NASHVILLE, Tennessee -- The line combination of Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little, and Blake Wheeler has accumulated 10 points on this road trip. This season, the trio’s 49 points is the third best in the NHL.
But Ladd says they’re still looking for more.
“When you’re losing hockey games, you’re always trying to figure out what you can do better. Even when you’re winning hockey games, you’re looking at your game and you’re trying to figure out - whether it’s the defensive side or offensively - how to create more,” said Ladd. “For the three of us, I think we’d trade our good start for a better record.”
They, along with their Jets teammates, have a chance to better Winnipeg’s 8-7-2 regular season record tonight against the Nashville Predators (9-3-3). It’s the first of five meetings between the two Central Division teams this season.
“Going on the way we played them last year and how they play each and every night, they’re a grinding team. They get a lot of offence from their back end,” said Ladd. “I think especially as forwards you have to be conscious of getting beat up the ice by their D.”
The Predators blue line ranks third in the NHL in offensive output, with 14 goals and 41 points spread between them. Coach Paul Maurice said that success comes from more than Shea Weber’s big slap shot.
“They take away ice on both sides of the puck. Defensively, they skate really well. Their gaps are good. They run a tight neutral zone, they use their defensemen significantly in the neutral zone to defend,” he said. “So there’s not going to be the odd-man rushes off counters and things like that … There’s some size to them, they block shots, and where they don’t have size they have really good quickness.”
Quickness is something the Jets have been trying to get back in their game during the current four-game winless streak. But sometimes the key to that quickness is patience.
“We want to be aggressive, but we need to be aggressive at the right times,” said Ladd. “I think we’ve seen some big chances given up at our end of the ice, and a lot of that has to do with being patient, being smart, and being quick in the right areas.”
Maurice announced after the morning skate that Michael Hutchinson starts in goal tonight. Hutchinson has a 2.36 GAA and a .928 save percentage in 2015-2016. His last start came in a 3-2 shootout loss to Ottawa, a night when the 25-year-old made 29 saves.
“We’ve got a comfort level with both of our guys. We’re not going to let either one of them sit out,” said Maurice. “We’re not winning hockey games, so it makes sense to make a change. It’s not at our goaltending’s feet at this point. We’ve had good goaltending.”
So the challenge to overcome adversity continues tonight for the Jets. Blake Wheeler said following the 6-3 loss to Dallas that this is Winnipeg’s “first tough test” of the season.
His captain agrees.
“It’s part of the challenge of when you’re facing adversity, getting yourself up and excited to get back on track,” said Ladd. “You pick yourself up after the loss, go over the things you need to get better at, and now the challenge tonight is to do those things.”
Andrew Ladd was quick to point out the great start his two linemates, Blake Wheeler and Bryan Little, have had this season when told about where the line ranks among the most offensively productive in the NHL.
“Blake has kind of set himself apart, and I could put Bryan in there too… Blake specifically, to me, you can count him as one of the top guys in the league,” said Ladd, who has 12 points of his own this season. “Each and every night, the way he works, the way he produces. It seems like every time he touches the puck he’s creating something.”
The key to that? Playing the right way, says Ladd. Adding that message is also key to helping to get Winnipeg back in the win column.
“You get off track when you think you need to do more. That’s not it,” said Ladd. “We need to play within the system, play hard, do all the little things, and things will start to turn.”
The addition of Chris Thorburn to the wing with Adam Lowry and Drew Stafford also paid dividends against Dallas. Lowry recorded an assist, the first point in eight games for the 22-year-old centre, whose line is frequently matched up with the opposing team’s best.
“Obviously Chris brings a lot of speed and size to our line. He’s really easy to play with,” said Lowry. “The reads you can make off the way he plays, it allows us to keep our speed. I think you saw we were in to get on our forecheck a little more and we were able to create some zone pressure that way.”
-- Mitchell Clinton, WinnipegJets.com