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Jets playing with purpose but playoff push will be tough

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Mark Scheifele scores a beauty Saturday on Blues goalie Brian Elliott.

JEFF ROBERSON / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge Image

Mark Scheifele scores a beauty Saturday on Blues goalie Brian Elliott.

The Olympians -- Blake Wheeler, Olli Jokinen, Ondrej Pavelec and Michael Frolik -- will spend their 'break' chasing international glory.

Jacob Trouba is taking his mom on a Caribbean vacation. Ditto a whack of teammates, who will spend their time off in warmer climes. Paul Postma is heading home to Alberta, Al Montoya to Chicago.

And Mark Scheifele?

"I'm heading home and I'm just going to relax with the family, take it easy."

Asked if he planned to watch the Olympics, he grinned and added:

"Oh yeah... obviously."

Now, whether the Winnipeg Jets will be pulling on their international jerseys, slurping down fancy drinks on a beach or chillin' with their families, one thing is certain as the Olympic break arrived:

Their collective outlook -- from the low of Jan. 12, when the coaching change was made from Claude Noel to Paul Maurice -- has changed dramatically. You've already heard it a gazillion times -- the complete 180 change in confidence -- but it's real, and as palpable as the results.

"Paul's done a great job since coming in," said Jets defenceman Keaton Ellerby. "He didn't overhaul everything and in one day change the whole system. He's gradually done it over a certain amount of time here, and that helped us out a lot.

"Just having a guy like him come in... he's been so upbeat, so positive, and he's so good at motivating the guys and getting the guys ready before games. We've come a long ways since Claude was let go. Obviously, you never like to see somebody let go like that, but Paul's done a great job of getting us to a place we needed to be and knew we could be.

"There's a lot of great hockey players in this room who have stepped up to the challenge."

With the Olympic break upon us, it's as good a time as any to take a look in the rear-view mirror and study what's ahead for this squad as it attempts to make a push for the playoffs in the final 22 games of the season.

Here are some pertinent numbers as hockey fans prepare to turn their attention, briefly, from the Jets to those after a spot on the Olympic medal podium:

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 10, 2014 C4

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