March 07 2012 01:58PM
With 15 games left on the regular-season schedule, the Jets are sitting above the playoff line. Sure, their position changes day-to-day, but as precarious as their two point lead on ninth-place Washington is, the fact they are still in the hunt at this stage of the game has to be considered a minor victory of sorts.
After an off-season of minimal additions or subtractions, the Jets closely resembled the Atlanta Thrashers team from a year ago that crashed and burned down the stretch en route to another missed post-season. Jets fans young and old held out hope that they'd somehow take their game to another level this season, but getting over that hump was contingent on a number of "what ifs", none bigger than the need for its young core of stars-in-the-making to take the next step.
And that, to the joy of Jets fans, has largely materialized as a young group of players has fuelled the Jets success through 67 games.
Evander Kane has already eclipsed his career numbers from a year ago, and is set to best the 30 goal mark. Blake Wheeler has finally broke out at the age of 25, averaging a point-per-game over the last half of the season. He's set career bests in assists (39) and points (54). And, despite injuries, Zach Bogosian has been a steadying and physical force on the blue-line, especially promising news for the young defender considering the mixed reviews of his play a year ago. Add that group to a reliable core consisting of Andrew Ladd, Kyle Wellwood, Dustin Byfuglien, Toby Enstrom, not to mention the trio known as the "GST line", and you have the makings of a solid--although not spectacular--NHL team. Alex Burmistrov has shown plenty of promise in spurts, and should be an integral piece of the team for years to come as well. And, most importantly, goaltender Ondrej Pavelec has been the team's MVP to date. You can go far with a hot goalie, and the Jets have one in Pavelec.
However, all this progress will leave a hollow feeling in the pit of fans' stomachs if the Jets can't figure out the solution to their road woes. The Jets sport a lacklustre 11-17-4 record away from MTS Centre, and have nine of their last 15 games away from friendly confines. They'll get their mettle tested this week, with back-to-back road games against Vancouver and Calgary beginning Thursday. No easy task in either barn, but the Jets will need to come out with some points. That's just the reality of a heated playoff race where no team seems willing to give up ground.
We know they can win at home with 15,000 strong in full support, but the true test now will be how they handle adversity on the road in games that matter. Let's see what they're made of.