WINNIPEG - The Winnipeg Jets are not about to coast into the Christmas break without emptying the proverbial tank first.
“If there’s a letdown, it would be pathetic — we haven’t done anything,” Jets winger Blake Wheeler. “We’re in ninth place, that’s not very good. Sure, it’s good compared to where we were but the goal is to be as high as you can be. You should be shooting to be in the Top-8 and once you’re in the Top-8, you’ve got to fight your way to the middle.
“We’ve been playing good hockey for three weeks, maybe a month now and we should be happy about that but we should continue building. If you’re in ninth place, you’re going home just like everybody else.”
Truth be told, the Jets feel like they’re just scratching the surface.
“We have to all have that mindset,” said Wheeler. “In our last game (the 5-3 win over the Ducks), I wouldn’t say we were fortunate, but we didn’t play our best game and still got two points out of it. You’re going to have those over an 82-game season, so you take positives from it and learn from some of the mistakes we made. There’s definitely more there and we can push ourselves harder.
“Now is no time to be patting ourselves on the back.”
It’s not a time to get swept away by potential distractions either.
“We’re hockey players and this is our job,” said Wheeler. “If we’re losing focus because we’re worried about getting our Christmas gifts done or worried about cooking our ham or whatever it is, that’s unacceptable. This is a great time of the year to be a hockey player. That should be our mindset, we should go into the break flying high.”
The Jets find themselves just outside the playoff teams going into Tuesday’s action and play three important Eastern Conference games this week against the New York Islanders, Montreal Canadiens and Pittsburgh Penguins, who figure to be without Sidney Crosby once again.
“Every game is so big right now, you just focus on the next one and put emphasis on that one,” said Jets captain Andrew Ladd. “If you look at the standings, every game is huge. Obviously, you want to go into the break with a good feeling and playing well in the next three games would do that for us.”
After opening with 12 of 17 games on the road, the Jets are now eight games into a stretch of 12 of 14 at MTS Centre during the month of December.
Going into the month, the team talked about the importance of taking advantage of the home cooking and with a 6-1 record at home in December (6-2 overall, including loss to Detroit Red Wings), the Jets have done that.
If the Jets can find a way to sweep the three this week, they’d be ecstatic and even two of three would probably be acceptable.
But the importance of banking as many points as possible during this span can’t be overstated.
With only four of 13 games at home in January, the Jets have another serious challenge right around the corner.
For now, the focus is simply on trying to defeat an Islanders team that is 5-3-2 in its past 10 but has only one win in its past five games — that coming in a 2-1 shootout triumph over the Minnesota Wild on Saturday.
“It’s a logjam right now. We want to finish off this home stretch with a bang,” said Jets forward Chris Thorburn. “Going into the break, there would be nothing better than to go in with a few wins.”