Jets at fork in road

KEN WIEBE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:03 AM ET

WINNIPEG - So now that adversity is staring them squarely in the face — as head coach Claude Noel eloquently put it — how will the Winnipeg Jets respond?

That’s the big question surrounding the NHL club these days and the good news is that with the remaining eight games this month coming against Eastern Conference opponents — many of whom are jockeying for position in the congested standings — it shouldn’t take too long to find out whether the Jets are going to be contenders or pretenders.

“There’s no easy way through this adversity thing, we’ve come to a fork in the road here,” said Noel. “We have to decide which way we’re going to go. You just need to work your way through it and pound your way through. It’s not going to be an easy thing. It has to come through work and our will to win the games.

“We have to play better and we have to get a lot more from a lot more people. There’s no easy way to winning, we know that. If there was, everyone would do it.”

After losing four of five games to ring in the new calendar year, the Jets recent play has somewhat mirrored the second-half collapse the Atlanta Thrashers endured during the stretch run last season when they managed only three regulation wins in a span of 28 games (3-10-5) between Jan. 7 and Feb. 25.

So does this group have what it takes to avoid a similar fate?

“You want to learn from your mistakes,” said Jets forward Blake Wheeler, who joined the Thrashers late last February. “With our team, when things are good I don’t see a team beating us. We’ve shown we can beat any team in the league. When things are tough, that’s kind of a different story. If we can elevate ourselves to play a different way when things aren’t going so well, then that’s going to be the test.

“If we can do that and grind out some wins that maybe are a little bit tougher than we went them to be, that’s a huge step for us.”

Not surprisingly, the notion of the recent struggles setting off a feeling of deja vu inside the Jets locker room was quickly shot down on Friday.

“This is a new team, a new season,” said Jets defenceman Mark Stuart, a prominent member of the leadership core who also joined the Thrashers after last season’s collapse was already well underway. “If you’re thinking about last season, you’ve got problems.”

This is the time of the year when being mentally tough is especially important.

“We need to refocus, stay with it and stay positive,” said Jets winger Tanner Glass. “We’ve proven we can do it in here and we’ve just got to believe. For me, it’s about building good habits and having the right attitude.”

Jets captain Andrew Ladd made it clear that the sole focus right now is on the present, not the past.

“You look at the mistakes and try to correct them, but at some point there has to be the step forward and that’s what we’re looking at right now,” said Ladd. “Now we need everyone in this room to take that next step. We can’t dwell on anything from last year or the last two games. It’s time to move forward.”

At this stage, the Jets hope they’re simply in the midst of a slump, much like every team in the league goes through during the course of an 82-game season.

But the reality is how the Jets deal with this fork in the road could be the difference between staying in the race and falling out of contention.


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