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They're half-decent

Jets a playoff contender at midway point

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It's been the better part of a season and a half -- 106 games, to be exact -- and here's what we've come to learn about the Winnipeg Jets and their on-ice identity:

This is a tough bunch to figure out game to game, week to week.

Yes, the Jets reached the midway mark of the condensed 2013 National Hockey season Friday night at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla., as a club still on the outside looking in on the Eastern Conference playoff picture. They can wow you one night and then look very much like a squad that would struggle to win an intra-squad game the next.

So in that sense -- the consistency in their inconsistency -- we DO have some semblance of the what the Jets are all about: They are the essentially the same outfit they were in Atlanta before heading north. And that would be a .500 hockey club seemingly forever on the playoff bubble.

Consider this, while we're tossing around some numbers: In the last three-and-a-half seasons -- all non-playoff years -- the Jets/Thrashers are a combined 118-116-35.

Now, the analysis of organizational depth and needs heading into the draft will be conducted in the post-season autopsy, whether that includes the franchise's first playoff appearance since 2006-07 or not.

What follows here is a look at some of the hard data the 2013 season has provided through the first 24 games. Draw any conclusions you like...

THE BASIC NUMBERS

The Jets are 12-11-1 for 25 points. That total has them in second spot in Southeast, two back of the Carolina Hurricanes, and ninth in the Eastern Conference -- two points out of a playoff spot.

Winnipeg's 4-6-0 home record is worst in the league in terms of points; its road record of 8-5-1 is 10th-best in the NHL.

The Jets are averaging 2.54 goals per game, 19th- best in the NHL, and allowing 2.96, which is in the bottom third.

SICK-BAY UPDATE

D Toby Enstrom (upper body), has resumed skating but is listed as week-to-week.

D Zach Redmond (lower body) is gone for the season.

F Anthony Peluso (lower body) is listed as week-to-week.

WHAT'S WORKING

THE CAPTAIN: Andrew Ladd has been superb through the first half of the season, posting a team-leading 13 goals and 24 points. Just as important is this number: Three of Ladd's 13 goals have been game-winners.

PHYSICAL PLAY: The Jets are in the NHL's Top 10 in hits, ranking sixth heading into Friday's action. Worth noting: Of the five teams ahead of them -- Toronto, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, New York Rangers and Ottawa -- only the Flyers are not currently in a playoff position.

OFFENSIVE 'D' CORPS: The numbers are down from the beginning of the season, due largely to injury, but the Jets continue to get point production from their defensive crew. Three of the team's top- seven scorers -- Toby Enstrom, Dustin Byfuglien and Ron Hainsey -- are defencemen. Before Enstrom was injured he was leading all NHL D-men in scoring.

KANE IS ABLE: He still tends to be streaky -- he has gone four, eight and now five games without a goal -- but there aren't many nights in which Evander Kane's stat line doesn't jump off the page. His 99 shots is highest in the NHL and he is among the Top 20 in the league in terms of hits.

MR. RELIABLE: Al Montoya has given the Jets reliable goaltending out of the bullpen this season, posting a 3-0 record with a 2.33 goals against average and .909 save percentage.

TROUBLE SPOTS

ICKY PK: The easy target through the first half of the NHL season has been the Jets' penalty-kill unit, which ranks 29th (ahead only of Florida). But there is more to just the ugly numbers here: The Jets have surrendered 18 power-play goals this season but eight of them came in a horrific three-game road trip to Montreal, Florida and Tampa Bay; three more in a loss to Philly on Feb. 23 -- the only blemish on a 4-1 road trip. Eliminate those nightmares and the Jets have surrendered only seven goals in the other 20 games.

Over the last seven games the Jets have not allowed a power-play goal against, a stretch that includes killing off 21 penalties and two 5-on-3 disadvantages totalling two minutes and 56 seconds.

UGLY POWER PLAY: While so many have fixated on the penalty-kill woes, it could be said the bigger concern has to be the ineptitude with the man advantage. The Jets have just one power-play goal in their last 15 games and are 1-for-35 over that stretch. The power play, unlike the improving penalty kill, is headed in the wrong direction. The Jets do not have a 5-on-3 goal this year, despite four opportunities totalling 3:42.

HIT THE NET, PLEASE: They have been called the Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight with good reason: The Jets are third in the NHL with 310 missed shots, an average of 12.92 per game. It's not just the number that is alarming, but the number of open nets and opportunities -- particularly with people in place for rebounds or blocking a goaltender's vision -- that is particularly gruesome.

FOOT SOLDIERS INCONSISTENT: The Jets' No. 1 line of Andrew Ladd (13) Bryan Little (4) and Blake Wheeler (8) have combined for 41 per cent of the Jets' offence (25 of the 61 goals) while the second unit of Evander Kane (9), Nik Antropov (1) and Alex Burmistrov (3) has been good for another 13. But it's the third and fourth lines that must pick up their production and that's why goals from Kyle Wellwood and Eric Tangradi earlier in this trip were critical.

WHAT'S LEFT

The Jets have 14 home games remaining, including their longest stand at the MTS Centre from April 6-20, a stretch of six straight.

Of their last 10 road games, only two -- March 26 at Carolina and April 23 at Washington -- are against Southeast Division rivals.

Here's why re-establishing home ice is huge -- half of the 14 remaining at MTS are against Southeast opponents. If the Jets can stay above .500 on the road and get their home mojo back, there might just be meaningful hockey played here in late April.

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

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 9, 2013 C4

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