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Nashville Predators vs. Winnipeg Jets Preview: Heavyweights Collide

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The Predators travel to Winnipeg for a fight between Central Division powers.

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Nashville Predators at Winnipeg Jets Terrence Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Tonight the Nashville Predators (37-24-5) travel to Winnipeg to play the Jets (37-22-4) in a much anticipated battle between the top two Central Division teams. While the Predators lead the Jets, the margin is one mere point and the Jets have played three fewer games. A Predators win would cement their status at the top, while a victory for the Jets would vault them back to the top of the division.

It is no secret that the Predators’ deadline moves were focused around finding a way to defeat the Jets. After falling to them in a seven game playoff series that was not nearly as close as it appeared, the Predators again have failed to look inspiring against the Jets this season. The Predators beat the Jets 3-0 the fourth game of the season, but it was a terrible game. In an omen of things to come, the Predators had 20 minutes of power play time, an entire period’s worth, and failed to score even once with the man advantage. Then, on January 17, the Predators lost 5-1 to the Jets and were truly outplayed in every facet of the game.

Tonight is another chance for the Predators to show that they have what it takes to beat the Jets. If they can do that or not is a whole other question.

The Winnipeg Jets

For all the injuries that the Predators have dealt with this season, the Winnipeg Jets are fighting their way through their own little injury bug. The blueline for the Jets has been falling like flies, with Dustin Byfuglien and Joe Morrow currently sitting in the press box. With the Jets missing their best defender in Byfuglien, the Predators may have more open space in the offensive zone than previous games.

During the trade deadline, the Jets remained an active team. Pursuing Mark Stone until the very end, the Jets ended up settling for Kevin Hayes. The move was similar to the Jets’ deadline deal last season for Paul Stastny. Both deadlines the Jets moved for a good center to slot in on their third line, allowing them to roll their top 3 lines at will. Having three talented, balanced lines is really what allowed the Jets to roll through the Predators last season, guaranteeing preferable matchups even on the road.

Kevin Hayes is still figuring out his spot in Winnipeg, last game playing alongside Mathieu Perreault and Nikolaj Ehlers on what was the second line. However, the game was unique because Patrik Laine and Ehlers swapped spots, with Laine playing alongside Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler on the first line. Wheeler, Scheifele, and Ehlers have been a line all season long, so it’s probably too early to say that Ehlers is now a set match for Hayes’s line.

The Nashville Predators

In a challenging stretch of hockey for the Predators, playing multiple games against the likes of Vegas and St. Louis, the Predators have failed to dominate their easier opponents. An Edmonton Oilers team lacking Connor McDavid managed to take the Predators all the way to a shootout. The Los Angeles Kings, a team already over twenty points behind the Predators, almost managed to steal a game as the Predators barely won 2-1. Getting outplayed by stronger teams in the Western Conference, the Predators have not played a full sixty minutes against any team in weeks.

Oddly enough, because of the microscope placed upon Winnipeg, the Predators have a chance to undo that negativity in just one night. There’s no mistake: the Jets are the Predators’ biggest rival in the Central Division. Not only do the teams know the importance of beating the other, but they also have begun truly hating each other. The players’ passion has boiled over a number of times in these contests; expect to see that again tonight.

This will also be Mikael Granlund’s debut for the Nashville Predators. Recently acquired from the Minnesota Wild in exchange for Kevin Fiala, Granlund practiced yesterday along Kyle Turris and Calle Järnkrok on the second line. He also is expected to feature on the power play. Granlund likely will need more time to learn the Predators’ system before making a full impact, but it will be interesting to see what he contributes to the game tonight.

Reasons to Watch

  1. It’s Preds-Jets. ‘Nuff said.
  2. Mikael Granlund is making his Predators debut tonight! Additionally, if you missed the game on Tuesday, you can see Wayne Simmonds playing for the Predators too.
  3. If you love watching passionate, hate-filled hockey, this is the game for you.

Pregame Meal

Oh man, I’m feeling some healthy food tonight after eating bratwurst at Nationwide Arena last night watching our old friend Ryan Hartman, who’s really buying into the Flyers stereotype. As a Milwaukeean, I was disappointed by the brat, but if it’s not Usingers or Klements, that’s just the way brats are. You can make Johnsonville brats taste good if you beer-batter them, but they really need that extra moisture even if you buy the “beer-battered” pre-packaged brats.

You know what, screw healthy food. I’m going to make some brats that deserve to grace my divine taste buds. It will be done.

Sights and Sounds

The puck drops in the Bell MTS Place at 7:00 Central. FS-TN will televise the game while 102.5 The Game will carry it on the radio.