LOS ANGELES -- They were cranky and more than a bit surly. And they were absolutely, positively all business.

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This article was published 10/1/2015 (2248 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

LOS ANGELES -- They were cranky and more than a bit surly. And they were absolutely, positively all business.

Oh sure, there were still a few laughs after the Winnipeg Jets finished practice Friday afternoon at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, Calif., -- boys will be boys, after all -- but their on-ice session had all the intensity of a Game 7, prompting one media type to wonder: "What do you think the over-under is on a couple of fights out there today?"

The offensive output of free-agent signing Mathieu Perreault has been a pleasant surprise for the Jets.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

The offensive output of free-agent signing Mathieu Perreault has been a pleasant surprise for the Jets.

For the record, there were none. But between Paul Maurice's barking orders like an angry parent, Mark Stuart finishing checks as if his teammates had stolen his lunch money and the recent tailspin that has seen the club lose four of its last five, the Jets were hardly the picture of a club still owning a Western Conference playoff spot.

"It's not about how long you are going, it's about how hard you are going and how focused you are at practice," began Stuart, who was clearly the tone setter. "We put together a pretty good skate out there today. I thought the guys were engaged and we have a bad taste in our mouths from (Thursday's 4-1 loss to Arizona) and took it out there on the ice."

"This is when you start to see teams pushing for a playoff spot," added Mark Scheifele. "The intensity definitely ramps up. We've got to have that in this room as well, we've got to ramp up the intensity and play it like a playoff game each and every night.

"Everyone wants to play in the playoffs. No one wants to see their season end in mid-April. That's in all these guys minds, that's what we're fighting for right now."

And so while the Jets look like a bloodied and bruised fighter slumped in the corner between rounds right now, the truth of the matter is this: their 47 points is the second-highest first-half total in franchise history -- behind only the 54 they had accumulated in 2006-07, the only time in 14 years they qualified for the playoffs.

Is this Jets edition capable of ending the second-longest NHL playoff drought?

What follows is a look at some of the hard data the 2014-15 season has provided through the first 41 games as well as a peek at what has worked and some of the issues still unresolved.

 

THE BASIC NUMBERS

The Jets are 20-14-7 for 47 points. That total has them fourth in the Central Division, eighth in the Western Conference and tied with Los Angeles for the one of the two wild-card spots.

Winnipeg is just 9-9-3 at home, but a solid 11-5-4 on the road -- seventh-best in the NHL.

 

SICK-BAY UPDATE

  •  D Toby Enstrom (lower body, out since Nov. 25; 19 games missed) -- is on the current road trip and could see action either today in L.A. or Sunday in Anaheim.
  •  D Mark Stuart (lower body, out since Dec. 19; nine games missed) -- see above.
  •  D Jacob Trouba (lower body, out since Dec. 16; 10 games missed) -- is not on the current trip and not expected back until after the all-star break.
  •  D Grant Clitsome (back, out since Jan. 5, two games missed) -- had surgery this week and is likely done for the season.
  • LW Evander Kane (lower body, out since Dec. 29, five games missed) -- travelled with the team and has declared himself ready. Still unlikely he would play this weekend.

Man games lost: 86.

 

WHAT'S WORKING

A DEFENSIVE BLUEPRINT: Maurice began work immediately upon his hire last January at establishing a defensive foundation for a team that finished 22nd in goals against last season and often looked completely discombobulated in its own zone. Through the first half of this year the change has been dramatic, even with the recent downturn: Winnipeg ranks sixth in goals against per game at 2.37, down from last winter's 2.82.

HUTCH IS CLUTCH: Rookie Michael Hutchinson no longer owns the NHL's top goals-against average -- his 1.88 mark is now second to Brian Elliott of St. Louis at 1.81 -- but his .936 save percentage remains the league's best. His play has been not just a revelation for the Jets through the first half, but a godsend. And this story only becomes that much more riveting in the second half because if Hutchinson has stolen the No. 1 gig from Ondrej Pavelec -- management would never publicly admit as much -- his workload should jump considerably from now until April.

BYFUGLIEN SHUFFLIN': It began as an emergency move -- shifting Dustin Byfuglien back to defence from wing only came about after sick bay began piling up with defencemen -- but the big man's play on the blue-line has been solid. Driven by the desire to remain a defenceman and clearly more comfortable working in Maurice's system, Byfuglien is giving the Jets all-star calibre play since the change. This no longer has a temporary feel to it, but a permanent one.

D CORPS DEPTH: Zach Bogosian returned to the lineup Thursday in Arizona and both Stuart and Enstrom could be back as early as this weekend, leaving the Jets with some interesting decisions to make. There has been lots of chatter about moving a piece, but -- when healthy -- the Jets right side D would feature Byfuglien, Trouba and Bogosian with Enstrom, Ben Chiarot and either Jay Harrison or Mark Stuart on the left.

That would leave Paul Postma and Adam Pardy the odd men out and has all kinds of would-be GMs wondering about possible trades. But given this team's injury history along the D corps, it wouldn't be surprising if the organization attempted to keep all of them.

A ROOKIE CONTRIBUTES AND AN UNDER-RATED FREE-AGENT ADDITION: The additions of Adam Lowry and Mathieu Perreault to the Jets top nine didn't exactly rock the NHL and grab big headlines this summer and fall. But Lowry has been steady as a third-line centre/wing and has both a high hockey IQ and solid defensive game. He'll likely never play on this team's top-two trios, but could morph into a double-digit/40-point man for this franchise. Plus, his 6-5 frame is a good fit for the Western Conference.

Perreault has come every bit as advertised for the Jets: He looks comfortable on the wing and at his natural position at centre and is starting to find his offensive mojo with 10 goals in his last 21 games.

 

CAUSES FOR CONCERN

MARKED FOR THE SIN BIN: There's been much discussion of late about the Jets not getting fair shakes from the officials. Look, there is certainly statistical evidence to point to that conspiracy theory -- their 223 penalties is the most in the NHL and their 14.0 minutes per game is second only to Pittsburgh -- but that kind of outcry likely does them no favours.

Maurice said the undisciplined stick infractions were addressed again immediately after the loss to the Coyotes and again on Friday. But we've heard that before and if this team doesn't clean this area up, it could very well be part of a negative second-half storyline.

THE SPECIAL TEAMS: Might be nitpicking here, given the power play has improved steadily since the early portion of the season and now ranks 20th overall and the penalty-kill unit is ranked ninth overall. But the power play is a unit that is having issues in 5-on-3 situations -- whiffing on two opportunities in Thursday's loss to Arizona -- and the failure to capitalize has been critical for a team with such a slim margin of error night to night. The Jets have had 11 two-man advantages this year, totalling seven minutes and 49 seconds, and still have no goals.

The penalty-kill has surrendered six goals in the last four games and the impact of taking so many infractions is not only taxing a depleted defensive corps, but could be affecting the impact of the forwards used on the PK during 5-on-5 and power-play situations of their own.

PRODUCTION FROM THE FOOT SOLDIERS: They've become an easy target, the men who work on the Jets bottom two forward lines. The Jets third and fourth lines -- featuring Lowry between Matt Halischuk and T.J. Galiardi and Jim Slater centering Chris Thorburn and Anthony Peluso -- have combined for 12 goals and 23 points.

Just for comparison, the third and fourth lines for the Los Angeles Kings -- today's opponent -- have combined for 34 goals and 78 points while averaging considerably more ice time. This will be a huge factor in the second half in the season: How Maurice manages the minutes of what has become a three-line club and whether the fourth unit can earn more ice time. A factor that might help? The return of Evander Kane, who will either slot back in on the left side with Scheifele or could find a spot on the third line with Lowry.

 

A LOOK AHEAD

Of the Jets remaining 41 games, 16 come against their Central-Division foes. A key stretch comes during a 17-game run from Feb, 24 to April 4 when the Jets will play 11 at home, including two visits from St. Louis and one each by Dallas and Chicago.

 

FYI

The website sportsclubstats.com has the Jets chances of making the playoffs at 56.3 per cent heading into games Friday night. Should the Jets double their 47-point first half and finish with 94 points this season their chances of grabbing a playoff spot would currently stand at 81.9 per cent.

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPEdTait