They haven’t played a home game since November 23rd but life on the road hasn’t been all bad for the Winnipeg Jets.
The Jets were 4-2 away from the MTS Centre, but as head coach Claude Noel would say, nobody is dislocating their shoulders patting themselves on the back. And with good reason as Winnipeg (14-13-4, 32 points) is sixth in the seven-team Central Division and stands 18th in the NHL’s overall standings.
Forward Blake Wheeler, who had two goals and three assists on the six-game road swing, says the Jets have plenty of incentive to improve.
“That should be the motivation, we haven’t accomplished anything,” he said Monday after practice.
“We’re far away from achieving anything and that should be motivation enough. You said it right there.”
Winnipeg has reached the NHL playoffs just once in franchise history, dating back to its inception as the Atlanta Thrashers in ’99 before relocating to Manitoba in 2011.
And Noel’s future in Winnipeg just might depend on how the Jets finish. While Noel doesn’t sound all that concerned about sitting 18th overall, he does say the Jets need a new benchmark for success.
“I think .500 has been the grade for us and we have to have to get a little bit over that,” he said. “We know what we have to do.
“I don’t think we have to be reminded of that. We could help ourselves a great deal this week because we’re dealing with divisional opponents and they’re four point games. If we could grab two clean points per game, that would really help us.”
Winnipeg’s first home game since a 3-2 shootout loss to Minnesota will come Tuesday against the St. Louis Blues. Then the Jets will face the Colorado Avalanche on Thursday before playing the Dallas Stars on Saturday.
The Blues and Minnesota are tied for second in the Central Division with 41 points, six behind league-leading Chicago. The Avalanche are a close fourth with 40 points while Dallas is just a point ahead of Winnipeg.
On the bright side, the six-game road trip gave defenceman Jacob Trouba the chance to return to form after a lengthy absence due to injury. Forward Mark Scheifele, another recent draft pick, also picked up his game and scored the overtime winner to close out the trip in Tampa.
“I think I’ve been feeling better each and every game,” says Scheifele, who now has three goals and seven assists. “It’s not just these last two weeks. . . I’ve just got to continue the progress.”
Trouba returned to the lineup in time for the road trip after slamming head-first into the boards Oct. 18 when he missed a hit on Blues defenceman Jordan Leopold. He left the ice on a stretcher with what was later diagnosed as a neck sprain as the Jets went on to register a 4-3 shootout win.
Trouba said facing St. Louis again is a chance for the Jets to show they can play a tough division rival, but nothing else.
“I told a lot of people I’m young and stupid, I don’t really think about it.,” he said.
Noel said this week’s slate will present a solid test for the Jets.
“I think we’re in a good place right now,” said Noel. “We’ve got a big week. This week can really test you. We’ve got some good opponents so we’ll see where we stand . . .
“If we can continue to have a good week then that will really help us. It will help our confidence, it will help a lot of things.”