In late February, the Jets get eight straight games with their "Seventh Man."
If the Winnipeg Jets can keep their collective heads about them for the next two weeks, the team’s crazy schedule might be enough to get them into the playoffs.
And frankly, "crazy" is the only way to describe what the National Hockey League’s schedule makers did to the Jets this season.
Injuries are one thing and obviously the Jets have not been good without Dustin Byfuglien, Zach Bogosian, Evander Kane and Alex Burmistrov in the lineup every night. However, the schedule hasn’t done the team any favors either. They played seven of 11 games on the road in October, eight of 13 games on the road in November, then 12 of 14 at home in December, then nine of 13 on the road in January.
That’s goofy. Based on the fact the Jets are 15-8-2 at home this season and 7-14-4 on the road, a more consistent schedule might have helped them. True, it might not have made any difference at all, but one suspects that when your schedule is consistent, there is a better chance you will play a more consistent brand of hockey. As good as the Jets have been in front of their seventh-man this season — and especially as good as goalie Ondrej Pavelec has been in his own building — they have been quite mediocre on the road. Long road swings will do that to a team.
In December, the Jets played 12 of 14 games at home and went 10-3-1 to get as high as sixth in the East. Then along came January with nine of 13 on the road and now, heading into Philadelphia on Tuesday night, the Jets are 3-8-1. It didn’t help that Winnipeg lost a pair of home games — 2-0 to San Jose on Jan. 12, and 2-1 to New Jersey on Jan. 14 — this month, but head coach Claude Noel isn’t quite so worried about a small glitch at the MTS Centre. He has, however, made it clear: "We have to find a way to start winning on the road."
For the next couple of weeks, it doesn’t get a whole lot easier for the Jets. They play in Philly on Tuesday, Tampa on Thursday, Sunrise, Fla., on Friday and then in Montreal on Sunday. They come home on Tuesday, Feb. 7 to play the Leafs and then go to Washington to meet the Caps on Feb. 9 and Pittsburgh on Feb. 11. Then, after playing the Islanders at home on the 14th, they go to Minnesota on the 16th. That’s seven out of the next nine on the road.
It’s a tough stretch, but if they can hover around .500 hockey through those road games, they’ll get a real treat in late February and early March: They play eight consecutive games at home from Feb. 17 to March 5.
Right now, the Jets find themselves 22-22-6, 10th in the East. However, despite being 10th, they are only five points behind ninth-place Toronto, eighth-place New Jersey and seventh-place Florida. After 50 games, they are not out of the playoff hunt by any stretch.
If they can stay within striking distance of the Leafs, Devils and Panthers over the next two weeks, they will get a marvelous chance to make some noise at the end of February. In fact, if they can coax four or five wins out of the next nine, Winnipeg’s Seventh Man might just have a say in who makes the playoffs in the East.