Preds, Jets both limp into Central showdown
The Nashville Predators sit atop the Central Division, but they're not happy these days. The simple explanation? They're not playing well.
The Predators have lost two of their last three games -- shut out in both defeats -- and their lone victory was a shootout win over the free-falling Edmonton Oilers.
The Winnipeg Jets are second in the Central, only one point back of the Predators and with three games in hand. But they aren't flying high lately, either.
Winnipeg has lost two straight games, the latest in stunning fashion, and collected just one victory in a six-game swoon (1-4-1).
There is some good news coming very soon for one of these clubs, as someone has to win when the Jets play host to the Predators on Friday night in a battle for first place in the division (although the hard-charging St. Louis Blues have closed ground incredibly quickly and will overtake them both if something doesn't change).
Expect a couple of desperate teams when the puck drops.
"We just got to find a way to win more games," Winnipeg forward Patrik Laine told the Winnipeg Sun recently. "We're capable of winning a lot of games, like we showed earlier in the season. But with this kind of defense and the way we played in the last couple minutes (against Minnesota in their last game), we're not going to win these games. Just try to find some more ways and hopefully learn from these mistakes we made and not make those mistakes again."
The Jets believed they had a victory in hand in their last outing, holding a 2-1 lead on the Minnesota Wild with less than two minutes remaining Tuesday night. Instead, the Wild scored a pair of goals 26 seconds apart to claim a 3-2 victory in regulation.
"That can't happen," said Laine, who has netted four goals in the last three games to break out of a prolonged scoring slump. "We played some good hockey until the tying goal. After that, we let it go for a bit, they scored two. That was kind of the turning point of this game. We can't let it happen."
Not helping Winnipeg's cause are injuries, with a trio of defensemen -- Josh Morrissey (upper body), Dustin Byfuglien (ankle) and Joe Morrow (lower body) -- out of action.
The Predators are licking their wounds after a 2-0 loss to the Blues that same night. That said, the Predators likely deserved a better fate. Nashville outshot St. Louis by a 44-19 count, and the Blues' second goal came against an empty net with four seconds remaining.
"We could have done a better job," assessed Predators forward Wayne Simmonds, who was acquired from the Philadelphia Flyers at the trade deadline. "The first period we played well, and the second period, I don't think we played well from the start of it. Maybe if we capitalize on one of those power plays, it's a different story."
The Preds should be concerned about their special teams play of late. They have managed only one power-play goal in the last seven games, capitalizing once in 23 chances. Meanwhile, the penalty kill has surrendered six goals in the last six games, and killed only 16 short-handed situations in the same span.
Nashville will receive one boost for the game, with forward Mikael Granlund, who was acquired from Minnesota at the deadline, suiting up. He missed last game for the birth of his first child.
--Field Level Media
Updated March 1, 2019