December 8, 2013 Sections
Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Two down, how many to go?
The Winnipeg Jets have banked victories from the first two games of their season-long six-game homestand, moving to 42 points in 41 games and in the thick of the chase for Eastern Conference playoff spots.
So headed for tonight's homestand Game No. 3 against the Florida Panthers, the Jets have the post-season within reach.
In their final seven games -- including tonight's and three more at home next week -- do they need nine points? Ten? More?
"I think we just have to treat every game the same," Jets defenceman Zach Bogosian said Wednesday. "I think if we start thinking outside of our circle in here that you can get distracted.
"I don't think we're really playing out scenarios of how many wins or losses. I think we're going into every game trying to get the two points. That's how we have to do things."
You can believe Bogosian, but never doubt that the Jets know the calculations.
"For us it's this homestand," winger Kyle Wellwood said. "We knew we had six games and we had to win five. You just had to get 10 points out of it. That's the focus now, to get through this homestand with as many wins as we can and have three games left and then you can start saying, 'You need four points,' or six or whatever.
"But right now, it's too easy to fall off the mark so you know what you have to do at home to give yourself a chance."
To give themselves that chance, here are five high-priority factors for those final seven games:
SPECIAL TEAMS: Always the most obvious late in the regular season and through the playoffs. The Jets' penalty killing, by and large, has straightened itself out after the most dreadful of beginnings. Its bottom-10 ranking, because of that terrible start, might fool some into thinking it's not very good but it's been running at 88.1 per cent over 24 games since Feb. 24. If that was the whole season percentage, the Jets would be No. 2 in that department.
The team's power play, on the other hand, has had droughts of eight, seven and now seven games in this season. When the year is 48 games, well, all you can say is there's pretty much nowhere to go but up.
TOP LINE: Another obvious choice, but it can't be ignored. Examine the trouble and the zeroes Bryan Little, Blake Wheeler and Andrew Ladd had over the team's five-game losing streak. Then, notice the production from the last two games?
They obviously don't need any more pressure than is already being heaped upon them, but it's just hard to imagine the Jets earning a playoff spot without the line being productive.
PRACTICE: Rare it has been during this season. But now, in this late segment where all their travels and schedule mayhem are providing some payback in the form of some rest and a sane couple of weeks, there may well be another practice this week.
There will be an opportunity for one, maybe two practices for the Jets next week.
It's long past the time for crack-the-whip sessions, but advantage should be taken for any luxury time to sharpen their game or work out some kinks.
These opportunities are not to be squandered given Winnipeg's razor-thin margin for success.
MORE FROM ALL: Jets coach Claude Noel has struggled all season to involve all lines, a storyline that has not received much attention. Injuries, game scores and the temptation to ride the top guns until they drop have hampered his efforts an many nights but fresher front-line players always prove to be better. Maintaining a distribution of ice time more similar to the team's most recent two games, both wins, could be a subtle yet determining factor for the games that remain.
Keep in mind that it's easy to have this intention, a lot tougher to follow it.
SCOREBOARD WATCHING: The reality is that it can't be avoided. And you need to know where you stand. But the less energy and emotion invested in things like "those Boston Bruins didn't help us tonight," the better. The simple truth of it is, if you're relying on others to do your dirty work, you haven't gone about your own very well.
The derivative distraction is looking three games down the road.
The results will be revealed in due time, Noel said.
"I have an idea when you're talking points and that stuff but I don't immerse myself in that," Noel said. "I just try to keep with the task. There are no other options now. We're at the end here now.
"When you're doing all this stuff, at the end of the day it's still going to be about the game in front of you. Do all the legwork you want, have all the dinosaurs running in my head as much as you want, it's still you have to look after the game. You can't lose sight of the picture. If you start getting yourself immersed over there, you lose sight of this and then it's like, oh (no)."
What's left for teams in the Southeast Division:
What's left in the Eastern Conferencerace for playoff positions:
NEW YORK ISLANDERS
NEW YORK RANGERS
NEW JERSEY DEVILS
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 11, 2013 D3
Updated on Thursday, April 11, 2013 at 6:37 AM CDT:
replaces photos, adds fact box