Fresh off their only overtime win of the year (pause for sadness) the Nashville Predators have a week of mediocrity on the horizon, in which they should probably be able to bank plenty of points.
But what the Preds should do and what they end up doing haven't exactly line up this season. Their first match of the week sees the Winnipeg Jets come back to Music City, and they're bringing a new young goaltender with them.
The Winnipeg Jets
Don't look now, but the Jets are bringing up the rear in the Central division.
They're one point behind the Colorado Avalanche, and haven't looked very good the last couple of months. In fact, they've only won 10 times since the start of November, which is the span of 26 games.
It looked like it might be addition by subtraction when Ondrej Pavalec went down with an injury, but Michael Hutchinson could not take hold of the starter's job. He's winless since he relieved Pavalec after two periods on November 21st.
Enter Connor Hellebuyck, the 22-year-old Michigan native taken in the 5th round of the 2012 draft. In his first 12 starts of NHL action, Hellebuyck has won eight games (including his first four) and posted a .929 Sv% and a 2.01 GAA. It's the closest thing to a competent starter the Jets have had all year, and it makes Paul Maurice's job a lot easier when he sets his lineups every morning.
Goaltending is such a weird thing in the NHL, so we'll see how long he can keep up the play. Winnipeg needs him to be on his game so they can make up some ground in the standings, but even if Hellebuyck stands on his hand for the rest of the season, they'll have an uphill climb to make the playoffs for the second year in a row. It's not impossible, and downing the Predators, who are right above them, will go a long way towards that goal.
The Nashville Predators
Not to get all doom and gloom off the bat, but the Jets and the Avalanche are in direct competition with Nashville for that last wild card spot. Obviously, the Predators would rather end the season in a higher spot, but they won't get there if they drop games they should win.
Tonight's game and Friday's game are ones they should win. Nashville has a distinct points advantage over each team (seven and six points), but conceding any help to either one would be awful.
This seems like something that shouldn't have to be said, but the Predators haven't exactly been playing their best hockey of late. It still feels like they could break out of their funk, or whatever it is, and go on a run any one of these days. With such a weak group of teams coming up, what better time than now? Especially to prove to everyone they don't belong in the same conversation as the teams scraping to be in the wild card.
The Important Stuff
7 p.m. Nashville start on FS-TN for you eyes and 102.5 The Game for your ears. Your other senses have to make do, unless you are at the game.