Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Jets are monsters at home, weaklings on the road

Their fans give the Jets an edge at the MTS Centre but a playoff spot depends on solving their travelling woes

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The short, concise scouting report on the Winnipeg Jets, 2011-12 edition, would go something like this:

Scary-good at home, scary-stinky on the road.

Knowing all that, Claude Noel & Co. have gone bonkers trying to come up with some solutions to this split personality, one that has plagued the club from October to March. And it's especially troubling knowing that this is a disorder that could ultimately cost the club a spot in the Stanley Cup derby.

The team's mental toughness has been debated. Its maturity, too. The power-play/penalty-killing numbers are held up by some as have been the usual considerations like familiarity, home cooking, travel and fatigue.

But Noel leaned on another factor as to why this team is dominant at home and struggles on the road. And it might be the simplest and most plausible explanation of all.

"There's an accountability factor at home," Noel stated on Thursday, not long after a handful of players participated in an optional skate at the MTS Centre. "There is on the road, but the accountability factor on the road is more internal, in the locker-room. I've seen (domination at home) before, but this is different because of the fans. The fans have a lot to do with what we do here. They deserve some credit, they really do. I'm not trying to send them a million accolades, but they do deserve some credit.

"It's a good place to play. How could you not like playing here?"

Clearly, the Jets are absolutely loving it. Winnipeg's 22-10-4 home record is eighth best in the NHL, but the numbers go deeper than that. The Jets have the NHL's top-rated power play at home and, fuelled by what is now considered the loudest building in the land, seldom go stretches where there is an emotional or physical lull in their play.

The fans, simply put, won't have it.

"They give us a lot of energy. We seem to skate better and we always seem to get the first goal and get our fans involved," said Blake Wheeler.

"It makes it really tough on other teams. Especially in December when we were really good at home, I think that's kind of what we learned, that if we get off to good starts, it'll make it a long night for the other team.

"Personally, I've never seen it before. I've been on teams that played way better on the road than at home. So I don't know. I think it's a confidence thing. It just seems, I don't want to say it, almost effortless. The mindset is that at home we're going to win. On the road, it's like we're trying our darndest to make it work and sometimes that's not a good thing either. You're trying too hard and you end up doing things that aren't really what have gotten you to where you're at.

"If we can get a little bit of confidence and figure out what it takes to win road games, then I think that should come full circle."

But the clock on finding that road confidence is tick-tick-ticking: the Jets play host to Washington in a critical matchup tonight and Carolina on Sunday before playing seven of their final 10 on the road. If this issue isn't resolved lickety-split, their home dominance may be moot.

And, frankly, Noel is getting a little weary of answering the same concerns over and over again.

"You know, there's so much talk about home and the road... I just hope we win on the road so that the talk goes away," Noel said. "We're in a good place right now with these last 12 games. I don't fear going on the road and I don't think our team does. We look forward to it. There's a lot being made of it, but I think we're looking forward to playing these games and getting them done."

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

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 16, 2012 0

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