This game had everything.
Big hits, continous play, excellent passing, tough board battles, impressive individual efforts, and goals aplenty.
If only the Jets came out of this one with two points.
As anybody who follows the NHL knows, the Jets have been on a ridiculous hot streak as of late. Fans and media are excited to see their team turn a new leaf with much improved play, accentuated by recent wins over juggernauts Anaheim and Chicago. The analytical eye could tell another story, as while their performance has improved under Paul Maurice, they haven’t really been made to pay for their mistakes.
They did tonight.
The Jets came out flying in the first period, undeterred by an early Seth Jones goal. Chris Thorburn – back on the second line in place of Evander Kane, who will be out with a hand infection till after the Olympic break – scored his first of the season twenty-two seconds later, masterfully tipping a Stuart point shot past Carter Hutton’s glove. Winnipeg’s PK thrived early as well, killing – nay, destroying – two Preds powerplays (the first of which the Preds barely entered the offensive zone). The Jets used a swarming forecheck, electing to have whoever was closest to the puck chase after it regardless of position. Nashville looked confused and lost.
Unfortunately, the Predators were able to strike early again in the second, with Roman Josi finishing off a beautiful passing play between four different players. Nashville adjusted their speed to match Winnipeg’s, which also allowed them to catch the Jets out of position – which essentially became the story of the game. The Preds scored again late in the second, after Winnipeg’s fourth line got caught waiting for a call when Paul Gaustad appeared to board Keaton Ellerby, take the puck, and set up Nick Spaling’s aforementioned goal. This play was not unlike the penalty mistakenly attributed to Stuart last game, when Jokinen boarded Marcus Kruger – but alas, no call this time.
I feel sorry for the dejected Jets fans who changed channels before the second ended, because Mark Scheifele put on a show. Seconds after the Spaling goal, Scheifele drew Hutton out of his goal, and banked the puck off Josi’s skate to make it 3-2. Then on the next shift, Scheifele fed Wheeler in the slot, who ripped the puck into Hutton’s glove, where it fell out, and trickled past the goal line. Two fortunate bounces for the Jets, but when you’re hot, you’re hot, and they left the second period all squared up.
The Jets started the third down a man, and after a called back goal due to incidental goalie interference, the Preds’ Mike Fisher scored again, and this one counted. Scheifele put in a great effort all period long, but the Jets were unable to capitalize on a number of great chances – including a powerplay Scheifele drew and a last second wrist shot off a Scheifele won face-off that Andrew Ladd put over the net.
It was another great effort by a team on a roll, but Nashville plays a very disciplined game. Every goal the Preds scored came from a Winnipeg players mistake, and the Jets would do wise to learn from this game.
Mark Scheifele had one of his best games of the season. Chris Thorburn is nary a replacement for Evander Kane, but Scheifele and linemate Wheeler rose to the occasion. Young Scheifele is gaining confidence very quickly, trying all sorts of different dekes, dangles, and sharp turns to elude checks he wouldn’t dare attempt earlier this year. His goal off the foot of Josi looked intentional, and only a player "feeling it" could pull that off.
This was a the perfect team to match up against the Jokinen line. They don’t have great speed, but can board battle with the best of them. Though they had some trouble breaking out because of this, many of their shifts were spent frustrtating Preds defence below the goal line.
Jokinen line aside, the Jets showed an amazing amount of speed all game long. Obviously the team has a few speedsters, but they showed an ability to drive an uptempo game we haven’t seen in awhile.
Pavelec. His poor positioning finally caught up to him tonight as he was to blame for the first two goals. I know we roast the Czech netminder a lot here on Jets Nation, but rewatch the first two Preds goals and see how much he cheats out on wide angled plays/shots. This is a direct example of how much poor goaltending can hurt the Jets – losing tonight’s two points against a division rival may hurt a lot in a couple months.
Mark Stuart also had a poor game, no matter what TSN-Jets colour commentator Shane Hnidy would have you believe. Stuart was to blame for the second Preds goal as well, getting back late, and forcing Frolik to cover for him and leave his own man wide open. Stuart and his partner Trouba are also at fault for the winning goal, where both D-men had three Predators between them and Ondrej Pavelec. I’ve also noticed lately how often Stuart pushes opposing forwards straight into Pavelec – a very curious strategy both because you could hurt your goalie, and because the interference call you’re trying to draw might not happen.
The Jets played an exciting game tonight, both to watch and because of it’s implications. The pace they drove tonight suggests they can run-and-gun with the best of them, but it’s still important to keep focused no matter how hectic the game becomes. A better performance from Pavelec and a team wide commitment to better positional play, and this one ends in Winnipeg’s favour.