PITTSBURGH -- Every once in a while an over-served fan or member of the media will make a snarky comment about the Winnipeg Jets still being the Atlanta Thrashers but for different jerseys.
The comment is viewed as an ugly slur in Winnipeg. However, until the Jets can complete the trick of actually earning a playoff spot they can't really begin to shed the label.
Atlanta made the post-season just once in 11 seasons of operation and for the Jets to reach the accomplishment in just their second season would put them well ahead of the Thrashers' success curve.
Winnipeggers, of course, know there all kinds of differences between the franchise from its Atlanta days to now. Fans in the stands and a bottom line showing a profit are nice for beginners.
The Jets will flee the Southeast Division next year under the NHL's realignment plan but it would be nice for those tired of the Thrashers dissing to win a banner on the way out.
The Jets have 14 games left on the regular- season schedule and have worked their way into the third seed of the Eastern Conference and first place in the Southeast Division.
Here are 14 things to ruminate over as the final stretch of the season kicks off tonight in Pittsburgh against the marching Penguins:
1. WILL THE JETS MAKE THE PLAYOFFS?
Let's get right to it, shall we? Definitely. Yes. Well, maybe. Uh, I think so. Confused? Don't be. You're a Winnipeg Jets fan and this team has been hard to figure out. But with points in nine of their last 12 games and wins in four of their last seven games, the Jets are winning when it counts. The Jets have 38 points and a six-point lead in the division. They should win it. Could they collapse? Yup. But I don't see it. I think the Jets will win the division.
2. BIRDS VS. PLANES
Tonight's game between the Penguins and the Jets gives Winnipeg a chance to match up against the best team in hockey. Pittsburgh is far deeper and balanced than the Jets in every area but the net. The teams have met six times in the last two seasons with the Penguins winning four of the games and a couple of them have been lopsided. The Jets will get a chance to see what a Stanley Cup contender looks and operates like with the playoffs just around a month away.
3. WILL ONDREJ PAVELEC EVER REST?
It could happen tonight. Coach Claude Noel said Wednesday he had not made a decision on his starting goalie and after starting Pavelec in 11 straight, it might be time to run Al Montoya out against the Penguins and then bring his No. 1 back in a critical match against the Hurricanes in Winnipeg Saturday. Noel has said, "We need wins and that will dictate our decision," regarding who plays net but Pavelec, who has played more minutes than any goalie in the NHL to date, needs to be protected.
4. CAN OLLI JOKINEN CATCH FIRE?
Yes. Jokinen still has the skill and hockey sense to produce points and he says his legs are finally starting to feel right after a nine-month layoff due to the lockout. Jokinen is 34 and has played more than 1,000 games in the NHL and his legs just haven't bounced back as quickly as some others. But Noel has continued to believe in him and use him. The Jets need that faith to be rewarded down the stretch with Jokinen providing secondary scoring.
5. WILL JACOB TROUBA JOIN THE JETS?
Probably not, but the only people who really know the answer to this are Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff and Trouba. Trouba could leave college and turn pro but he likely wants to step right into the NHL. Can he do that and do the Jets think he can make such a move remain to be seen. Stay tuned.
6. WILL THE JETS MAKE A TRADE?
Again, the only one with the answer to this is Cheveldayoff and while he's said he would like to add a scoring right-winger, he's also on the record as stating he won't "sell the farm," to do so. Cheveldayoff needs to do what he can to take advantage of Winnipeg's current situation as third seed. It's nothing to sneeze at but he can't lose sight of the future. Surely, he wants to be a buyer but the price has to be right.
7. WHAT'S THE SCHEDULE LIKE?
Pretty good. In fact, of the 14 games remaining, only four are against teams in the playoffs as of Wednesday night. Six of the remaining games are on the road and eight at home. Winnipeg has two more against the Carolina Hurricanes, who are chasing them in the Southeast. Those games are key. An interesting schedule tidbit has the Jets closing the season at home to the Montreal Canadiens. It's likely the Habs will have their situation settled by this point and will be in position to rest No. 1 goalie Carey Price and a few other key players.
8. WHAT DOES TANNER GLASS THINK?
"I hope they get in. The players and the fans deserve it," said the Penguins winger and former Jet Wednesday. "That's a hockey mad city and they know their stuff. It'd be a lot of fun out there if they got in."
9. IS JAROME IGINLA MOVING TO WINNIPEG?
No. Winnipeg isn't on the list of destinations for which Iggy has agreed to waive his no-trade clause. Even if he was willing to make the Jets his next team, it's unlikely Cheveldayoff would pay the asking price of a first-round pick and two prospects for the aging power forward.
10. WHAT ABOUT A WHITEOUT?
Sooner or later if the Jets get into the playoffs this is going to be a hot topic of conversation. Don't let anyone tell you what to do. If the fans want it and it's an organic movement, fantastic. Let the people in the stands decide what they want to wear to games.
11. WHO IS THE JETS MVP?
Take your pick. Scoring leader and Mr. Consistency Andrew Ladd or the purveyor of Pavelec-tricity, Ondrej the giant. Both have been top notch and the Jets would hate to think where they would be without either of them.
12. HOCKEY WORLD, MEET CLAUDE NOEL
If the season ended today the Jets would open the playoffs against the Toronto Maple Leafs. The media crush would be ridiculous and the mad professor would be front and centre. Noel is off the wall at times but passionate and proving very effective right now. He's not exactly Winnipeg's little secret but a series with Toronto would certainly heighten his exposure.
13. BUFF MUST CATCH HIS BREATH
Jets all-star blue-liner Dustin Byfuglien has played heavy minutes in a condensed schedule and the wear and tear is showing. The Jets need him to regain his oomph for the stretch run. The return of Toby Enstrom has already given him a lift.
14. STAR STRUCK FOR EVANDER
Jets' up-and-coming superstar Evander Kane has proven to be a streaky player. A recent drought ended on Tuesday with a four-point outing and if he's about to go on another hot run, look out. He can be a difference-maker when the Jets need one most.
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IS SID BETTER THAN EVER? D3