Offense fuels Central clash between Jets, Predators
The Winnipeg Jets and Nashville Predators have ignited their high-octane offenses in their respective drives up the Western Conference standings as they pull away from the pack in the Central Division.
The Jets (30-14-2) have erupted for 26 goals during their 5-1-0 run to reside two points ahead of the second-place Predators, who have benefited from the torrid play of Viktor Arvidsson over their past nine contests (6-1-2).
The surging division rivals look to make a statement at the other's expense on Thursday when they reconvene in Nashville, Tenn.
The Predators (28-16-4) posted a 3-0 home win on Oct. 11 in the first meeting between the clubs since the Jets ousted the then-defending Western Conference champions in a seven-game series in the second round of the playoffs.
Arvidsson continued his scintillating play on Tuesday by recording his second career hat trick and Nashville's franchise-record fifth this season in a 7-2 romp over Washington. The 25-year-old Swede has collected 11 points (nine goals, two assists) in his past nine games and 24 in as many contests, despite missing nearly two months with a lower-body injury and broken thumb.
"He brings a lot to the table on the ice, defensively, offensively, but it's not something that's new," said Peter Laviolette, who will bid for his 600th coaching victory on Thursday.
"This isn't all of a sudden, 'Oh, Viktor Arvidsson is playing with some energy.' This is who he is. This is the makeup of him, and it's in his DNA."
Arvidsson set up Ryan Johansen's third-period goal, and reigning Vezina Trophy recipient Pekka Rinne turned aside all 29 shots he faced in Nashville's last meeting with Winnipeg. The 36-year-old Rinne routinely has jolted the Jets in his career, posting a 16-4-1 mark with three shutouts to go along with a 2.30 goals-against average and .920 save percentage.
Winnipeg's Connor Hellebuyck, who made 27 saves in the teams' first encounter, is expected to return to the crease after seeing backup Laurent Brossoit turn aside a franchise-record 26 shots in the second period and finish with 43 stops in a 4-1 victory against Vegas on Tuesday.
Kyle Connor scored two goals and set up another against the Golden Knights to post his second three-point performance in three outings.
"It felt like the game ramped up as it went on," the 22-year-old Connor said. "It's hard to emulate the playoffs, but that's pretty close to how it's going to be."
Winnipeg forwards Bryan Little (four goals, four assists) and Mark Scheifele (three goals, six assists) are each riding six-game point streaks, while captain Blake Wheeler has 10 (three goals, seven assists) of his club-best 60 points in that same span.
Wheeler, on pace to eclipse last season's career-high assist and point totals, was pleased with the aggressiveness of the Jets' penalty killers, who thwarted all six short-handed opportunities on Tuesday.
"I thought we did a good job up ice, not allowing them clean entries," the 32-year-old Wheeler said. "That can be frustrating for a PP when you're breaking the puck out, having to come 200 feet every time, not getting clean entries."
Johansen, who leads the Predators with 11 power-play assists, has set up six goals in the last four games to raise his club-best totals in assists (34) and points (42).
--Field Level Media
Updated January 16, 2019