Winnipeg Jets: Why the Next 6 Games Will Determine Their Playoff Destiny

Dustin OlsonContributor IDecember 20, 2011

WINNIPEG, CANADA - DECEMBER 6: Bryan Little #18 and Andrew Ladd #16 celebrate Little's game winning goal against the Boston Bruins in NHL action at the MTS Centre on December 6, 2011 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Marianne Helm/Getty Images)
Marianne Helm/Getty Images

It is safe to assume that the Winnipeg Jets' current homestand, which will see them in Winnipeg for all but two games this month, has allowed even the team's bachelors to put the finishing touches on their new homes. Maybe, just maybe, they've managed to mount a Christmas decoration or two.

On the ice, there is ample evidence of a team that is finally resonating positively with the comforts of home life in the River City. The Jets are 6-1 in their last seven games at the MTS Centre, bringing their record to two games above .500, only one point out of a playoff spot.

Whether or not the team remains on the outside looking in will be determined over the course of the next 12 days, beginning with tonight's contest against the New York Islanders. The Jets will play six games in that span and, in the opinion of this writer, they are all games the team must win if they are to have a snowball's chance in Phoenix of making the postseason.

Five of the six games are at home, with the lone road game coming after three days rest in Denver against an Avalanche team that will have played a tough Minnesota Wild team in Minneapolis the night before.  

All six games are against teams that are backing their way into 2012. The aggregate record of the Jets' six opponents (Montreal, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles and Toronto, in addition to New York and Colorado) is 26-27-7. 

In addition to Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang, the Penguins may also be without centre Jordan Staal and defenseman Paul Martin when they battle the Jets on Friday. Both Los Angeles and Montreal have changed coaches in the last week. The Maple Leafs are 2-6 in December. The Islanders are...well, the Islanders.

Any team can get up for a big game. The Jets have done so twice this month. First, a 2-1 victory over the defending champion Bruins on December 6th, and then again a week later over the then-league-leading Wild, also by a one-goal margin. But it's the teams that win the games they're supposed to win that end up playing hockey through April and May. The Jets are staring down six consecutive winnable games, with perhaps their best chance to climb the standings all year.

Next month, the Jets' scheduling fortune runs dry. Of their 13 January games, nine will be played on the road and 11 will come against teams currently in playoff positions. If the team doesn't find itself firmly rooted in a playoff spot by New Year's Day, they might as well book a tee time for April 8th.