Winnipeg Jets coach Claude Noel doesn’t want to say it, but he acknowledges the next 10 games could well decide the fate of the Jets season.
Winnipeg plays nine of those upcoming games at the MTS Centre, including tonight when the team plays the New York Islanders. Winnipeg has enjoyed remarkable success at home thanks to a boisterous crowd that has made the MTS Centre a difficult place for opponents. That is evident in Winnipeg’s record which is 16-8-2 at home and 10-17-4 on the road.
The last time Winnipeg had a prolonged home stand was in December when the team played 12 of 14 games at the MTS Centre. The Jets piled up 21 points that month, nearly half their current total of 58. By contrast, Winnipeg earned just nine points in January, a month loaded with road games.
“It’s going to be an important time,” Noel said Tuesday when asked about the coming home stand. “If we can duplicate the month of December, in that fact, then we might help ourselves a bit.”
When asked if this was a make or break time for his club, Noel demurred and said: “I don’t like to put it in those terms. But I think we know where we stand. This next pocket of games, I think it’s pretty obvious that it’s important.”
One advantage for the Jets is health. The team has all of its players back for the first time since early in the season. That has prompted Noel to do some line juggling, moving Alexander Burmistrov to centre the second line in place of Nik Antropov, who has been demoted to the fourth line.
Antropov said he and Noel had a talk and the forward understands he has to play better. “I’m looking at [it like]I’m in a slump, so the only way to get out of it is to work harder and compete every night,” Antropov said Tuesday after the team’s morning skate.
The Islanders come into Winnipeg just four points back of the Jets. The teams have split their two games this year, with each winning one. But Winnipeg gained an extra point by losing in a shoot out in the last meeting on Dec. 20.
“We’ve got to come out hard, they play real well in their building,” Islander forward John Tavares said after the team’s skate. “It’s going to be a huge chance to gain ground. It’s almost like a four point swing in a lot of ways.”