To the dismay of the Winnipeg Jets and their fan base, Bell MTS Place has been far too kind to visitors lately.
There was a time Winnipeg’s downtown rink was a nightmare for the opposition, but lately, the Jets have been sending teams off to the airport with a nice parting gift of two points.
The Jets haven’t won on home ice since they thumped the Philadelphia Flyers 7-3 on Dec. 15. They’ve lost their past five games in Winnipeg and own a 9-9-2 record when playing in their own building. The Jets have the worst home record in the Western Conference.
"I think obviously, we’ve had a dominant home record over the last few years," said Jets defenceman Josh Morrissey after Saturday morning’s practice.
"That’s something we want to continue to do, you know, making here a tough place to play and somewhere where we have success. But if you look at our home versus road games so far this year, we’ve played 21 games at home and 24 on the road and one of those home games was the Heritage Classic (in Regina). So, we’ve been home for 20, versus 25 on the road realistically. As most guys have talked about, it feels like we’ve been on the road a lot this year and when we do come home, we’re coming off a California swing or a tough trip, so you never get in that home mind set."
Morrissey raises some valid points about the schedule. But has the fact the atmosphere, or lack thereof, inside Bell MTS Place played a role? It’s been a while since there’s been a deafening "Go Jets Go!" It feels like the days when Winnipeg fans come up with clever chants targeted at visiting players is long gone. Free Press sports columnist Mike McIntyre put it best in a recent column where he said "Bell MTS Place could be mistaken for the nearby Millennium Library many nights this year." However, you won’t find the players complaining. In fact, they said it makes sense as to why the crowd noise has taken a bit of a dive.
"When you go to the playoffs and you make a deep run, the building was so electric then, you know what it can be so it doesn’t feel as electric (now), maybe," said forward Andrew Copp. "We go to other buildings in the regular season and playoffs are just such a different atmosphere and a different animal. I’d say yeah, it’s not the same, but I think that’s just a product of us going deep into the playoffs and having that genuine excitement and electricity that we’re able to have in the playoffs."
Morrissey had a near-identical response but also pointed to the recent performance of the team.
"I think because of the playoff atmospheres that we’ve had over the last few years, that’s obviously going to be the immediate comparable. In my opinion, there’s no building in the league that’s the same in the regular season that it is in the playoffs... So, we’re comparing the regular season atmosphere to the playoffs. You know, we get great support every night. The building is always full. But to your point before, we have lost five in a row at home. It’s not exactly like we’re giving fans a lot to cheer about in those games," Morrissey said.
While Jets fans haven’t been leaving the arena with a smile on their face lately, that doesn’t mean there hasn’t been a bunch of happy customers. On Dec. 23, there was a sea of red in the crowd who saw the Montreal Canadiens take down the Jets 6-2. Then on Jan 3., there was a lot of blue in the stands, it just happened to be a different shade, as the Toronto Maples Leafs left Winnipeg with a 6-3 victory. There have been some diehard Jets fans who have voiced their frustrations on social media about the arena being taken over by the opposition, but Morrissey said it isn’t a big deal.
'It's not exactly like we're giving fans a lot to cheer about' — Josh Morrissey, on the subdued atmosphere at Jets home games
"I think because maybe it was right before the holiday season. There’s maybe some more red in the stands, but even then, you talk to the guys on those teams and it’s the same everywhere. You watch them play in other cities, Calgary, Vancouver, Edmonton, whatever it is, there’s plenty of blue and red jerseys in those stands," said Morrissey, who has 25 points in 43 games
"To be honest, those games end up being really exciting because you have a group of fans cheering for one team and a group of fans cheering for the other. In the Leafs game, there was a competitive chant for Leafs versus Jets and I think that makes it an exciting, fun game that everybody has marked on the calendar."
Luckily for the Jets, they have some time to settle in at home in the near future. Between Jan. 31 and Feb. 18, the Jets will play nine out of 10 games at Bell MTS Place. But before they tackle that stretch, they have an important trio of tilts coming up. They square off against the Nashville Predators today at 1 p.m. The Vancouver Canucks are currently tied with the Jets and they come to town on Tuesday. To cap the home stretch off, the red-hot Tampa Bay Lightning, winners of nine straight, make their lone visit on Friday.
"The schedule’s not getting any easier for us," said Jets sniper Patrik Laine. "(We’re) playing against tough teams in the next couple weeks. We got to try to play our own game, try to play the type of game we’ve played lately and we’ll be fine."
Perhaps a meeting with their old rivals from Nashville will help the team get back to their winning ways. The Jets have won four consecutive games against Nashville and five of their past six meetings. In the previous four, the Jets have outscored the Predators 17-5. Playing in the afternoon might do Winnipeg some favours as well. The Jets boast a 6-1-1 record in afternoon games this season, including a 3-0 mark at home.
"We can expect their best effort tomorrow," Morrissey said. "We’re gonna have to come out, ready to go and match that intensity right off the bat."
Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of.