, one-goal, nail-biter game tonight out of the Jets against another Central Division rival.
"It's definitely not an easy game -- you've got to be ready to go for the whole 60 minutes," said Jets centre Bryan Little of his club's propensity for the close game. "You saw (Tuesday) night, if you ever let up, it's in the back of your net.
"It's definitely not an easy game playing in the one-goal games, but it's something we're comfortable with. And we're giving ourselves a chance to win every night when we're in close games."
Noel was asked how his team can go about turning those "chances to win" into actual wins.
"That's what we're all challenged with. We're trying to grow and grow at a faster rate, but it's not going as fast as we'd like," said Noel.
email@example.com Twitter: @PaulWiecek