WINNIPEG -- It was only nine days ago that the Winnipeg Jets (19-21-3) walked out of Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena with a 4-1 win over the Predators. But the Nashville team the Jets face tonight won’t be the same one they beat a little over a week ago.
Following that loss to Winnipeg, Nashville (19-17-7) traded young defenceman Seth Jones to Columbus for forward Ryan Johansen. Wearing number 92, Johansen scored in his Predators debut the next night. Though the trade has yet to produce any wins for Nashville (the team is on a four-game losing streak), Jets head coach Paul Maurice says the trade changes how Nashville looks.
“Nashville has always been one of the best fore-checking teams in the league,” Maurice said. “Really hard on the puck and so many good things that come from their back end. (Johansen brings) two or three more plays a game. Which is all you really need to have happen. Two or three more skill plays, one or two more finishes on plays, which will allow them to score the goals they’re looking for right now. He’s a very skilled man.”
Maurice and the Jets continue to chase the Predators for the final wildcard spot in the Western Conference. Despite two losses to open a three-game home stand, the Jets remain four points back of Nashville in that race.
“We haven’t been playing our best hockey the last couple games but we’re still in a decent spot,” said Bryan Little. “If we do have a good couple week stretch, and beat teams we need to beat, we’re not that far off of where we want to be.
“They’re trying to get back on track just like we are. I imagine they’re going to throw everything at us they have.”
Late in Tuesday’s loss to San Jose, Maurice moved Andrew Ladd to the wing alongside Mathieu Perreault and Nikolaj Ehlers. The coach applauded the Ladd’s work defensively with Adam Lowry and Alexander Burmistrov.
“(Ladd) is going to go back and forth over the course of the game, depending on the match up and how we like the way it’s going,” Maurice said. “(Nikolaj) Ehlers, that last game, was as good as he’s played in 15 (games). He was hopping, and that’s kind of why I made that adjustment.
“Mathieu Perreault, has been quietly fantastic this year. I know he doesn’t have the goal numbers, but in terms of the game we want to play, he embodies those things… So now you’ve got some guys that make plays with a guy that led your team in scoring last year.”
This is the third meeting of the season between the two Central Division rivals, and the second of three meetings this month. Maurice says a big key tonight will be how the Jets handle the first ten minutes of the game.
“When they're on, they're coming at you real hard,” said Maurice. “And as long as you're mentally prepared for that speed and that quickness, an area we can improve off our last game against San Jose, that's the real challenge here.”
Tonight’s game will be the first since Blake Wheeler’s post-practice comments regarding the team’s emotion. Little says Wheeler’s voice goes a long way in the team’s dressing room.
“He’s a leader on our team. Every time he talks in this room everyone pays attention. We just have to take more of an example of how he plays. He’s an emotional player. He wears his heart on his sleeve,” Little said. “We all need to play with that intensity and that emotion.”
Puck drop is 7 pm CT.
After being placed on injured reserve retroactive to Jan. 7 yesterday, forward Mark Scheifele won’t be available for tomorrow’s game against the Minnesota Wild according to Maurice.
“He hasn’t skated yet,” said Maurice. “He’s got to get on the ice first and get through a couple of good (practices) before I get him back in.”
-- Mitchell Clinton, WinnipegJets.com