Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

First, you stop losing

Playing a solid game only path to playoffs, head coach reasons

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At Claude Noel's dismissal, the Winnipeg Jets were 10 points off the playoff line in the Western Conference.

Under Paul Maurice, the team has posted a 7-2-0 record but has made up only a little ground, six points off the line as of Saturday when it embarked on a four-game road trip that leads to the league's Olympic schedule break.

"It's not our sole reason for being here," Maurice said Saturday about the deficit in the race. "The two goals from Day 1 -- make the playoffs, but it's not going to happen unless we reach our other goal, and that's building a foundation of a game we understand and can continue to play.

"So if you don't play (it), you're not making the playoffs anyway. If you do it and you build it, you have a chance to make the playoffs."

Maurice said he knows there's a distance to go.

"That's a huge amount of ground to make up," he said. "But right now what happens, especially in markets where there's a lot of scrutiny on your team -- scrutiny, not necessarily pressure -- everybody's aware of every shift you play. First, you just want to stop losing. You just want to get out of that horrible feeling. It changes your life when you're losing. There's nothing good going on.

"These guys have been through that. They've been through having to answer those questions why, and not having an answer.

"You can always say there's lots of hockey to play, but you can never take that attitude into the game that night."

The road trip starts in Montreal today.

"We just want to keep playing the same way, building off what we've done," captain Andrew Ladd said. "We understand where we are in the standings and we understand we need to keep winning games, but you don't want to get thinking too far ahead either. So we'll be focused on Montreal and tomorrow."

-- -- --

In the mode of not being satisfied, even after a helpful clean win over the eighth-place Vancouver Canucks on Friday, Maurice found one thing that irritated him.

He thought in the first half of the game there were too many instances of too-long shifts.

"Some of it's habit, especially younger players coming out of junior, where they're allowed to play big shift lengths," he said. "And European players normally have a longer shift length.

"I'm expecting that once it's addressed, you'll see a significant improvement."

Friday's stats sheets didn't show anything outrageous, though the second period saw a few players increase their average shift length.

Maurice said a long shift can disrupt a bench's rhythm and leaves players on the bench clamouring for their own time.

"You've had chances and you're not scoring and guys feel like that next chance is right there, so they start extending that shift," Maurice said. "And they never start out with the idea, 'I'm going to stay out over a minute,' but they get their chance, it doesn't go and then they end up in our end and they can't change.

"And that's how those things get built."

-- -- --

Forward Eric O'Dell was back at practice Saturday, having missed a couple of days and Friday's game to be at the birth of his first child in Ottawa.

His daughter, Isabella, was born Thursday.

"It was a pretty cool experience," O'Dell said. "I'm a first-time father, so just going home for a few days for the delivery, that was pretty cool.

"It was an amazing feeling."

Also on the ice Saturday and continuing to practise with the team is centre Jim Slater, who's had sports-hernia surgery and has been out since October.

Slater will not return to game action until after the Olympic break at the earliest.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 2, 2014 B2

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