One scary dude. (photo courtesy of hockeyschedule)
The Jets are on an incredible roll right now. Since Paul Maurice took over the bench a little more than two weeks ago, they’ve won six of their last seven games, grinding out victories against some of the league’s best in Anaheim and Chicago. Goals are coming easy, Pavelec’s numbers have improved, and fan optimism is at a season high.
I wrote in my review of the Chicago game that Winnipeg didn’t deserve to win, lucky to leave with two points after only playing one period of NHL calibre hockey. This was in stark contrast to the majority of Jets media, who saw their team rope-a-dope the ‘Hawks with a mixture of tenacity and resilience.
So let’s look at the positives.
By seizing 12 out of a possible 14 points during Maurice’s tenure, the Jets managed to climb out of the Central Division basement – past tonight’s opponents, the Nashville Predators – and launch themselves back into playoff talk. With 55 points, the Jets are now nipping at the heels of the 56-point Stars and the 58-point Coyotes.
Unfortunately, the Western Conference contains the toughest competition in the league, and even with their recent winning ways, the Jets haven’t made up much ground in the point race. Vancouver and Minnesota currently occupy the two Wild Card spots in the West, with 63 and 62 points respectively. This is, however, a step-by-step process, and if Maurice truly has impacted this club as much as we all hope, the Jets are only a good 10 game stretch away from catching their Conference rivals.
Tonight will be the fourth of five contests between the Jets and the Preds this season. When you look at their respective line-ups, it’s hard to believe Winnipeg sports a 1-1-1 record against Nashville this year. The Preds historically play one of the most restrictive systems in the NHL (mostly out of necessity due to their inability to attract marquee players), but the Jets have the scoring punch to overcome that. We saw proof of this the last time these two teams met back in November, when almost every Jets line scored a goal on the back of a 5-0 Pavelec shutout.
The Predators have been up and down lately. The Jets have everything going for them right now. If they bring the passion they’ve brought lately paired with the patience it takes to play against the Preds, it’s hard to imagine the Jets not improving to 7-1 under Paul Maurice.
- Ladd – Little – Frolik
- Kane – Scheifele – Wheeler
- Setoguchi – Jokinen – Byfuglien
- Thorburn – O’Dell – Peluso
The Preds are one of the few teams in the NHL outmatched by Winnipeg’s depth. San Jose, Chicago, and Anaheim all exposed the drop off in skating ability we see after Winnipeg’s top six, but that shouldn’t be much of an issue against Nashville.
Maurice will keep his controversial third line together. This line plays best when they have a bit more time to think, and they’ll likely get it tonight. Byfuglien can board battle with the best of them, and when you add Setoguchi’s scoring touch and Jokinen’s…moustache?….this line could have their best game in a long while.
Ladd and Little have had their way with the Preds all season. The addition of Frolik’s Renaissance Man style of play has made them maybe even more dangerous than they were with Wheeler. This is beneficial, because Wheeler and Kane play great together, and both bring the best out of young Scheifele.
Under Maurice, the Jets have gone from having a strong top six to a strong top nine.
- Bogosian – Enstrom
- Stuart – Trouba
- Pardy – Ellerby
The defence should hopefully be on more of an even keel against Nashville. Bogosian and Enstrom logged huge minutes last week, matching up against formidable duos like Getzlaf/Perry and Thornton/Marleau. The Preds do not boast nearly as deep of a roster, so Pardy and Ellerby should see some more ice time.
It’s tough to say who should get the start in goal. Pavelec almost certainly will, but is that the best decision? Other than an early soft goal, Montoya played a magnificient game against the ‘Hawks. Pavelec’s been racking up the wins lately, but has left a lot of holes in the net while doing it.
- Beck – Fisher – Hornqvist
- Spaling – Legwand – Smith
- Bourque – Gaustad – Nystrom
- Clune – Aronson – Wilson
Injuries to Matt Cullen and Viktor Stalberg thin out an already thin forward corps, although neither are having great seasons anyway (especially Stalberg).
Fisher, and lifelong Preds Hornqvist, Legwand, and Smith remain Nashville’s prime scoring threats, but none of them have reached the 40 point plateau yet in the team’s 54 games.
The Preds recently sent Matt Hendricks to Edmonton for goalie Devan Dubnyk and scored four goals against the Flames last week in two events that should have no impact on this game whatsoever.
- Josi – Weber
- Del Zotto – Jones
- Bartley – Ellis
The Preds exchanged stay-at-home defenceman Kevin Klein for offensively-inclined D-man Michael Del Zotto with the Rangers last week, but it’s too early to tell what kind of impact this will have. Del Zotto underperfomed in New York under new coach Alain Vigneault, but if he can find his previous form, Nashville’s top four could generate more offense than their forwards (they already kind of do).
Hutton and Dubnyk traded starts the past two games, but it is yet unknown if GM David Poile and Head Coach Barry Trotz see this as a 1A/1B situation, or if Dubnyk will be relegated to the back-up role. The Jets wouldn’t mind facing either goalie, as neither have been good.
The Jets have a relatively easy schedule before the Olympic break, facing only two teams who have shown any life lately in the Blues and Hurricanes. After the Olympic break is another story, however. The Jets can and need to beat teams like the Predators, with one eye always looking forward to the post-season.