The Winnipeg Jets don't always like to admit it, but many players are doing something quite carefully these days -- watching the standings.
The Jets play the Washington Capitals at the MTS Centre Thursday night and a win could put Winnipeg into a playoff position for the first time this season. The Jets have 32 points heading into Thursday's game just one less than New Jersey which holds the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference.
"Yeah we sure do," Jet forward Jim Slater said Thursday morning when asked if the players follow the standings. "You want to be at that eighth spot and we know we're right there. There are a lot of teams that are clogged in that same position so every game is crucial, every point is crucial. We know exactly where we stand."
Slater said he doesn't follow the standings every day, but he watches the scores from other games and keeps a mental note of how teams in Winnipeg's division are doing.
"We've been watching the standings ever since day one and for us we know it's a big opportunity tonight to get into that playoff spot and we're not going to take that lightly," added Evander Kane.
Even Winnipeg coach Claude Noel has been caught up in the standings watch.
"I don't follow them overly crazy but I did happen to look this morning and see that we are one point below the line, so that's a good thing," Noel said. "We've been battling for that position for some time. We were fighting to get over .500. So these are some of our goals that we've kind of set in place. We'd like to get ourselves above that line and continue to play consistent."
Noel still believes it will take roughly 96 points to make it into the playoffs. But for the Jets to do that, he said they will have to play better on the road. The team is 10-4-0 at home but 4-8-4 on the road. However, Noel said the bulk of those road games occurred early in the season and the team is playing better now.
"I think we are playing the right way right now. That bodes well," he said.
Winnipeg goalie Ondrej Pavelec is among those players who don't track the standings regularly.
"It's too early," he said Thursday. "Me personally, I don't look at the standings. Sometimes, we've got the board in the dressing room and so you want to know where you are but it's important to focus on yourself. In the last couple of years I didn't look at the standings and I looked at it for the first time in January and we were 30 points behind the playoffs. So sometimes it's not good to know where you are. But for me those things you can't control, how the other team is playing."
The Jets aren't the only players keeping an eye on how they are doing. The Capitals are just one point behind Winnipeg and a win Thursday could put them into a playoff spot.
"I watch the standings. I know we're right around eighth or ninth spot right now," said Capitals' defenceman Dennis Wideman. "We need to string some wins together."
Wideman said players tend to track the standings much more closely when their team is between fifth and tenth place. He said he has been following the standings for weeks.
"I think when you are at the top of your division and you've got a comfy lead you probably don't watch it as much," he said. "But when you're in the mix of one or two points [out]you are starting to watch it a lot closer because you know that one loss can drop you from sixth to ninth or sixth to tenth and one win can bring you back up."
As for tonight's game. Washington arrives after a tough loss 5-1 loss to Philadelphia Tuesday, giving them a 3-4 record under new coach Dale Hunter who replaced Bruce Boudreau on Nov. 28.
One player who is starting to feel better under the new coach is Alex Ovechkin. The last time he was in Winnipeg, a 4-1 loss on Nov. 17, he expressed frustration about his lack of scoring. The scoring still hasn't come like it used to -- he has nine goals and 21 points so far -- but Ovechkin said he is feeling more confident.
"I think my game right now has changed and, you know, I feel confident in my shot but still my score is not that good," he said Thursday. "Almost every game our line has had chances to score a goal, but we didn't score. It's tough but we are going to try today."