Jets straddle eighth-place playoff spot line but there's much ground left

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WINNIPEG - The Winnipeg Jets find themselves at "the line," a term head coach Claude Noel constantly refers to. The trick is now is staying there.

The line that Noel talks about is the one drawn through the conference standings that separates the top eight—teams that secure a playoff berth—from the others who ultimately come up short and go home empty-handed.

"We had some goals in the early going where we felt we could be a playoff team," Noel said Friday. "Then we tried to get to .500, which was a little bit of a daunting task because we didn't start great.

"Then we got to .500 and now we're trying to stay above .500 and we're trying to get to that line or above the line."

It's a line Winnipeg finds itself straddling heading into Friday night's home game against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Jets' 4-0 win over the reeling Montreal Canadiens on Thursday night moved them into a tie with New Jersey for the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot. But Winnipeg doesn't have the luxury of time to feel good about itself.

There's still more than half the NHL season remaining and plenty of teams jockeying for position. And there's also the matter of having to face the Penguins.

"That's the thing," said defenceman Mark Stuart. "It's so tight in the standings, any game you can be moving up or moving down so I don't think we're really looking at what place we're in right now."

After a slow start, Winnipeg has become more consistent although there's certainly plenty of room for improvement, especially on the road. The Jets are a conference-best 12-5-1 at home but just 4-8-4 away from the Manitoba capital.

However a lengthy homestand has given Noel the time he wanted for team building and he says it has garnered results.

"We're inching closer to some of our goals and a lot of it has to do with our record at home," he said. "We've stabilized our game.

"We're becoming a team that's hard to play against."

Noel hopes his players can take the lessons they're learning to heart next month as the Jets only have four home games in January.

"There's a high confidence factor," he said. "We've got to take it on the road."

Noel said much of Winnipeg's road struggles came early when his team was still finding its way. The Jets are playing much better of late, posting a 7-2-1 record over their last 10 games.


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