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Five key matchups for Predators vs. Jets in second round

Nashville, Winnipeg each has defensemen capable of slowing other's top scorers

by Rob Vollman / NHL.com Correspondent

The Winnipeg Jets advanced to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in Jets/Atlanta Thrashers franchise history and will face the Nashville Predators, who reached the Stanley Cup Final last season.

Here are five key matchups that could decide the best-of-7 Western Conference Second Round series, which begins with Game 1 Friday at Nashville (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN360, TVAS):

 

1. Laine vs. Josi

With the second pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, the Jets selected Patrik Laine, whose 80 goals since then rank second in the League behind Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals (82).

Laine's scoring potential was further unleashed by center Paul Stastny, who was acquired in a trade from the St. Louis Blues on Feb. 26. Playing on a line with Stastny and Nikolaj Ehlers, Laine scored 13 goals in the final 20 games of the regular season and led Winnipeg's forwards with 15 shots on goal in five games against the Minnesota Wild in the first round.

Laine may be shadowed by Predators defenseman Roman Josi, whose most frequent opponent at 5-on-5 in the first round was Colorado Avalanche leading scorer Nathan MacKinnon (48:10), according to Natural Stat Trick.

Josi led the Predators with 120 blocked shots in the regular season and 13 in the first round. His 253 shots on goal in the regular season were the most for Nashville, as were his 25 against Colorado.

Video: MIN@WPG, Gm2: Laine beats Dubnyk from distance

 

2. Forsberg vs. Trouba

For the third time in four seasons, Filip Forsberg led the Predators in scoring, with 64 points (26 goals, 38 assists) in 67 games. Playing on the top line with Viktor Arvidsson and Ryan Johansen, Forsberg had 24 shots on goal in the first round, second on Nashville behind Josi, and scored four goals, tied with Austin Watson for the Predators lead.

Winnipeg's top shutdown defenseman is Jacob Trouba, who was on the ice for one even-strength goal for Minnesota in 102:47 in the first round. In all manpower situations, Trouba led the Jets with 12 blocked shots.

Trouba had 15 shots on goal against the Wild, second on the Jets in the series behind Dustin Byfuglien (16). Winnipeg's 119 shot attempts with Trouba on the ice were the most for a Jets player and 43 more than the Wild had (119-76).

Video: COL@NSH, Gm1: Forsberg scores on unbelievable move

 

3. Turris vs. Byfuglien

Since being acquired by the Predators from the Ottawa Senators in a three-team trade Nov. 5, 2017, center Kyle Turris' line with Craig Smith and Kevin Fiala has been one of League's best from a shot-based perspective.

Nashville had a 1,011-805 advantage in 5-on-5 shot attempts with Turris on the ice, for an SAT of plus-206 that was 15th among NHL forwards in the regular season after the trade. Smith (plus-250) and Fiala (plus-246) ranked fourth and fifth. In the first round, Turris led Predators forwards with an SAT of plus-28 (101-73).

The Jets may try to counter the Fiala-Turris-Smith line with a combination of Byfuglien's physicality and high shot volumes. In the first round, Byfuglien led the Jets in hits (25), assists (five) and shots on goal.

Video: MIN@WPG, Gm2: Byfuglien delivers big check on Koivu

 

4. Scheifele vs. Ekholm

Over the past three seasons combined, Jets center Mark Scheifele has averaged 2.43 points per 60 minutes at even strength, which was third in the NHL among those to play at least 100 games, according to Corsica Hockey.

In the first round against the Wild, Scheifele led the Jets with four goals. His 19 scoring chances were the most for Winnipeg, followed by linemate Kyle Connor (14), according to Natural Stat Trick.

Mattias Ekholm led Nashville defensemen with an SAT of plus-254 in the regular season and plus-33 in the first round. His 117 blocked shots in the regular season and 12 in the six-game series against the Avalanche were second on the Predators behind Josi. Nashville outscored Colorado 9-2 with Ekholm on the ice, according to Natural Stat Trick.

Video: MIN@WPG, Gm5: Scheifele scores PPG to add to rout

 

5. Watson vs. Armia

Depth was one of the deciding factors in Nashville's first-round victory against Colorado. In particular, the Predators outscored the Avalanche 7-0 with Watson on the ice.

Watson, a third-line wing who scored in Games 1-3 and Game 6 against Colorado, is best known for killing penalties, throwing hits and strong defensive-zone play. He led Nashville with 187 hits in the regular season and 18 in the first round. In the first round, he started 38 shifts in the defensive zone and seven in the offensive zone, for a zone start percent of 15.56, and his average of 2:08 of shorthanded ice time ranked second among forwards behind linemate Nick Bonino (2:10).

Against Minnesota, Winnipeg's most effective depth player was Joel Armia. The Jets had a 55-26 advantage in shot attempts when the fourth-line wing was on the ice at 5-on-5, for an SAT percent of 67.90 that ranked second on the team to defenseman Josh Morrissey (68.18). Scoring chances were 30-7 in Winnipeg's favor with Armia on the ice, according to Natural Stat Trick.

Video: NSH@COL, Gm6: Watson slams puck into open net

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