The Winnipeg Jets will look to forget a 4-1 loss at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks Wednesday when they welcome the Nashville Predators to the MTS Centre Friday night.
The Jets (6-9-2) haven’t had much luck against the Preds (8-5-2) so far this season, dropping their first two matches of the year — a 3-1 loss Oct. 20, followed by a 3-2 overtime defeat Oct. 24.
So with that, here are five things to watch for this time around as the Jets look to get a game closer to evening up the season series:
Buffing the critics
It seems like every week there’s someone new in the doghouse for Jets fans.
Last week it was starting netminder Ondrej Pavelec. This week, it’s defenceman Dustin Byfuglien.
Byfuglien finished a minus-3 against Chicago Wednesday and was on the ice for all four goals scored against. It was the fourth time as a member of the Jets that Byfuglien has finished minus-3 and the seventh in his career. Never has he finished a game worse than a minus-3.
But what’s interesting is that the big blueliner has been arguably the Jets best player all season. He was said to have trimmed down close to 30 pounds heading in to camp and if you’ve ever attended a practice he’s arguably the hardest worker on the ice.
And he’s playing his way on to Team USA in the upcoming Olympic games in February. So what seems to be the problem?
Right now there’s speculation that Byfuglien is upset that he hasn’t scored this season, a pretty impressive stat when you consider he leads all defencemen in shots through 17 games. He’s shown his frustration in games: the latest being an emotional outburst against Detroit this week when he smashed his stick on the bench after giving up a shorthanded scoring chance.
There’s no doubt that Byfuglien cares about his team and everyone on it. In fact, he probably cares more than anyone on his team. Look for a strong rebound game tonight against a Predators team that likes to get the puck deep. Buff will be waiting.
Kane – Is he a go?
Lots of speculation surrounding forward Evander Kane after he was left out of the lineup Wednesday.
Kane had missed both practices leading up to the game but was present for the pre-game skate. He told reporters he was ready to go but to the surprise of many, he wasn’t given the green light to play by Jets coaching staff.
Coach Claude Noel stated after the game that the decision to sit his star forward was a reflection of the long-term picture and to preserve the health of his most prolific scorer. Simply put: he wasn’t a healthy scratch.
Now, it’s known that Kane has played hurt before. But it’s also known that players and coaches don’t always agree on a return date.
Don’t be surprised if you see Kane playing tonight. Oh, and it’s too early to start thinking potential trade bait.
Welcome back Pav
To the dismay of many fans, it would appear the Al Montoya experiment isn’t all it was cracked up to be.
Montoya, after leading the Jets to a 4-2 victory against the Detroit Red Wings Monday, got his second-consecutive start in the game against Chicago. And for the first time in two seasons the Jets backup goalie looked human, allowing four goals on 28 shots.
The Jets will most likely return to Pavelec tonight. In four career starts against Nashville, Pavelec is 1-2-1 against the Predators, which includes the two losses this season.
The 26-year-old Czech is coming off one of his worst performances this year where he allowed four goals on just 14 shots in a 5-1 loss to the Blackhawks on Nov. 2.
But not all is bad news: In games after getting pulled, Pavelec is 6-2 and has allowed two or fewer goals in six of those games.
Wiping the slate clean
The Jets announced Thursday that forward Jim Slater would be out indefinitely after undergoing surgery to repair a sports hernia.
Slater has played in just eight games this season, his last game coming against the St. Louis Blues in a 4-3 third period come-from-behind shootout win.
The news comes as a big blow to the Jets. Slater was the team’s most reliable fourth-line player and was used often to win key faceoffs.
But with his absence comes the opportunity for one of the Jets younger guys to step up and get more playing time. Right now the job looks like it will stay with James Wright, who has been the fill-in of late.
Just don’t be surprised if Noel looks down his bench to see what kind of combinations he can come up with, including bringing up Patrice Cormier from St. Johns. A line of Cormier, Anthony Peluso and Chris Thorburn would certainly add some muscle to the Jets lineup.
Wilson heating up
Speaking of taking advantage of ice time, Nashville forward and former Winnipegger, Colin Wilson, returns home following his best performance in the NHL.
Wilson scored two goals and added two assists in a 6-4 win over the Central Division leaders Colorado Avalanche Wednesday night.
The 24 year old came in to the league with high expectations, drafted by the Predators seventh overall in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. But after four relatively unsuccessful years – he has yet to break 35 points in a season – the Predators are hoping Wilson is ready to take on a bigger role with the team this season.
At 6’1” and 231 pounds, Wilson is a big body who can create a lot of trouble in front of the net for opposing teams. The Jets will want to be mindful when No. 33 is out there. He’s proven what he can do when you’re not.
Prediction: 4-3 Jets
Don’t let the records fool you. The Jets have lost six games by a single goal and the Predators have proven vulnerable in their defensive end, losing five games by at least a two-goal margin.
The Jets have this on their calendar as a must-win and with Nashville’s starting net minder, Pekka Rinne, still out with injury, there’s no time like the present to take advantage.
Jets win a close one.