Tonight is another opportunity for the Nashville Predators to stop the bleeding and get an important win over a divisional opponent.
This thing hasn’t gotten completely out of hand just yet. It’s mid-November and the Predators are just one healthy winning streak away from being climbing back up near the top of the division.
But they have to start taking advantage of these divisional matchups before they start sliding back even further. They currently sit seven points behind the St.Louis Blues, and have let four other teams move past them in the division during this slide where they’ve lost six of the last seven.
In come the Winnipeg Jets, who has no shortage of scoring weapons and are going in a different direction than the Predators have been going in. The Jets are 7-2-1 in their last ten and are four points ahead of the Predators in the division.
The last time these teams met back in late-March, the Jets romped the Predators 5-0 on the back of Kyle Connor‘s hat trick. It’s fair to say the Predators will look like a much different team from that March meeting. No P.K. Subban, Brian Boyle, Wayne Simmonds, Yannick Weber or Matt Irwin. Let’s hope for a different result as well.
New faces in the lineup
The big story going into this game with Winnipeg is the two recalls from Milwaukee the Predators made yesterday. They called up defenseman Steven Santini and right winger Mathieu Olivier to the lineup. In return, Miikka Salomaki was reassigned back to Milwaukee.
Santini will certainly start tonight on the defense’s third pairing, replacing Matt Irwin and Yannick Weber in that spot. It can be argued that it’s long overdue that the Predators have made a change on the third defensive pairing which has struggled greatly through the first 19 games.
Olivier was a more surprising move as I would’ve expected a few other players to get called up before him. This is his first ever assignment to the NHL level. He brings more physicality and defensive presence, which is what the Predators have sorely lacked in many of their games recently.
If Olivier gets the chance to appear in his first NHL game, it would be a bold move to take Watson or Turris out of the lineup, but maybe that’s what this team needs to break this ugly trend we’ve seen over the last two weeks. It won’t come without heavy scrutiny and criticism as the Predators choose to go with a player with zero NHL experience over seasoned veterans.
What makes the Jets tough
The Jets are stacked on their top two lines. They come at you in waves and you can’t give them power play chances due to taking sloppy penalties. Oddly enough, the Jets aren’t performing as well on the power play at just 20th in the league, but last season they were top-ten.
Either way, we know the Jets have those lethal weapons they you don’t want to see on the power play. Especially when the Predators haven’t been very effective in their own right when it comes to killing off penalties. Play a clean game against this squad.
The Jets top line is especially dangerous with Mark Scheifele (20 points), Patrik Laine (18 points) and Kyle Connor (16 points). This team is pretty deep as well with seven players in double digits in points. However that hasn’t translated to piling up the goals for them as they’re currently 23rd in the NHL averaging 2.71 goals per game.
You can’t leave out Blake Wheeler, who has been seeing time on the Jets’ second line. Wheeler’s line is performing really well as of late, and will be a tough test defensively for a Predators team that’s struggling in this department.
Where the Jets really struggle is their own penalty killing (27th in the NHL) and giving up a lot of shot attempts (7th-most in the NHL). The Predators have to take advantage of however many power play attempts they may get and also find quality shot attempts to test who I’d expect to be Connor Hellebuyck in net.
Hellebuyck has gotten the vast majority of starts this season and is playing very well recently. In four of his last six starts he’s given up two goals or less. His save percentage has gotten up to .927 and he’s surrendering just 2.44 goals per game. I don’t see the Jets not starting Hellebuyck for a big divisional game.
I’ve been wrong numerous times during this current slide predicting the Predators to pull out of this rut and get a win. They’ve played teams recently that on paper the Predators are better than. Now the Predators come in as underdogs in my personal opinion. This is going to be a tall order to beat the Jets tonight.
Predators goaltending has particularly looked bad as of late. Pekka Rinne has been chased out of the game for Juuse Saros twice this season. Looks like we’re going to see Saros get his seventh start of the season tonight, but either way this hasn’t been the goaltending we’re accustomed to seeing from this duo.
For the Predators to snap this losing streak and get a huge win over Winnipeg, they’re going to have to score at least four to five goals. It’s going to be high-scoring and predicated on speed. If the Predators can limit their penalties and take advantage of power play opportunities, then they’ll hang with the Jets on the scoreboard.
I’m going with the Predators to score their fair share of goals tonight to get this thing to overtime. However, I have them losing 5-4 in overtime tonight. They get a point, but the slide continues. Just not sure the Jets are the team to get you out of a current funk.