As the end of December approaches and a truly frightening test grows larger on the horizon, real fans in Winnipeg would like nothing more than to have the their beloved Jets ignore the media noise.
Sure, a lot of the fans are a source of that noise, but those who would like to see the Jets emerge from a difficult January-February road show with at least a shot at making the playoffs, want nothing more (or less) than to have the Jets drown out last week’s silly rationalizations for losing.
When the excuses for last Friday night’s 4-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins began to emerge, it became clear that if this Jets team listens to its apologists in the media, its playoff future is extremely dim. Seems those people, for whatever reason, have decided that the Jets problem last week — a 2-2-1 record at home in five games, including a 3-2 shootout loss to the Islanders, a 1-0 loss to Washington and a 4-1 loss to Pittsburgh — was fatigue, not the fact that their opponents often outplayed them.
In fact, one reporter wrote: "It’s a good thing the Winnipeg Jets can now take a few nights off to rest, as fatigue was a clear factor in their 4-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins Friday night at MTS Centre."
Apparently, the fact the Jets played three games in four nights, the last two back-to-back, in their own building, meant that they were just too tired to compete with the Penguins. Evidently, it had nothing to do with the fact that the Pens are terrifically coached, have a handful of offensive stars (even without Sidney Crosby) and play with toughness, skill and responsibility in their own zone. Marc-Andre Fleury isn’t bad, either.
A lot of media people in Winnipeg did not want to believe that an opposing team was simply better than "their" Jets. Of course, it’s not as if one of hockey’s great myths hasn’t been used as an excuse before.
After all, the media — a group that, to a great extent, is made up of a lot of people who have never played on a sports team before — love to claim that if a hockey team plays back-to-back games, it’s very likely the players will be dead tired and will always lose on the second night.
That, of course, is poppycock. In fact, more than one NHL executive has said that he loves it when his team plays back-to-back games, especially at home.
"If I had any input at all into my schedule, I’d ask for as many back-to-back games as I could get," said former Winnipeg Jets GM and head coach John Paddock, now assistant GM of the Philadelphia Flyers. "In all my life in hockey, I’ve come to the conclusion that players would much rather play than practice. We grew up playing four games in a weekend tournament. If you’re going to survive the Stanley Cup, you often have to play four games in seven nights. Guys have to play 15-20 minutes a night. These guys are in their 20s. They aren’t tired."
Paddock certainly has reason to feel the way he does. It seems that losing the second game of back-to-back games has always had more to do with whether or not he had a good team than the contention that he might have had a bunch of tired 26-year-olds (the Jets’ average age today).
For instance, the 1984-85 Jets, an extremely good team, played 13 back-to-back games that season. They went 7-2-4 in second games. Paddock’s 1995-96 Jets, a mediocre team that barely made the playoffs, had nine back-to-back segments and went 5-3-1 in second games. You can go through the history of back-to-back games with any team in the NHL and come to one conclusion: If it was a good team, it usually won Game 2. If it was a pretty bad team, it usually lost Game 2. Even mediocre teams that might have barely made the playoffs and were eliminated early in the post-season, often won Game 2s.
However, the 2011-12 Jets team is 0-5-0 in the second game of back-to-back games so far this season — they lost 4-1 in Ottawa on Oct. 20, 3-0 to the Rangers in Manhattan on Nov. 6, 4-2 in Boston on Nov. 26, 7-1 in Detroit on Dec. 10 and 4-1 to Pittsburgh (in Winnipeg) on Dec. 23.
So if you want to believe that three-games-in-four-nights or back-to-back games will tucker a team right out, then you might just as well write off the Jets in January and February right now.
Beginning on Nov. 29, the Jets had 13 of their next 15 games at home. That run is slmost over. The Jets play Tuesday night in Denver against the Colorado Avalanche and then come home to play the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday and the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday (So three games in five days is no problem, but three in four is trouble?). Right now, the Jets are 7-4-1 in the first 12 of that stretch. They need to win all three of their remaining games to come away with at least 21 of a possible 30 points in that stretch — which is what everyone agreed they needed with January and February coming up.
Meanwhile, if this last week was tough, the next two months will be impossble.
On Jan. 4, the Jets begin a stretch with 15 of their next 21 on the road. They play back-to-back road games four times: Jan. 4 in Montreal and Jan. 5 in Toronto; Jan. 16 in Ottawa and Jan. 17 in New Jersey; Jan. 23 in Carolina and Jan. 24 in Manhattan; and Feb. 2 in Tampa and Feb. 3 in Sunrise. They play three games in four nights on three occasions during that stretch: Jan. 14 vs. New Jersey, Jan. 16 in Ottawa and Jan. 17 back in New Jersey; Feb. 2 in Tampa, Feb. 3 in Sunrise and Feb 5 (at 1 in the afternoon) in Montreal; and Jan. 16 in Minnesota, Jan. 17 against Boston and Jan. 19 against Colorado. In fact, during that, they play four games in six days on three different occasions.
If the Jets were fatigued on Friday night, they won’t be able to muster up the energy to put on their skates in January and February.
Which is why Jets fans, especially those who actually know something about (a) hockey and (b) NHL scheduling, hope their team doesn’t pay any attention at all to a media that loves to make excuses for the team they cheer, but don’t have a clue how the game actually works.
After all, if the Jets start to believe what they read, they will not survive the next two months.