It may be bitterly cold outside, but things are heating up inside the Winnipeg Jets locker room. Whether that’s a good or bad thing remains to be seen but the Jets do have a game to focus on as divisional rival Nashville pays their first visit to the MTS Centre on Thursday.
After Wednesday’s practice Blake Wheeler had some pointed comments directed towards his teammates that stirred the pot. Of course, Twitter went crazy with these tough but ultimately fair comments from Wheeler.
It seems like Blake Wheeler makes this little speech, or some version of it, every year.
— Adam Wazny (@wazoowazny) January 13, 2016
Blake Wheeler is becoming a leader. It’s really amazing to see.. He’ll be a great Captain for the Jets next season. #NHLJets
— Archie Scott (@AJ_Scott13) January 14, 2016
Couldn’t have more respect for Blake Wheeler. He’ll stand there and truthful answer the tough questions. Even some he was never asked. #26
— David (@Swimmingly_) January 13, 2016
How will the Jets respond? Only time will tell but they’d better respond positively or else. Yes, the Jets are only four points behind the Predators for the final wildcard spot, but the Jets have to leapfrog Colorado, Anaheim and Vancouver first. Meanwhile, the Predators have lost four straight and haven’t won since the acquisition of Ryan Johansen from Columbus for Seth Jones. Expect a desperate Nashville team on Thursday.
There could be some line juggling here. During Tuesday’s 4-1 loss to San Jose, head coach Paul Maurice moved Andrew Ladd on a line with Mathieu Perreault and Nikolaj Ehlers while Chris Thorburn joined Adam Lowry and Alexander Burmistrov on the checking line.
Mark Scheifele was placed on IR with a lower body injury so expect more experimentation with line combinations. Matt Halischuk was recalled from the Manitoba Moose as an emergency.
Tyler Myers is somewhat fortunate to only receive a fine for his cross-check to the head of Tommy Wingels. The 6-8 blue liner was assessed a five-minute major and a game misconduct for the foul but only received a $5,000 fine from the league. Paul Postma was assigned to the Moose for a conditioning stint.
Has Connor Hellebuyck hit the wall? The rookie goalie has cooled off after a strong start to his career. Granted this is a small sample size but in his last two games, Hellebuyck has an .888 save percentage. With a game in Minnesota the next night, Michael Hutchinson should get the call in one of these next two games.
The Predators have had difficulties finding the back of the net recently, scoring only 6 goals in 4 games. In fact, only two Predator forwards, James Neal and Filip Forsberg are in double figures in goals. The Predators need more from their second line of Mike Riberio, Viktor Arvidsson and Craig Smith so keep an eye on that trio.
Roman Josi has elevated his game to the point that Predators management felt Seth Jones was expendable. The 25-year-old Swiss blueliner leads the Predators in scoring with 31 points, (9G, 22A) in 43 games. While not dominating possession, (50.6% corsi, 52.5% fenwick) Josi has seen his analytical numbers go up every year as he continues to improve.
Pekka Rinne continues to be a workhorse between the pipes for Nashville. The Finnish netminder has appeared in 36 out of 43 games this season but has only registered a .905 save percentage which is below average. If the Predators want to hold on to a playoff spot, Rinne will have to be better especially when you consider that Nashville isn’t a high-scoring team.
Game Prediction: This will be a low-scoring, tight checking affair which is how the Predators like to play. However, this is a style that the Jets should be playing. Since we’re all massive homers here at Jets Nation, the Jets prevail 2-1.
Obvious Prediction: Mark Stuart will take a needless penalty at some point. Because…well, he’s Mark Stuart.
Not So Obvious Prediction: Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff will approach Dustin Byfuglien following the game and ask him to submit a list of teams he can negotiate a trade with. It has to happen at some point.