WINNIPEG – The Winnipeg Jets aren’t taking any solace from the fact they play their next five games at home and only one team they face is above them in the standings.
“I don’t think there’s any comfort to it at all,” said coach Claude Noel.
“I don’t think that anybody stops or lets up or quits because they’re below the line or way below the line.”
The Jets play Buffalo Tuesday, then Florida, Tampa Bay, Carolina and the N.Y. Islanders. Only New York is ahead of them in the Eastern Conference.
Winning is crucial now for the Jets’ playoff hopes, with most of their conference rivals holding games in hand.
But a playoff spot is still in sight if they can put together a few repeats of Saturday’s 4-1 home win over the Philadelphia Flyers.
Significant perhaps, was the way the team’s top forwards shook off whatever had held them back during a long slump.
Their collective drought contributed to a five-game losing streak that only ended Saturday and cost the Jets what had once looked like a comfortable hold on top spot in the Southeast Division.
But they’re now back duelling with the Washington Capitals for the division lead and are also just below the line that could see them move into the eighth and final spot in the Eastern Conference.
Noel says there wasn’t much he could do to help top forwards like Blake Wheeler, Andrew Ladd and Evander Kane.
“You don’t want to over-coach those situations,” he said.
“I think the good thing was that we worked hard together and these things looked after themselves. . . It worked itself out, which we knew it would anyway.”
Kane, who picked up a goal and an assist Saturday, agreed that for the Jets to win during this stretch, their top players have to produce.
“It’s something we talked about going into these last nine games,” he said.
“For us as a group, if we can get our top guys firing on all cylinders and get hot going down into the stretch here, it gives us a really good opportunity to win a lot of the games.”
Noel has noted the inconsistency of the Jets this lockout-shortened season, but said other teams are having the same problem.
“I think it just shows how competitive the league is and how hard it is to win each and every night,” said Kane.
“It’s not just us, it’s a lot of teams throughout the league, and that’s what makes it an entertaining game.”
Meanwhile, 19-year-old NHL rookie Jacob Trouba got his name on a stall Wednesday as he got a chance for a real practice with the team for the first time.
“I’ve moved up from the chair, that’s good,” said Trouba, who only signed last week after he decided to leave college.
“I’ll be back there tomorrow, I’m sure, when (Zach) Redmond gets back. It’s part of being the young guy.”
Noel isn’t saying whether Trouba, a defenceman and Winnipeg’s top draft pick last year, will see any action.
“The bottom line is we’re trying to get ourselves in a position to win games and that’s what we’re focused on right now,” he said.
But Trouba seemed happy just to put on a Jets uniform.
“I think I can keep up and just try to blend in and not be noticed in a bad way,” he said.