Jets face Preds in Saturday matinee

- March 1st, 2014

NASHVILLE — Greetings from Music City, where the Winnipeg Jets will face the Nashville Predators this afternoon in a game that is of the utmost importance for both sides.

The Jets (29-26-6) enter the contest two points up on the Preds (26-24-10), who hold a game in hand. Winnipeg is two points behind the Dallas Stars for the final wild-card spot in the West. The Vancouver Canucks also have 66 points, though the Stars have two games in hand on Winnipeg and three on the Canucks.

Interestingly enough, the Predators are one of just three teams to defeat the Jets in regulation time during the Paul Maurice era, that coming back on Jan. 28, with Mike Fisher delivering the game-winner in a 4-3 final.

The Predators have won three of the four meetings between Central Division rivals this season (Jets are 1-2-1 against them so far).

Ondrej Pavelec is back in goal for the Jets after a 34-save performance on Thursday against the Phoenix Coyotes.

The Jets are catching a bit of a break, as Pekka Rinne isn’t quite ready to return from his hip infection.

Rinne made 16 saves in a conditioning assignment with the Milwaukee Admirals of the American Hockey League in what was a 9-1 victory over the Iowa Wild on Friday. He’s also scheduled to play Sunday against the Grand Rapids Griffins before he’s expected to be recalled.

There seems to be some sentiment that it will be difficult for the Preds to stay in the race, but I think it’s the opposite.

Despite the scoring concerns, Nashville has a mobile defence corps and the return of Rinne, who is considered one of the best goalies in the NHL, should be a big boost.

Granted there will be some rust for Rinne to shake off and Carter Hutton has done a pretty admirable job filling in, given his lack of NHL experience, but getting a No. 1 netminder back should help Nashville stay right in the thick of things.

That’s why the Jets need to be at their best if they want to take advantage of this opportunity to create a little separation between them and the Predators this afternoon.

The Jets weren’t at their best in Thursday’s 3-2 shootout win over the Coyotes, but you can expect the execution to be crisper in this tilt.

The special-teams battle will be interesting to watch, since the Predators have a dangerous power play unit that is ranked fifth in the NHL (21.7%) and the Jets have the best penalty kill efficiency on the road (87.5%).

Obviously the Jets will be paying attention to Canadian Olympian Shea Weber and his blistering drives from the point, but there won’t be much line matching for Maurice in this one — though he will likely try to get Zach Bogosian and Toby Enstrom out against Fisher’s line with Matt Cullen and Patric Hornqvist.

“I think this is a four-line game, with the people they have,” said Maurice. “We should be able to get four (lines) off the bench and we need to. I’m more interested in flow off the bench most nights than I am that forward match-up, unless there is something really unusual that their team does. I’m trying to be a lot more aware of our D match-up.”

The Jets are expected to use the same lineup as Thursday, making Paul Postma, Eric Tangradi and Anthony Peluso as the healthy scratches.

By the way, I love the deal the St. Louis Blues made on Friday to pick up goalie Ryan Miller and professional agitator Steve Ott from the Buffalo Sabres.

Miller gives the Blues an upgrade in goal and Ott is a fantastic addition. He’s gritty, will get under the skin of the opposition and can chip in offensively on occasion. He’s a playoff-type performer and will make life difficult on teams.

The Blues are definitely a better team with this moves.

Back to the issue at hand, here’s how we expect both teams to start:

Jets

Andrew Ladd-Bryan Little-Michael Frolik
Evander Kane-Mark Scheifele-Blake Wheeler
Devin Setoguchi-Olli Jokinen-Dustin Byfuglien
James Wright-Jim Slater-Chris Thorburn

Toby Enstrom-Zach Bogosian
Mark Stuart-Jacob Trouba
Adam Pardy-Keaton Ellerby

Ondrej Pavelec (Al Montoya)

Predators

Matt Cullen-Mike Fisher-Patric Hornqvist
Gabriel Bourque-David Legwand-Craig Smith
Eric Nystrom-Colin Wilson-Viktor Stalberg
Richard Clune-Paul Gaustad-Simon Moser

Roman Josi-Shea Weber
Michael Del Zotto-Ryan Ellis
Mattias Ekholm-Seth Jones

Carter Hutton (Devan Dubnyk)

Categories: Hockey

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