WINNIPEG -- For the third time in 16 days, the Winnipeg Jets (21-22-3) and Nashville Predators will face off for valuable points in the Central Division, and the Western Conference wildcard race.
The Jets have won both of this month’s meetings, a 4-1 win back on Jan. 5 in Nashville (20-18-8), and a thrilling 5-4 overtime decision exactly one week ago.
Blake Wheeler scored the game-winner in that overtime victory, and says head-to-head match ups like this one are crucial in trying to gain ground. The 45 points the Jets have in the standings are three back of Nashville’s 48, and six back of Colorado’s 51.
“You want to take care of your own business. You don’t want to rely on other teams to beat the teams you’re trying to chase,” said Wheeler. “We’ve put ourselves in a little bit of a hole here so anytime you play teams that are in front of you, you’ve got to try and make the most of it.”
Mark Scheifele wasn’t in the line-up a week ago against Nashville, but it was that physical affair that also sent forwards Drew Stafford and Adam Lowry to injured reserve. All three won’t play tonight according to head coach Paul Maurice. He also added that Alexander Burmistrov (who didn’t take practice yesterday, but did participate in today’s morning skate) will be a game-time decision.
Should Burmistrov not be able to go tonight, Patrice Cormier will draw into the line-up. Cormier has 12 points in 34 games with the Manitoba Moose in 2015-2016.
“He’s been a real consistent player,” said Maurice. “He plays all the roles down there. Power play, penalty kill, against big minutes and he’s real strong in the face off.”
Scheifele, Lowry, and Stafford have a combined 947 games of NHL experience. With that presence out of the line-up, players like Nikolaj Ehlers are playing increased roles. The 19-year-old forward has responded with points in four of his last six games.
“I like the pressure of it. I want to play well. I want to go out there and win those games. I feel good with the way I’ve been playing the past couple of games. I’m ready to go out there again tonight,” said Ehlers. “We do have a lot of young guys in right now. We have to step up as well.”
“They’ve done a great job. Everyone has to pick up a bit of the slack because we’ve got some key pieces out,” said veteran forward Chris Thorburn. “Everyone has done a good job, but at the same time it’s all about results and we feel that we’re short on that end of it. Hopefully we get on a run here before the break.”
Including tonight’s game against Nashville, the Jets have three more games before the NHL schedule stops for the All-Star break. Thorburn believes the Jets have to play with urgency, but it can’t get in their heads too much.
“We want to have some desperation in our play, but we don’t want to get consumed or feeling too desperate, because that will reflect in the play,” he said. “(We) just (have) to be smart in our approach and hopefully come out with the effort that will get us the two points.”
That effort will include not taking this month’s success against Nashville for granted, according to Wheeler.
“It’s a big game for us tonight regardless of how we’ve played against them. They’re a really good team and they pose a lot of different challenges for us so it’s going to be a difficult game for us,” he said. “We’re looking forward to the challenge.”
PLAYER TO WATCH
Since joining the Nashville Predators following a trade from the Columbus Blue Jackets on Jan. 7, Ryan Johansen has recorded seven points in six games.
Three of those points came last Thursday against the Jets, with Johansen scoring once, and adding two helpers.
“A guy like that makes two or three, three or four plays a game. You saw it on their comeback, just finishes on one (opportunity),” said Maurice. “(It) makes you probably focus a little bit harder on that match up, especially on the back end.
“You’ve got to make a decision on who you want out against them and work pretty hard to get that.”
-- Mitchell Clinton, WinnipegJets.com