Winnipeg Jets coach Claude Noel has wondered a lot lately about how his players will handle adversity and the pressure of trying to make the playoffs. He might add one more challenge – how they'll handle revenge.
That test will come Friday when the Jets play the Capitals at the Verizon Center in Washington. The game is yet another crucial matchup that could determine whether either team makes the playoffs and it comes one week after Winnipeg beat the Capitals 3-2 at the MTS Centre here in a rowdy contest that left many of the visiting players fuming.
That game included a controversial winning goal that was disputed by the Capitals, a fierce hit by Jets defenceman Mark Stuart on Marcus Johansson that resulted in a $2,500 (U.S.) fine for Stuart and a derogatory "Crosby's better" chant from the crowd aimed at Alexander Ovechkin.
"We definitely don't like them," Capitals forward Brooks Laich said after that game. "We've got them again. We've got them again in a week and hockey players have long memories," he added ominously.
The Jets now have to cope with not only a critical game on the road, where the team isn't very good, but a fired up Capitals team that plays well at home. And, the Jets may regret the MTS Centre fans taunting Ovechkin. He wasn't much of a factor last week in Winnipeg but he has come alive lately, scoring five goals in the past four games, including two on Tuesday when the Capitals beat the Red Wings in Detroit. "My job [is]to score goals," he said bluntly Thursday.
The Jets can take some comfort in one thing. The Capitals play Thursday in Philadelphia, ending a tough road trip that included games against Winnipeg, Detroit, the Chicago Blackhawks and the New York Islanders. (Washington has gone 1-2-1 so far.) But Washington is very good at home, posting a record of 23-10-3 so far this season. That's better than Winnipeg's record at the MTS Centre (23-11-4), which is supposed to be one of the toughest places for opposing teams in the NHL.
Worrisome for Winnipeg is the team's troubles on the road. The Jets are 11-20-4 away from home this season and the team has lost its past three road games. The Jets haven't won on the road since Feb. 16, when the club beat the Minnesota Wild in a shootout. And Winnipeg hasn't won an away game in regulation since Jan. 16, a 2-0 win over the Ottawa Senators.
None of that bodes well considering Winnipeg has nine games left and six are on the road. By some estimates the Jets have to win seven of the team's remaining games to make the playoffs.
The Jets' fading playoff fortunes come as the team's owner, True North Sports and Entertainment Ltd., announced a 3-per-cent increase in the price of season tickets for the 2012-13 campaign. The increase was in line with a commitment True North made to ticket holders last year. The company promised not to increase the price by more than 3 per cent in any one season for the duration of the holders' contract, which ranges from three to five years. A couple of ticket holders have complained to the local media about the increase, but there have been no complaints to the company, a spokesman said.
Some ticket holders said True North probably priced the tickets too low in the first place given the demand (all season tickets sold out in minutes last summer) and the company is now stuck with a cap on future increases. "I'm very curious what kind of hikes will be in store once the contracted price protection expires," said Michael Bailey, a season ticket holder who has signed on for five years. "That five-year protection may turn out to be very valuable."
The Jets increase is also less than some other teams. The St. Louis Blues and New York Rangers, for example, have announced price hikes of up to 10 per cent. However, the Anaheim Ducks are cutting prices by 5 per cent on average.