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Jets’ home becomes more friendly for visitors

As short honeymoons go, this is right there with anything Kim Kardashian, Britney Spears or Lisa Marie Presley ever managed.

It isn't that the fans love them any less – they still fill the 15,004 compact seats at the MTS Centre every game – but that old magic just isn't there any more for the Winnipeg Jets.

The Jets will take a 4-6 home record into Tuesday's game here against the Toronto Maple Leafs. That is quite a comedown from last season, when the Jets moved north from Atlanta and the city celebrated the return of NHL hockey after 15 years with a 23-14-4 home record (although 14-22-5 on the road ensured they missed the playoffs).

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So why do the Jets have an 8-5-2 record on the road this season, but a losing record at home?

"It's hard to pinpoint a theory," Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said Monday. "One thing you can say is this building is a fun place to play. Visiting teams know it's an exciting building to play in. Hockey players love that kind of atmosphere. When a building is full and fans are on top of you, you like nothing better than to get them booing you and take the wind out of their sails.

"I think, generally, the visiting teams like the atmosphere in the building but that doesn't give enough credit to visiting teams and how they prepare for games. When teams come here they know they're in for a good game."

And that is where the answer lies, in the preparation.

Last season, visiting teams regarded Winnipeg as a good place to rest their No. 1 goaltender. In 41 games at the MTS Centre, the visitors started the backup goalie 15 times and the Jets enjoyed an 11-2-2 record against them. (In the 26 games in which the opponent started its No. 1, the Jets were 12-12-2.)

That proved to be a learning experience. Since the lockout-shortened season started Jan. 19, the Jets have faced a No. 1 goaltender, or the person considered the top goalie on that night, in nine of their 10 home games. The Jets are 3-6 against the Nos. 1, and 1-0 against the lone backup to start against them.

The Jets are currently on the outside looking in when it comes to the playoffs, sitting ninth in the Eastern Conference, although just two points out of the last playoff spot prior to Monday's games.

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Team captain Andrew Ladd thinks the Jets also suffer from a problem common to NHL teams: trying to put on a fancy offensive show for the home crowd, rather than defensive responsibilities which seem to be easier to remember on the road.

"That's gotten us into trouble," Ladd told The Winnipeg Free Press. "On the road, we've had success keeping things simple."

The Jets are one game past the halfway mark in the regular season, and 14 of their 23 remaining games are at home. If they hope to make the jump to eighth place or better, they will have to figure out how to win at the MTS Centre.

Part of that is forgetting the fancy stuff and playing better in their own end, and part of it is solving another problem that has dogged them on the road this season: coming out flat to start games.

"We have to decide how we're going to play this thing," Jets head coach Claude Noel told The Free Press. "Home is a place with great fan support and passion. We're going to have to take advantage of that."

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