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Momentum building: Maurice

Not panicking yet, despite loss to Kings

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The sputter this week at the MTS Centre is a concern to the Winnipeg Jets if for no other reason than the eighth-place Dallas Stars have slipped three points higher in the NHL's Western Conference standings.

But the panic button is nowhere is sight, the Jets insisted Friday as they prepared for their home matinee today against the Ottawa Senators (2 p.m., CBC, TSN 1290).

Winnipeg, at 30-27-7, was equal with Dallas earlier this week but is now three points back of the eighth-place Stars with Phoenix in the way, too.

It was an uneven, anxious effort Tuesday in an overtime loss to the Islanders that was more surprising than Thursday's 3-1 defeat against the proficient and now-streaking Los Angeles Kings.

The Jets say they still feel the momentum they gained mid-January when -- call that a panic-button moment if you will -- Paul Maurice took over as coach.

"I think since Paul's been here we've been sort of playing playoff games every game," Jets right-winger Blake Wheeler said. "We've played that style most nights and it's given us success. We've played some really tough games and had success and won some of those games.

"I don't think last night should be a deterrent from what we've been doing. As we go on, the games will keep getting a little bit more and more ramped up in that style.

"Not a whole lot going on? That's both teams playing as good as they can play."

Even if it appears to be an in-game standstill, Maurice insists his team has come a distance. Not only were they 10 points off the playoff line when he arrived, but they were not a reliable defensive group and not winning with any regularity.

The Jets, Maurice said after Friday's short practice at the MTS Iceplex, are right where they were going into the Olympic break, with an overtime point and a loss in the last two games.

But, since the team is 11-4-2 in his tenure, he refused to see any loss of momentum in it.

"I don't, certainly in their intentions and their focus," the coach said. "I know the Phoenix and Nashville games (last week) didn't look pretty but those were critical, tough wins. Both those teams looked at those as must games, certainly Nashville at home, going into the trade deadline.

"At no point are we coming out to dominate a team in that manner. They're going to look a little different this time of year. That's part of the message to the L.A. game -- as long as you're comfortable in that and I thought we were for a while."

So Thursday's match against the systematically sound Kings was a battle of wills lost, but the Jets at least had some will in the game, the coach insisted.

"When things get off the rails for us, we started to force things, that's right in L.A.'s wheelhouse, passes in the neutral zone, that's exactly what they'll do to you," he said. "A learning experience and I'll go back to what I said yesterday, that this is about the team confidence."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 8, 2014 0

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Updated on Saturday, March 8, 2014 at 10:19 AM CST: Replaces photo

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