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Jets sure they can fly higher and higher

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Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice is 11-3-1 since taking over and keen to get better.

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Winnipeg Jets coach Paul Maurice is 11-3-1 since taking over and keen to get better.

FLATLINING less than two months ago, the Winnipeg Jets -- 11-3-1 since Paul Maurice stepped behind the bench -- are now tossing around two subjects that would have seemed laughable in mid-January:

1. Making the playoffs.

2: Cranking up their level of play another notch... or two.

"We know that we can beat anybody when we play well," said Jets defenceman Mark Stuart on Sunday, one day after his squad improved to 30-26-6 with a 3-1 win over the Nashville Predators. "There's some things that we'd like to do better from the last two games, but we were able to get the wins and that's the most important thing right now, getting those two points.

"We have two days here (Sunday and Monday) to work on some things, talk about some things, because we think the bar is a little bit higher right now. We know the good things we've done, I'm not taking anything away from that. But we know we can always push and push.

"It's just going to get harder and harder here down the stretch, so we're going to have to continue to push and try to take it to that next level. I mean, playoff hockey is a whole new level and we need to get there now because this is our playoffs here now, this next 20 (games)."

The Jets face the New York Islanders Tuesday, part of a critical stretch that will see them play eight of their next 10 at home.

"Since Paul's been here we're 11-3-1... that's got to be if not the hottest team in the NHL, it's got to be up there," said Keaton Ellerby. "We're making some noise. It's just been a great experience so far. It's fun to win, having this opportunity to be in this playoff hunt... but we can still get better."

That was a common refrain in the Jets' dressing room Sunday: A recognition that the two post-Olympic wins over Phoenix and Nashville weren't without their flaws and that now isn't the time to get fat and sassy with the recent success.

"We can be better," said Maurice. "Listen, our compete has been good. But that has to absolutely be our attitude every day that we come to the rink, that there's a way we can get better. I truly believe this team can play a better game of hockey. It's not from a lack of desire. If you're asking what's the one asset we've brought to the table every night, it's we've got a good bunch of really competitive guys. The mistakes that we've made, we've blocked a shot or got a great save or worked really hard.

"But in terms of being a pretty efficient, functioning team, we've got lots of room to get better with that and that takes time. So what you're hoping for is your compete and your drive can carry you by (until) that time..."

SICK BAY UPDATE: Winger James Wright, who left Saturday's win over Nashville with an apparent leg/knee injury, was being evaluated on Sunday and his status is iffy.

"He's getting checked out as we speak," said Maurice. "I think there's going to be an injury there... I don't know how long it is, so we'll just wait until we get the full and clean report. I would list him as very doubtful."

The Jets do have three extra forwards in Matt Halischuk, Eric Tangradi and Anthony Peluso.

Devin Setoguchi (flu) and Toby Enstrom (maintenance) did not skate Sunday.

KILLING IT: The Jets killed off six Predators power plays on Saturday, improving their penalty-kill percentage on the season to 84.6, sixth best in the NHL. Winnipeg's road penalty-kill percentage of 88.2 is the best in the league.

LEFT-WING UNLOCKED: Maurice said he'll likely do more juggling with the left side of the Jets' depth chart in the games ahead. He moved Evander Kane to the left flank of Olli Jokinen and Dustin Byfuglien, shifting Devin Setoguchi onto the trio with Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler.

"I think you're going to see some movement on our left wing. That's sometimes depending on the opposition, but having some speed with Jokinen and Byfuglien... I like that," he said. "Both Jokinen and Byfuglien can make some plays. Having all that speed with Scheifele and Wheeler at times is great and at other times it's... I don't want to say redundant, but there are times when they can be moving too fast."

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

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 3, 2014 C3

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