Maybe the Preds will volunteer to lose!
After two frustrating loses to the Predators already this season and a disappointing performance on Wednesday, game three against Nashville is a bit of an unwanted re-match. Some days I miss playing Florida.
The Jets have a very uninspiring 2-7-1 record againt their Central Divisional opponents, and with two more games played than Nashville, are nevertheless four points out of ‘not last.’
Against Nashville, the news hasn’t been all bad. The Jets have out shot the Preds at even strength 61-45. Some of that is garbage time in game one, but even when the score is within a single goal, the Jets have led even strength shots 40-38. The challenge has been getting quality shots, and the Preds have led even strength scoring chances 24-14 through two games.
Worse, the Predators are getting better.
Unsatisfied with 5th in the Central, the Preds have made changes already. They sent prospect Filip Forsberg to the AHL, elevated Stalberg from the 4th line to the 1st, and recalled Taylor Beck to create a soft-minutes scoring line. The Jets have only faced Carter Hutton when playing the Preds, and the Predators played game one of the season series without top centreman (and Defender of Faith) Mike Fisher and top-4 defender Roman Josi. Despite struggling with injury and effectiveness, the Predators have taken four points in this season series, and left the Jets with just one.
As Gary Lawless reported, the Predators practiced for over an hour after a 6-4 win over Colorado, despite having 5 of a possible 6 points on their road trip so far. This team is very serious about winning. The Jets, meanwhile, are trying to find chemistry, play as a team, and make simple plays well. They’re trying to evaluate their roster and find lines that work. It’s about process right now in Winnipeg, and the team is a long way from talking about results.
But nothing is ever won on paper, and maybe the third time is the charm.
- Ladd – Little – Wheeler
- Kane – Jokinen – Setoguchi
- Frolik – Scheifele – Halischuk
- Tangradi – Wright – Thorburn
Evander Kane makes his return to the lineup. He proclaimed himself healthy on Wednesday… oh, you heard? Is that really all TSN would talk about through the whole game? They even had melancholy descriptions of him eating popcorn, you say.
The LLW line is back together as well, which we say happen in the third period against Chicago, with unknown effect. They entered the zone well together, created a little offensive chaos. But Ladd and Little still ended up buried in shots and chances, and it was garbage time by the third. So it’s hard to know just what effect it had on the game. Still, in isolation, the threesome looked more like last year than the start of this year. That’s a positive.
The Jets’ current third line continues to be better than it should be, and Scheifele is getting comfortable with Frolik. He had a tremendous game against Detroit, and came out of Chicago without so much as lint in his pockets. They picked him clean. Nashville has much less skill in their roster, so hopefully Scheifele can out-think the Nashville pressure points and avoid playing one-on-five hockey.
- Clitsome – Byfuglien
- Enstrom – Bogosian
- Pardy – Ellerby
Playing the Predators should be a perfect reminder to the team that spreading out talent on the back end only makes you kinda bad all the time. With no remaining depth after injuries and lost free agents, the Predators put Jones with Weber and rode them hard – 25 minutes a night or more – just as they had with Suter and Weber before.
The Jets have a similar group. Two great defenceman, a third who can well in the right circumstances, and some specialists. Enstrom and Byfuglien are better together than apart. No further experimentation is needed to show that. Enstrom makes all of his partners better, in fact, but Byfuglien needs the little guy to be the elite level player he can be. That pairing should play 28 minutes, Bogo should get 22, and Clitsome, Pardy, and Ellerby (or whoever they have to play as depth) should be rotated according to matchups, streaks, etc, and range from 14 to 10. It’s the Nashville model, and I dare say they’ve shown it can work.
The Jets already play Buff that much on many nights, but with Grant Clitsome (the poor man’s Enstrom). It’s a problem for the team, and the coaching mentality to have set pairs that don’t change through a game is outmoded and doesn’t fit this group’s talent distribution.
Noel is already shortening his bench at forward – his fourth line gets 5 minutes in recent games, compared to 10 in months and years past. It’s time the Jets shorten their defensive bench as well, and 10 minutes of Grant Clitsome has to be the first casualty.
- Wilson – Fisher – Stalberg
- Nystrom – Legwand – Hornqvist
- Beck – Cullen – Smith
- Clune – Gaustad – Spaling
This is the lineup the Preds used to hang six goals on the Avs two nights ago. After trying to create a lineup with four out-scoring lines, the Predators have sent Forsberg out, brought up the higher scoring Taylor Beck and assembled a scoring line. Most teams might pencil it in as a ‘second’ line, but for Trotz, the Cullen line will appear against Pardy/Ellerby as often as possible, and possibly be faced off against the Scheifele line when Trotz has his way.
The rest of the lineup is very Nashville. Three lines of two-way, gritty forwards – the kind teams always seem to need one more of. The system is fairly simple for the Preds and involves a 1-2-2 forecheck and neutral zone containment pressure. The Jets’ defenders won’t have the space to make those long outlet passes, and the Jets’ forwards will be dumping it in often unless they can break out and in as a unit the way they did in Detroit.
Out chancing the Jets (24-14 at evens, 29-20 total) has come from keeping the Jets to outside. When they transition with speed and Kane or Wheeler or whoever has that clean entry over the blue line, the Predators sag contain the outside lane and funnel the puck carrier into the corner. The Jets often opt for the 40 or 50ft leaning wrist shot with no traffic. The shots mount, but the chances don’t. The back-pressure from forwards through the middle is the key to that for the Predators, and the Jets need to develop a more patient offence if they want to score.
- Jones – Weber
- Josi – Klein
- Ekholm – Ellis
Roman Josi is back, and Carter "Jets Bane" Hutton is in goal again tonight. It will be interesting to see what former 1st round pick Ryan Ellis gets for minutes now that his partner is no longer a recent ECHL alum. Will the Predators keep him under 14 minutes?
More than likely, the Jets will see 25+ minutes of Weber and Jones, Klein will get his 22 minutes, Josi 18, and the rest will be up to Ekholm, Ellis, and the refs.