5 things to watch for as Jets tangle with Nashville

The Winnipeg Jets will look to bottle whatever magic they stirred up in Sunday’s win against the Chicago Blackhawks as they face the Nashville Predators Tuesday night at the MTS Centre.
Winnipeg Jets' Mark Scheifele celebrates his goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Jan. 25. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

How about them Winnipeg Jets.

The Jets (24-23-5) stunned the hockey world Sunday night with a 3-1 win over the reigning 2013 Stanley Cup Champions Chicago Blackhawks.

Despite being outshot 27-6 after two periods, the Jets came out in the third with their foot to the floor, scoring three unanswered goals to earn their first win in four games this season against the 'Hawks.

Winnipeg will look to bottle whatever magic they stirred up in Sunday’s game when they take on the Nashville Predators Tuesday night at the MTS Centre.

The Predators (23-23-8) are a point back on the Jets in the Central Division after losing two straight games, including a 5-1 shellacking Sunday from the NHL’s worst team, the Edmonton Oilers.

With that, here are fives things to keep in mind for tonight’s game:

Evening the score

Tonight will be the fourth of five games between these two clubs this season.

After dropping the first two games, 3-1 on Oct. 20 and 3-2 (OT) just four days later, the Jets pounded the Preds in their most recent meeting, 5-0 in early November.

Bryan Little netted two goals and Ondrej Pavelec made 41 saves for his first shutout in 86 games.

A win tonight would even the season series at two games a piece, setting up a rubber match in the final game this year scheduled for Mar. 1 in Nashville.   

The P word

One must be careful when using the P word around these parts of town.

Some will ridicule you. Most will probably just ignore the very idea and write you off as crazy.

But if the Jets do want to make the, ah, er, playoffs this season it will start with wins against Central Division rivals.

Everyone knows how the Jets are doing within their own division. A 6-11-3 record is hard to hide.

And up until their recent streak (winning six of seven games) they were dead last in the division and devoid of any hope of moving north towards the likes of Chicago, St. Louis and Colorado.

But the Jets have made notable progress of late. They’ve won the last three games against teams in the division and seven of their last eight versus clubs in the West.

To be part of the playoff conversation heading in to the Olympic break, Winnipeg will have to be at least three or four games above .500. That means they’re going to have to win at least four of the six games before the break. Three are against teams in the West, two of which are in the Central Division (Nashville and St. Louis).

Can they keep the streak going?

Oh, this again

Right when you thought Pavelec had secured his No. 1 spot between the pipes, backup Al Montoya steals the show with a spectacular performance Sunday against the Blackhawks.

Montoya got off to a bad start after he allowed a suspect wrap around to squeak through the post and his skate just 80 seconds in to the game.

That blunder would be forgotten, however, as he’d go on to single-handedly win the game for the Jets with a 34-save performance against a disgustingly gifted Chicago team. If allowed, Montoya would have earned all three stars in that game.

“That win’s all him,” Andrew Ladd is quoted as saying on the team’s official website.

“He gave us a chance heading in to the third. We were only down one. We still had a chance to win the game and we wanted to reward him for playing out of his mind in the first two periods.”

Now the question is, who will start tonight? The odds are looking in Pav’s favour as he’s played strong in front of new head coach Paul Maurice, winning five of his last six games and has allowed two or fewer goals in all but one of those. Pretty good case there.

The problem: Montoya’s numbers are better. The Chicago native is 9-4-2 this year with a 2.22 goals-against-average, a .925 save percentage and two shutouts.

Pavelec is 16-20-4, has a 2.97 GAA, a .902 save percentage and has one less shutout than his counterpart.

Look for Pav to start but the leash is short. Montoya is just too hot to be on the bench for long.

Shea no more

Jets fans will once again have the chance to feast their eyes on arguably the best defenceman in the league in Nashville captain, Shea Weber.

The Olympic-bound Weber is second on the Predators in scoring and seventh amongst NHL defencemen with 35 points (13g, 22a). His 13 g-notes are tops in the league for his position.

At 6-foot-4 and 233-pounds, the Sicamous, B.C., native is everything you’d want out of a blueliner. And it won’t be hard to spot the big man as he eats up just shy of 27 minutes per game and is used in all situations.

He’s especially dangerous with the man advantage. His 18 powerplay points (9g, 9a) are good for a share of fourth amongt D-men. Unfortunately for the Jets, he’s also been lights-out of late with 22 points in his last 23 games.

Calder consideration

Remember when everybody was all too happy to throw Mark Scheifele under the bus for his slow start to the year, despite it being only his rookie season?

Well those cries have come to a halt, as Scheifele has proven he not only belongs in this league but can play with the best of them.

That’s not to say there isn’t room for improvement for the 20 year old. That will come as he continues to mature and grow into his body.

But for now, he’s making a case to become the Jets future No. 1 centre, the kind of player Jets brass had dreamt about when they decided to draft him seventh overall in 2011.

Scheifele is fourth in scoring amongt NHL rookies with 29 points and his 19 assists are tops for all first-year players.

He’s also placed a strong focus on his defensive zone responsibilities, evident in his 29 takeaways (Tied for fourth for all rookies). Scheifele has nine points in his last 10 games and is a plus 4.

Playing down the middle between Evander Kane and Blake Wheeler, he’s become the anchor on the Jets’ most productive line. If Scheifele keeps trending upwards, you can expect to hear his name more often in the discussion about the Calder trophy for the league’s top rookie.

Prediction: 4-2 Jets

It’s hard to bet against the Jets these days so I won’t bother.

If Winnipeg wants to make an honest effort towards the playoffs they have to come out strong against the teams with fewer points in the standings.

The confidence is there right now, making the Jets an easy call in this one.

About the Author

Jeff Hamilton

Winnipeg Jets

Jeff Hamilton is an award-winning journalist born and raised in Winnipeg. Jeff is a graduate of the Carleton University journalism program and has worked for CBC in Ottawa and Manitoba. This will be his second year covering his hometown team. Jeff is passionate about hockey, playing and has studied the game his entire life.