The Winnipeg Jets have been one of the best home teams in the NHL this season, due in large part to the emotional high the city has been riding since the league announced plans to return here last spring.
But could it also be the reason the former Atlanta Thrashers are fading just as the playoff race heats up?
That’s what Jets coach Claude Noel suggested in a candid chat with the media Monday morning.
“We’ve been going at this for a while, and it wears on you,” he said prior to his team’s contest against the Ottawa Senators, noting the NHL season is a mental and physical grind.
“The other thing too, is you’re coming from a different animal here,” he continued. “You’re coming from Atlanta to here. There’s a lot of exposure here, there’s a lot more pressure, there’s a lot more people paying attention, there’s a lot more expectation, there’s a lot more internal want from our players to do well.
“It’s a lot different from Atlanta, so the last 30-40 games, does that wear on you? I think it does, but that’s part of learning to deal with this stuff.”
Noel said young players aren’t often aware of how strained they are until it’s too late.
“What it does is it fatigues you a lot more and you don’t realize it, and you have to really manage your rest (and) recovery,” he said. “And I think that maturing process that we’re going through is a different scenario than what they went through last season.”
The Jets entered Monday’s game with the fourth-most home wins (23-11-4) in the Eastern Conference, trailing only the Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers and Washington Capitals.
Only the Tampa Bay Lightning and the hapless Columbus Blue Jackets have worse road records than the Jets (12-21-4), however, which speaks to another fatigue factor: Travel.
Nowhere is that more apparent than in the Jets’ record in the second half of back-to-back games (1-11 after Saturday night’s loss to the Nashville Predators).
There’s no relief coming on that front, either. The Jets — parked in the middle of North America — have at least one more season to play in the Southeast Division.
The line of the day went to 175-pound Senators defenceman Erik Karlsson, who was asked why he has been snapping hockey sticks like twigs lately.
“I’ve been working out A LOT this week,” the, ahem, muscle-bound defenceman said. “I’m a little bit stronger, maybe.”
Actually, you can chalk it up to a bad batch of sticks and some bad luck.
“It’s the way it is, I can’t think about it,” he said. “I mean, I’ve got to still shoot the puck and if it breaks, it breaks, and I’ll get mad for two minutes and then get back on (the ice) again.”
BUSTER AND ANDY
Winnipeg forward Tim Stapleton (one of the hottest Jets, with goals in each of the past three games) and Senators goalie Craig Anderson go way back. On the ice, anyway.
They faced each other as children playing minor hockey in a suburb outside Chicago.
“Back then, I probably (scored against him). I was pretty good back then,” joked Stapleton, who went by the nickname ‘Buster’ as a kid. “No, I don’t know, I think I’ve had a couple chances against him in the NHL level and he’s stopped me every time.
“He’s always been good, and he was kind of the guy growing up that you knew, out of Chicago, would probably be playing in the NHL.”