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Game Day: Preds vs. Jets

by Thomas Willis & Brooks Bratten / Nashville Predators

(19-17-7) Nashville Predators vs. Winnipeg Jets (19-21-3)
  7 P.M. (CT) | MTS Centre | #NSHvsWPG
TV: FS-TN | Radio: 102.5 The Game

The Nashville Predators will finish up their four-game road trip north of the border in the province of Manitoba tonight, as they face the Winnipeg Jets at MTS Centre.

The Preds are seeking their first victory of the trip, most recently falling 3-2 to Chicago on Tuesday night, despite registering 43 shots on goal.

“We didn’t get the points we wanted but the effort was there,” defenseman Ryan Ellis said. “You have to take some positives out of it. I think it was our best game of the trip so far, but at the end of the day, we need the points and that’s what it’s all about. It’s a winning business and that’s what we’re looking to do.”

Nashville will have a different look to their lineup tonight after recalling forwards Kevin Fiala and Cody Bass from AHL Milwaukee, reassigning forward Viktor Arvidsson to Milwaukee and placing forward Colin Wilson on Injured Reserve with a lower-body injury.

Fiala has 12 points (4g-8a) in his last 13 games with the Admirals and is looking to make his season debut for the Preds. Bass skated in two games with Nashville in early December.

The Preds registered a 20-shot second period Tuesday against Chicago, tied for the third-most shots in a single period on the road in team history. The most shots in a single period came on March 9, 2006, at Vancouver, when the club pumped 22 in the third period at the Canucks net. The team had 21 shots in the second period of their March 3, 2015, contest against the New Jersey Devils.
Goaltender Pekka Rinne enters Thursday's game against the Jets with an all-time record of 8-2-0 against the franchise (including Atlanta), with a .927 save percentage and a 1.95 goals-against average in 11 appearances.

Both of Nashville’s assistant coaches have Winnipeg connections. Phil Housley was better than a point-per-game player for the previous incarnation of the Jets from 1990-93, when he posted 259 points (64g-195a) in 232 games. Housley still holds Jets’ records for most points (97, 1992-93) and assists (79, 1992-93) by a defenseman in a single season during Teemu Selanne’s recording-setting rookie goal-scoring campaign (76). Kevin McCarthy hails from Winnipeg and played his four years of junior hockey in the city for the Winnipeg Clubs (1973-76) and the Winnipeg Monarchs (1976-77) tallying 80 goals and 276 assists (356 pts) in 276 regular-season games played.

Defenseman Roman Josi leads the Preds in scoring with 31 points on the season, including nine goals, followed by Mike Ribeiro and Filip Forsberg with 28 points apiece. Captain Shea Weber has 11 goals and 26 points while forward James Neal, who is one goal away from 200 for his NHL career, leads the club with 15 tallies.

Neal has 20 career points versus the Jets, tied for his most against any team. He recorded one of his five career hat tricks on March 20, 2012, vs. Winnipeg (Ondrej Pavelec and Chris Mason), and his first goal as a Predator on Oct. 17, 2014, at Winnipeg (Pavelec). Ryan Johansen, acquired by the Preds last Wednesday, has seven points in seven career games against the Jets (3g-4a).

Blake Wheeler paces the Jets in points with 41, including 11 goals. He's followed by Bryan Little, who has 35 points on the season. Little and Drew Stafford are tied for the team lead in goals with 14, while Dustin Byfuglien has nine goals and 23 points from the blue line. Connor Hellebuyck is 9-6-1 in 16 starts this season with a 2.00 goals-against average and a .931 save percentage.

Tonight marks the third meeting between the Central Division rivals this season, with the clubs splitting the first two games of the series. On Nov. 14, 2015, Nashville won by a 7-0 score, tying the second-largest margin of victory in franchise history. In the most-recent matchup on Jan. 5, 2016, Winnipeg won 4-1 at Bridgestone Arena.

The Predators have been successful in first periods against the Jets this season, outscoring them 4-1 in the first frame while outshooting the Jets 26-8. Current Predator Craig Smith leads the way in points with three (1g-2a) vs. Winnipeg, while Calle Jarnkrok has tallied a team-high two goals vs. the Jets.

Fiala, Bass Enter Preds Lineup:

The Preds are expected to have two additions to the lineup tonight against Winnipeg in forwards Kevin Fiala and Cody Bass, both recalled yesterday afternoon from Milwaukee of the American Hockey League.

Nashville’s first pick in the 2014 NHL Draft, taken 11th overall, Fiala has 12 points (4g-8a) in his last 13 games in Milwaukee and skated on the Predators first line, alongside Ryan Johansen and James Neal, during the team’s line rushes at morning skate.

Preds Head Coach Peter Laviolette is hoping the highly skilled Fiala can add another element to a Nashville team looking for their first win of their current four-game road trip tonight against the Jets.

“We’re not scoring goals, so we’re going to look to bring Kevin in, and see if he can bring some offense to our club,” Laviolette said. “He provides a balance; we can move guys around and get a balance out there.”

Laviolette was also pleased with the reports he and the rest of the coaching staff have received from Milwaukee regarding the 19-year-old forward’s play as the season has progressed.

“He’s done a good job of acclimating to the North American game,” Laviolette said. “He’s an emotional kid; he seems to be more in-check emotionally on the ice, his 200-foot game has gotten better and he’s put himself in a position where he’s been able to generate offense lately. He’s just an addition; he’s just a part of who we are. He doesn’t feel like he has to carry the whole team here, just come out and play some hockey.”

After appearing in one regular season game and a postseason contest for the Preds last season, Fiala admitted he has some nerves heading into this evening’s contest. But, he’s also ready to make the most of his first opportunity at the NHL level this season.

“I’m very thankful for the chance [to] play with the best players in the whole world,” Fiala said. “I’m just grateful, and I want to give something back. I’ll try my best and give 100 percent, give my full attitude and [we’ll] see what happens tonight.”

Like Fiala, Bass is also thankful to get another shot with the Preds. The 29-year-old forward appeared in two games for the Preds back in December and is known for playing with an edge on the ice. Both Bass and Laviolette are looking for similar things tonight.

“I’m excited for another opportunity and another chance, and it means the world to me,” Bass said. “I’m just going to try to play some simple, straight-line hockey and try to create some energy where I can. Hopefully we can come out of this building with two points.”

“He’s just a straight-line, hard-nosed player,” Laviolette said of Bass. “He goes up and down the ice, he’s able to help with some faceoffs, help with the penalty kill, bang some bodies; he’s a big guy out there but he fills different roles, he plays different positions, so it’s good to get him back up here.”

Fiala, Bass and the rest of the Preds have prepared for their opponent, and at a time like this, Nashville is confident that if they play the way they know they’re capable of, wins will come, no matter the opposition.

“We have to worry about ourselves.” Laviolette said. “Our success is going to come from the guys in our room and how we play the game… We have to make sure we’re ready to play. We’re worried about our group tonight, and playing a game we know will be successful for us. I think our guys understand their identity completely, and that’s what we need to focus on tonight.”

Hodgson Assigned to Milwaukee:

Preds forward Cody Hodgson cleared waivers on Thursday and was assigned to the Milwaukee Admirals of the AHL. Coach Laviolette had this to say about the assignment:

“Cody’s a great kid, and I wish him the best of luck. He’s down in our minor league club now and cleared waivers, so he’s going to get an opportunity to play in all different situations. Just the impact in the games offensively and the speed, I think those are a couple areas Cody can look to improve on to try and climb back to here. But again, this is a good kid that worked hard and wanted to do well. Our team isn't performing well, and we’re looking to make some changes.”

Projected Lineups:

Nashville Predators:

Kevin Fiala Ryan Johansen James Neal
Filip Forsberg Mike Ribeiro Calle Jarnkrok
Eric Nystrom Mike Fisher Craig Smith
Miikka Salomaki Paul Gaustad Cody Bass
Roman Josi Shea Weber
Mattias Ekholm Ryan Ellis
Anthony Bitetto Barret Jackman


Goaltenders: Pekka Rinne is the expected starter in net with Carter Hutton serving as the backup.

Extra: (D) Petter Granberg, (F) Gabriel Bourque (IR; upper-body), (F) Austin Watson, (F) Colin Wilson (IR; lower-body)

Winnipeg Jets:

Drew Stafford Bryan Little Blake Wheeler
Chris Thorburn Adam Lowry Alexander Burmistrov
Andrew Ladd Mathieu Perreault Nikolaj Ehlers
Joel Armia Andrew Copp A. Peluso/M. Halischuk
Jacob Trouba Dustin Byfuglien
Toby Enstrom Tyler Myers
Mark Stuart Ben Chiarot


Goaltenders: Connor Hellebuyck is expected to start in net with Michael Hutchinson serving as the backup.

Extra: (F) Anthony Peluso, (D) Adam Pardy, (D) Paul Postma, (D) Grant Clitsome, Ondrej Pavelec, (F) Mark Scheifele

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