Jets' long road to recovery

Winnipeg Jets goalie Chris Mason (l) is congratulated by teammates defencemen Dustin Byfuglien (c)...

Winnipeg Jets goalie Chris Mason (l) is congratulated by teammates defencemen Dustin Byfuglien (c) and Mark Stuart following the Jets 4-2 win over the Carolina Hurricanes in NHL hockey in Winnipeg Friday, December 09, 2011. (BRIAN DONOGH, QMI AGENCY)

Paul Friesen, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:33 AM ET

WINNIPEG - If it’s hard to measure exactly how far the Winnipeg Jets have come since early in the season, it’s because they don’t make tape measures that long.

You’d need an odometer — and a free afternoon to go for a drive.

That old road wasn’t pretty, littered with bumps and potholes that, looking back now, you wonder how the Jets made it through.

“It was scary at the start,” forward Chris Thorburn was saying the other day. “Just the way we got up in games and lost them.

“We weren’t really mature, and we didn’t know how to win games.”

Disjointed is the word that most often comes to mind. Ragtag, even.

And it made head coach Claude Noel’s assessment that this should be a playoff team look like pure Pollyanna.

“I wasn’t saying that just because I’m the coach and you have to have goals,” Noel said, Friday. “Basically. I put my rear end on the line and said we can be.”

I don’t know about the rear-end-on-the-line part. Nobody would have blamed Noel if he’d been more optimist than realist, going in. It’s what coaches generally do.

Funny thing is, it now looks like he had a reason to believe.

The Jets, we’ve learned the last little while, look like they might be able to stay in the post-season conversation for a while, if not make some serious noise.

Friday night’s 4-2 coast over the hapless Carolina Hurricanes was the latest example.

This game had all the trappings of a letdown, coming after a heart-thumping, 2-1 squeaker over the Cup champion Bruins of Boston earlier in the week.

It’s not that the Jets won their fourth straight. It’s the manner in which they did it.

Instead of sinking to the ’Canes level — and that was one bad team, despite the recent coaching change to Kirk Muller — the Jets dominated, not letting up until they built a 4-0 lead after 40 minutes.

That earlier inability to hang onto a lead Thorburn referred to? The Jets looked as comfortable as an old man in a La-Z-Boy after jumping on Carolina for two first-period goals.

The dumb penalties and blatant giveaways — free pizzas Noel called them — that used to be sprinkled on the Jets’ game have been replaced by the trusted recipe of crusty team defence and basic smarts.

“We’re not making the bonehead mistakes that either lead to penalties or it’s in the back of your net,” is how the coach put it.

That’s eight wins in the last 11, enough to get the attention of the rest of the NHL’s Eastern Conference.

With a 9-4 mark on home turf, the Hangar on Hargrave is becoming a tough place to play.

But all the Jets have done is get back to respectability, finally within striking distance of a real .500 record, with 13 wins against 15 losses, overall.

This team is doing what it should do with a serious amount of pre-Christmas home cooking.

The Jets have another six nights of home fires before Santa comes down the chimney, and there’s no reason they can’t keep it burning.

Before that, though, it’s off to Detroit, Saturday, where the gifts are few and far between.

A “defining game,” Noel called the Red Wings affair. “They play at an emotional level that teams can’t play at. They really can step it up.

“Detroit’s going to be a major bump, right there.”

How the Jets steer through it might be as telling as the smooth stretch they’ve traveled on these last four games.

Like I said, you need an odometer to measure how far the Jets have come.

Where better to check it than in the Motor City?


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