5 things to watch as Jets get set for a night with Nashville
The Winnipeg Jets (4-4-0) will look to build on a thrilling come-from-behind 4-3 shootout win against St. Louis Friday when they welcome the Nashville Predators (4-3-1) to the MTS Centre Sunday night.
Here are five things to watch for heading into tonight's game:
Thin blue line
The Jets will be down at least one of their starting blue liners when they face off against the Predators Sunday.
Rookie defenceman Jacob Trouba suffered a strained neck after falling face first in to the boards in Friday night's game against St. Louis and will be out for at least three weeks.
Mark Stuart was also unable to finish the game, leaving just one shift into the third period thanks to a sore hip.
The loss of Trouba is a big one for Winnipeg. Trouba has been one of the Jets best defencemen this season despite it being only his first year as a pro.
"Jacob has been a good player for us," said Jets head coach Claude Noel following practice Saturday. "He's logged a lot of minutes and some important minutes for us."
Twice Trouba has led the Jets in ice time this year. The 19-year-old Michigan product has also been a key factor on the penalty-kill, averaging a team-high 4:08 of ice per game with the man down.
So with Trouba out, and Stuart a game-time decision, Noel hopes their absence will create opportunity for other players in search for more ice time.
"What you need your team to do is to step up and be a contributor and somebody to fill in for those players," said Noel. "It opens the door for somebody else. Somebody look[ing] forward to taking the minutes that's had less minutes so we'll be looking forward to seeing if they can meet the challenge."
It will be between Paul Postma and recent AHL call-up, Adam Pardy to answer the call Sunday. Neither Postma, nor Pardy have been particularly great this season.
Pardy was unable to impress during the preseason and was sent down to St. Johns just before roster deadline. Postma has seen action in four games, filling in for an injured Grant Clitsome.
But with the Jets thin blue-line right now, none of that matters.
Flying first class
Not all is bad news for the Jets defensive core. Former defensive duo Dustin Byfuglien and Tobias Enstrom currently lead the Jets in scoring with seven points each.
They began the year as partners but were split up after the return of Grant Clitsome from a lower body injury. They reunited Friday night against the Blues, connecting for the game-tying goal with less than two minutes remaining in the regulation time.
"He's a guy that likes to have fun in the game," said Noel about Byfuglien. "He's enjoying the competition but he's taking a much more leadership role, as in he's leading with his play and the consistency in his play.
"You watch him; he's physical, he's very engaged in the game and very focused and he's doing some things that we've talked about in the past and he's doing it way more consistently. When he's going our team gets going."
When asked, Noel wouldn't reveal his defensive pairings for Sunday night's game. If Stuart is good to go, don't be surprised to see Enstrom and Byfuglien reunited once more.
Jets forward Devin Setoguchi was kept out of the lineup Friday night, listed as one of the team's healthy scratches. A top-six forward for most of his career, Setoguchi struggled to find an answer to how many times he's involuntarily been left out of a game.
"I can't really remember," he said following Saturday's practice. "I know once [after] I missed a meeting two years ago. Before that I don't think there was one."
After starting the year with three points in his first two games, Setoguchi failed to reach the score sheet in the next five. It's not the first time Setoguchi has struggled in his career - as a San Jose Shark during the 2010-2011 season, he had two stretches lasting eight and nine games without a point - but it's the first time he's been punished for it.
"It's not something that you want," he said. "You can't pout, you just got to go work and try to get back in."
If given the nod to play Sunday, Jets fans will see how Setoguchi handles adversity; a common situation for a Winnipeg team still trying to reach the next level and make it to the post season.
He's one of the best goalies in the National Hockey League. Standing at six-foot-five, Preds' netminder, Pekke Rinne, will be Winnipeg's biggest challenge between the pipes so far this year.
After a slow start to the season, Rinne has been nothing but trouble for opposing forwards, allowing only one goal in each his previous two starts. The Jets have had little experience against the 30-year-old native of Finland, but forward Evander Kane understands the challenge his team is posed with Sunday.
"He's very big, he's tall and he moves like he's five-foot-three," said Kane, a former teammate of Rinne during the lockout last season. They both played a stint with the Dynamo Minsk of the Kontinental Hockey League in Russia.
"He's one of the best goalies in the league and we're going to have to get to him."
Another player to watch for on Nashville is budding defensive star, Seth Jones. Many believed Jones would go first overall in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, making it quite the pickup for Nashville who was able to snatch him up with the fourth overall pick.
Jones' transition from junior to the NHL has appeared to be an easy one. The 19-year-old product of Arlington, Texas has four points (2g, 2a) this season and is averaging more than 24 minutes a game.
He's also capable of making the big play. Jones was the hero Saturday night in a 2-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens. With less than two minutes remaining in the game, Jones joined the offensive rush, taking a pass from Nashville forward David Legwand before beating Canadiens' goalie, Carey Price, to seal the win.
Projected to have a long career in the NHL, Jets' fans will get their first look Sunday at one of the league's elite, young defencemen.
Prediction: 3-2 Jets
It's hard to bet against the Jets after a stunning 4-3 shootout win against St. Louis Friday night. Currently 2-2-0 on this six-game home stand, Winnipeg knows if they want to make the post-season they will have to be better at home. That starts tonight with the Jets winning a close one.