The Nashville Predators met the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday evening. Short-handed goals, unfriendliness & iffy officiating were the order of the day.
At this point in the season, all you need to say is this: Winnipeg Jets vs. Nashville Predators.
It’s another meeting between the two best teams in the Central Division. Each game seems to be wilder than the one that preceded it. You get the feeling that these two teams will be seeing each other in the Western Conference Semi-Final, and maybe not just this season. A little more hatred bubbles to the surface each time these teams meet. It’s good stuff.
The Jets got some bad news prior to the game, as Paul Stastny was scratched after warm-ups. No word yet on what’s up with that, but Winnipeg fans will certainly hope it’s a short-term development.
It doesn’t take long for the Nashville Predators to go on the power play. Bryan Little hooks P.K. Subban forty-three seconds into the game. Michael Hutchinson makes some stops & takes a helmet break. Kevin Fiala puts it in the net just before the PP expires at 2:48. Good timing!
Roman Josi & Kyle Turris helped. The Predators are getting some really nice shots & dominating the pace of play. Nashville fires the first thirteen shots of the game. Winnipeg finally gets a shot, and in the process manages to draw a penalty on Mike Fisher. Tyler Myers trips over Fisher’s stick at 7:32. That blows up in Winnipeg’s face when Patrik Laine gives the puck away. Austin Watson gets yet another short-handed goal! Ryan Ellis with the assist at 9:10.
Hutchinson is out & Connor Hellebuyck is in. You know the Jets are going to pull out all stops tonight, even if it means putting their star goalie to work on a rare night off. The Predators make another charge but come up short this time. Mercifully for the Jets, their power play is over.
Winnipeg finds a flow & it’s starting to look like a hockey game with two teams. Joel Armia goes to the penalty box at 13:52 after high-sticking Calle Jarnkrok. We get a scrum behind the net & multiple folks are heading to the box. Blake Wheeler started it with Craig Smith after Smith tried to get the puck out of Hellebuyck’s glove. They’re joined in the box by Ben Chiarot. The Predators get 5 on 3 for a little bit. Forsberg almost converts, but that post gets in the way again. The Jets manage to kill off all penalties.
The penalty parade continues when Jarnkrok hooks Mathieu Perrault at 17:44 to prevent a breakaway. The Predators kill the penalty & go to intermission with a 3-0 goal lead & a 24-6 shot lead.
The first ten minutes were among the Predators’ ten best minutes of the season. There’s still forty left though, so Nashville can’t afford to take the foot off the gas.
Hutchinson apparently has an upper-body injury, explaining his departure from the game. Unless he did it before the game, I’m a bit skeptical of the news. Some good saves early in the period, including Hellebuyck stopping one with his mask. Lots of scrappiness between these teams, you can tell that the hate is starting to flow.
Rinne had most of the first period off but he’s getting work in now. The referees had been quiet for a while, but they call Kyle Turris for slashing at 13:26. Jarnkrok almost adds another short-handed goal to Nashville’s tally, but Dustin Byfuglien gets in there & breaks it up. Nashville kills the power play.
The refs are letting things go behind the net, but they can’t let too much go. Watson & Josh Morrissey slash each other at 18:13 & we get some four on four action. We’ll see a little bit more in the third period.
Pretty uneventful period, which you don’t mind seeing when you’re up three goals. Sure would like to be up a couple more.
The four on four ends without incident. Turris goes back into the box a mere forty seconds into the period, and the Jets take advantage twelve seconds later. Kyle Connor bangs home a rebound off a Wheeler shot to make it 3-1 & give the Jets a pulse. More funny business after a whistle, this time it’s Jarnkrok & Byfuglien. It’s weird how the referees are calling so many penalties & yet so much is being gotten away with.
Austin Watson chucks a Patrik Laine shot out of play & heads to the box at 9:29. It was worth it though because that puck was rolling in until then. They kill off the power play but the Jets are still pressing. Some back & forth hockey the next few minutes. Hellebuyck is having himself a partial game. He goes off the ice with 1:45 left. Ekholm gets the puck & takes a shot, but the whistle blows due to a big old pileup. P.K. Subban & Nikolaj Ehlers have coincidental minors due to the fracas.
Hellebuyck goes back to his net until the Jets get possession. The Predators get a couple of shots at the net but no dice. Big save by Rinne with 30 seconds left, and another scuffle ensues. These teams are already sick of each other. Big save by Rinne, then the refs blow the play dead with 8.6 seconds left because…uh, reasons? It doesn’t matter either way, as the Predators take the win & add two more points to their Central Division lead.
And oh, by the way, they’re now in first place in the entire National Hockey League. The Nashville Predators are tied with the Tampa Bay Lightning at 100 points, but have played 69 games compared to Tampa’s 70.
Steve’s Three Stars
Third Star: Connor Hellebuyck
It looked like the Jets were ready to pack up their things & go home for a minute there. Once they called a timeout & inserted their star goalie into the game, things ran a lot smoother. Whether Michael Hutchinson was hurt or not, it wasn’t his night. Hellebuyck’s breakout season continued with a stellar performance on a night he wasn’t even supposed to be playing.
Second Star: Pekka Rinne
The #Pekka4Vezina campaign continued with thiry-two saves on thirty-three shots tonight. He had a pretty easy time of it in the first period, but the Jets figured things out & brought a barrage of shots in the second & third. When the Nashville Predators aren’t quite on their A game, they can always rely on Number 35.
First Star: Austin Watson
Watson had the two biggest plays in the game. The first short-handed goal ended up being the game-winner for Nashville. His delay of game penalty on a Laine shot rolling towards the net snuffed out Winnipeg’s best chance of making a comeback. Hey, sometimes breaking the rules pays off.
He’s still a good player! When things get wild & wooly, as they were tonight, it’s usually a guy like Austin Watson that rises to the top.
The Arizona Coyotes might be the worst team in the Western Conference, but for whatever reason, they’ve given the Nashville Predators fits this season. The first game was an overtime win for the Coyotes while the second was a shootout victory for the Predators. Find out who wins the season series Thursday night at 10:00 PM ET/9:00 PM CT on Fox Sports Tennessee & 102.5 The Game.