January 2, 2012
Real test ahead for JetsTime to prove December wasn't just a mirage
By KIRK PENTON, QMI Agency
WINNIPEG - New Year’s has come and gone. The party hats have been put away, the confetti has been cleaned up, and the recovery from the hangover is well underway.
The same could be said of the situation surrounding the Winnipeg Jets. Ever since Mark Chipman walked to that podium in the bowels of MTS Centre on May 31, it’s been one big party in Winnipeg — win or lose.
That’s why the turning of the calendar from 2011 to 2012 is symbolic. The honeymoon is essentially over, and it’s time for Jets fans to be happy about a winning team and not just a team.
Don’t get me wrong: they’re going to love their team unconditionally for a long, long, long, long time. They’re just entering a new phase in their courtship. In the beginning the team could do no wrong. It was puppy love.
Now that they’ve been together for a while, however, the little things are going to bother them. You know, like turning the puck over in the neutral zone or taking bad penalties or scoring slumps.
Basically, the relationship is getting serious, just like the schedule. The Jets enjoyed a December that consisted of 12 home games and two road contests. The next month-and-a-half is nowhere near as cushy; they play 15 of 21 away from MTS Centre. That’s a quarter of the season.
In other words, it’s time to find out how much you want to love this particular group of players.
“That’s the hard part (coming up),” right-winger Kyle Wellwood said. “This was the easy part of the season, December. We can be happy that we got ourselves in a playoff spot in the new year, and that’s what we wanted. We’re satisfied with that, but January’s the tough month and you gotta play at least .500 or better. So we gotta do that.”
There’s no reason why these Jets can’t win on the road. Going 10-3-1 in December wasn’t a mirage. Yes, playing 12 of those 14 games on home ice helped, but they did so many things right. They got great goaltending, their scorers stepped up, and their defensive play has been stifling. When they needed power-play goals, they got them. When they needed to kill penalties, they killed them.
“We should carry this swagger over,” said right-winger Blake Wheeler, borrowing a phrase from the CFL’s Winnipeg Blue Bombers. “We should bring this on the road with us and have the same mentality, the same fight we have at home and just want to go out and do the same thing on the road.
“If we can be a good road team then we’re going to be right there in the end.”
Head coach Claude Noel, naturally, sees no reason why his team can’t continue its solid play.
“The biggest difference is our team play is really solid,” he said. “We’re responsible. We’re playing with some real passion, and we’re doing some really good things. I don’t see it changing on the road. Maybe there’s a little difference in battle level, but all in all we’ve done good. We’ve played good. We’re in a good place.”
The reality is life won’t be as good on the road. It never is.
“You’re never going to win every road game and have the energy you have at home,” defenceman Ron Hainsey said. “It’s just not realistic. But the games when you get leads and take it to the other teams and draw penalties, those are the games you gotta put away.”
If they can do that, the relationship will move to a more serious level. As difficult as it is to believe the fans could love the Jets even more, it is possible.
— with files from Ken Wiebe