5 Things to watch in Jets vs Predators showdown
Winnipeg Jets look to make up ground Thursday in tilt against Nashville who is 4 points ahead in the standings
It hasn't been a great start to 2016 for the Winnipeg Jets. The club has gone 2-3-1 for a meager five of a possible 12 points. Despite their average performance since Jan. 1, they have actually managed to make up three points in the standings. The Jets started the calendar year seven points back on the Nashville Predators and have been sitting four points back of the Predators for the last two games.
Nashville will close out a four-game road trip on Thursday when they face the Winnipeg Jets. Nashville has been slumping of late. They lost all three road games on this current trip and haven't won a game since Jan. 2 when they beat Carolina in overtime at home.
This game sets up to be an important showdown in the Central Division. The winner not only gets the two points in the standings but they could keep two points away from a team they'll be battling with likely the rest of the stretch.
Wheeler's wings clipped
It was a crushing moment for the Jets star forward who was one of the only players that seemed to have their feet and compete at 100 percent Tuesday night. Wheeler is piloting this team on the ice this year and hopefully he'll find a way to bottle the rage from Tuesday's loss and unleash it on Nashville come Thursday night.
22-year old rookie netminder Connor Hellebuyck has been one of the only bright spots in an otherwise dim winter for the Jets. Hellebuyck has played 16 games and has gone 9-6-1 with a .931 save percentage. For goalies in the league that have played more than 15 games Hellebuyck's save percentage is good enough for fourth. If Hellebuyck wasn't playing so hot right now it would be impossible to think that Winnipeg would even still have a hope of fighting for a playoff spot.
Hellebuyck pushed out a really unfortunate rebound near the end of the first period on Tuesday to San Jose forward Joe Thornton, who easily converted and put the Sharks up a goal that the Jets weren't able to get back. He did however make multiple brilliant saves including one on an in-all-alone Joel Ward, around the seven minute mark of the third to keep the Jets in a one goal game. Hopefully Hellebuyck can continue to keep up his elevated level of play.
New look Johansen
Johansen was quietly having a decent year, with 26 points in 38 games with Columbus. He scored a power play goal in just under three minutes in his first game with the Predators and in three games has three points with his new club. Johansen is a big and skilled forward and shutting him down will be a big part of the Jets' game plan.
Stafford a star?
Forward Drew Stafford continues to do everything asked of him. He played well when he was on a line with Mark Scheifele and Mathieu Perreault and now that he is playing on the top line he continues to be a patient and dependable presence on a team that sometimes feels like it is frantically trying to keep up to the pace of other teams.
His assist on the Nikolaj Ehlers goal in the first period on the power play Tuesday night was a perfect example of the game Stafford plays. Decent speed on the breakout, great control of the puck and when a younger player may have rushed the play, Stafford perfectly timed out the pass across to the streaking Ehlers. Stafford might not be a star in this league but he is proving his value to this club more and more each game.
The highest scoring American-born defenceman will be behind the Predators bench on Thursday, and you may just have heard of him. Phil Housley is in his third season as an assistant coach for Nashville.
The former Winnipeg Jet, from the first incarnation of Winnipeg NHL teams, runs one of the best defense groups in the NHL. A group which for two seasons in a row (2013/2014 and 2014/15) was the youngest defensive group in the league. Don't expect them to miss a beat even after the Preds traded away Seth Jones for Johansen.