WINNIPEG – Winnipeg Jets coach Claude Noel says it’s a little misleading but still remains a fact: no other NHL team has such a bad road record yet sports such a solid mark at home.
As the Jets prepare to go back on the road—they’re in Montreal on Wednesday—Noel and the team have confidence that will change.
“We’ve been consistent lately so that will be the challenge for sure for us,” he said following Monday’s practice. “Can we do it on the road?
“I think we can.”
Winnipeg plays nine out of its 13 games on the road this month on the road. After Montreal, the Jets travel to Toronto, Buffalo and then Boston before returning home.
The Jets have the Eastern Conference’s best home record at 14-6-1, which is also fourth-best in the NHL. But on the road, they rank a distant 25th overall at 5-8-4.
It’s that dichotomy that sets Winnipeg apart. Most of the teams that have a worse road record than the Jets are also struggling at home.
The reason why Noel suggests the numbers don’t tell the whole story is the Jets began their new life in the NHL largely on the road. In October and November, they played 15-of-24 games away from the Manitoba capital.
That was hard on a young team that relocated from Atlanta to a new city and had a new coach. Once the Jets had time to work regularly at home, they began to forge an identity, eliminate costly mistakes and start winning more regularly.
“I think it just took us a little bit to understand the system, we had such a new coaching staff and everything,” says captain Andrew Ladd, who also gets credit for some team-building. “It just took time to figure out the way we need to play and I think the last month or so we’ve kind of nailed that down and now it’s just time to take it on the road.”
The hockey-starved fans who fill the MTS Centre for every home game also have played a role, giving the Jets a huge adrenalin boost with little prompting.
“The road is going to present some different issues,” Noel said. “We’re going to have to provide our own energy, get more internalized.”
But as long as the Jets stick to the basics Noel believes they will succeed.
“For me the foundation of winning goes around defending . . . If your team plays hard for each other, plays with a good foundation of defending, you give yourself a chance to win every night,” he said.
They did that last month, winning 10 of 14 games. The Jets also helped themselves by avoiding the sloppy penalties that made Noel cringe earlier in the season.
Zach Bogosian is a big part of Winnipeg’s defensive game. His role expanded early in the season when veteran Tobias Enstrom was injured.
Enstrom is back in the lineup but did miss 21 games. Also out of action for much of the season was veteran defenceman Ron Hainsey.
At age 21, Bogosian is being credited for taking his game to a new level and helping fill the void.
“He skates, he’s scoring, he’s involved in the play . . . For us he’s solid as a rock,” says Noel.
The six-foot-three, 215-pound Bogosian also adds some much-needed size on defence with Dustin Byfuglien out of action.
“Any time you start winning games you get more confident,” said Bogosian.
Bogosian also believes this may be his best NHL season. He has three goals and 13 assists to stand ninth in team scoring.
“Obviously the month of December was good for us,” he said. “We made a lot of strides in the right direction.
“We’ve just got to make sure we’re kind of having that same mentality on the road.”
While it may be a few games before Byfuglien returns, Noel says centre Bryan Little might play in Montreal.
One of Winnipeg’s most consistent scorers, Little has been out since Dec. 17 when a teammate’s shot hit his foot.