It's the fourth meeting this season for the Winnipeg Jets and the Nashville Predators. The Jets have the lead in the season series so far going 2-1 earning four of a possible six points, although one of those wins was last week in overtime so Nashville has earned three of a possible six points against their division rival.
The Jets have been stuck behind Nashville almost all season, after their two wins last week - one at home against Nashville and the second in as many nights in Minneapolis - the Jets had managed to get within one point of Nashville but after the loss to Colorado, Nashville has increased their lead in the standings to three. Not too mention that Colorado has leap-frogged both teams and the Jets are closer to the bottom of the conference than they are to a playoff spot.
The Jets are midway through a 10-game stretch in which nine of those games are at home. Winnipeg has gone 2-3 in the first five of those and will play their next five at home. The Predators will be looking to push the Jets further down the standings as the two clubs meet for the second last time this season.
Finnish netminder Pekka Rinne has been the backbone of a stingy Nashville Predators for years. At 6'5" he covers so much of the net as it is, then you add to that his physical ability and awareness in the blue paint and it's easy to understand why he's become known as one of the premiere goalies in the NHL. In a staggering 64 games last season, Rinne had a .923 save percentage which was good for ninth in the league for goalies who played at least 25 games.
But this year it hasn't been the quite the same story. There are 25 goalies in the NHL that have played at least 25 games this season, and Rinne's .902 save percentage this year has him at the very bottom of that list. He's managed to earn 16 wins, which is five more than Connor
Jets captain Andrew Ladd has three points in his last three games. Although all of those points were in the game against the Nashville Predators last Thursday, Ladd was held off the score sheet again on Monday against the Avalanche, in a game that saw him and the Jets play really dominant but unable to get much offense going.
With Ladd in a contract year and recently getting back on the Jets' top line, there couldn't be a better time for him to step up his game and help push this team ahead in the standings.
'Real deal' James Neal
In three games against the Winnipeg Jets, James Neal aka the 'Real Deal' leads the Predators with four points. Maybe nobody was as happy to see the Preds acquire star centre Ryan Johansen. Neal now plays on a line with the big and skilled centre, who in six games with Nashville has piled up seven points.
Neal has three points in that same six-game period including two points last Thursday at the MTS Centre. It was an all-but-runaway game, with the Jets up 4-1 in the third period when on the back of the Johansen and Neal duo and a goal by Eric Nystrom the Predators scored three unanswered to force overtime.
A key for the Jets on Thursday night will be to keep the 'Real Deal' real quiet.
Offense from the back end
Nashville is a team that makes things happen from their own end out. Look no further than their scoring numbers to see that; three of their top six point getters are defencemen. Two of whom, Roman Josi and Shea Weber lead the team in points with 32 and 29 respectively.
Chicago with Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith are the only other team in the league with two defencemen in the top 15 in scoring from blueliners. The Jets are going to need to forecheck fast and hard and always be watching the points if they want to limit what Nashville's back end is able to contribute.
Thursday's game against Nashville will be another huge test for the current depth of the Jets franchise. With key injuries to Drew Stafford, Mark Scheifele and even Adam Lowry the Jets are missing big pieces. Stafford had been playing on the top line with Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele was the Jets' number two centre and Lowry was playing centre on the Jets' shutdown line.
Since those guys have gone down Joel Armia, who now has 15 NHL games under his belt, has made the move up to the second line with Mathieu Perreault and rookie Nikolaj Ehlers. He's shown that he can keep up with the speedy line and that he has a great shot, as Jets fans saw from his goal against Colorado Monday night. Armia on a nice pass around from Perreault and Ehlers walked in and absolutely shelved the puck above Semyon Varlamov.
The Jets have also recently called up Matt Halischuk, JC Lipon and Patrice Cormier to round out the roster. At Thursday's practice Halischuk was playing on a line with Andrew Copp and Chris Thorburn. Anthony Peluso was on a line with Cormier and Lipon. After the skate Jets coach Paul Maurice said that the team expects Alexander Burmistrov to be in the lineup come Thursday night which would likely bump Copp back down to the third line.