Jets, Predators square off with sights set on division title
The Winnipeg Jets are a win away from clinching a playoff spot, but both the Jets and the visiting Nashville Predators have the Central Division title in mind when the two teams face off on Saturday night.
Winnipeg is two points ahead of Nashville in the division race, plus the Jets (44-26-4, 92 points) have a game in hand on their Tennessee rivals. A win on Saturday would put the Jets a big step closer to the first division championship in the 19-season history of the Thrashers/Jets franchise.
Beyond those big-picture concerns, however, Winnipeg is more immediately looking to rebound from an ugly 5-0 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday. The Jets went into Las Vegas on a four-game winning streak but generated a season-low 20 shots en route to their fourth shutout defeat of the season.
"There wasn't anything that we were doing that was sharp or crisp or fast. We didn't have a whole lot going tonight," Winnipeg head coach Paul Maurice said after the game.
Nashville (42-27-6, 90 points) also saw a winning streak end in its last game, as the Predators' run of three consecutive wins was halted by a 2-1 shootout loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday. Still, the Predators gained a valuable point, and are now 5-2-1 over their last eight games.
An improved defensive effort has been a big reason for this recent success. The Predators have allowed just four regulation goals in their last four games.
"Everyone is contributing on our end, whether that's blocking shots, good sticks, hits or pins," defenseman Ryan Ellis said. "Whatever it is, it seems that we're all doing a better job together, and that leads to more possession in the offensive zone and pucks going the other way once we get it back."
It also doesn't hurt that Pekka Rinne seems to have righted himself after a mid-month slump. Rinne has allowed just two goals in his last 211 minutes of ice time, and the goalie is likely to start again on Saturday.
Connor Hellebuyck is likely to start for the Jets, after Laurent Brossoit left Thursday's game after 26 minutes due to a lower-body injury. Hellebuyck has a 3-0-0 record and a .958 save percentage over his last three starts, including a 3-0 shutout of the Ducks on Wednesday.
Ellis scored Nashville's lone goal against the Penguins. The goal gave Ellis 39 points, a new single-season high for the veteran blueliner.
This will be the last of four regular-season meetings between Winnipeg and Nashville, with the Jets winning two of the three previous games. Winnipeg also eliminated the Predators in a seven-game series during the second round of last year's Stanley Cup playoffs.
Saturday's tilt is the first of a four-game homestand for the Jets, who will then play their last four games of the season on the road.
Maurice is one more victory away from sole possession of seventh place on the all-time NHL coaching wins list. Maurice is currently tied with Hall of Famer Dick Irvin with 692 career wins.
--Field Level Media
Updated March 22, 2019