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Game Day: Preds vs. Jets

by Thomas Willis & Brooks Bratten / Nashville Predators

(33-21-12) Nashville Predators vs. Winnipeg Jets (27-33-5)
  7 P.M. | MTS Centre | #NSHvsWPG
TV: FS-TN | Radio: 102.5 The Game | Pregame: 6:30 P.M.

The Nashville Predators venture into Canada for the final time this season, beginning with a contest against the Winnipeg Jets tonight from the MTS Centre. It's the fifth and final meeting between the two clubs this campaign, with the Preds holding a 2-1-1 record over the last-placed club in the Central Division.

Nashville recalled center Colton Sissons from AHL Milwaukee on Monday morning in advance of their trip to Winnipeg. Center Paul Gaustad will not join the Preds on the four-game trip due to an upper-body injury.

The Predators have points in 12 consecutive games, a franchise record, including a 5-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday afternoon. The Preds are 8-0-4 during that span and have not lost in regulation since Feb. 9. Winnipeg fell 2-1 to Edmonton on Sunday and are 2-6-2 in their last 10 outings.

During their current streak, the Preds have allowed two goals or fewer on eight occasions, shutting out the opposition three times. During the 12-game run, Nashville is 8-for-34 on the power play (23.5 percent) and have killed off 25-of-31 chances against (80.6 percent). They are also averaging 3.25 goals per game and allowing 1.92 goals per game.

In addition to their overall production as of late, Nashville has been successful against teams based in Canada this season, posting a 11-1-3 record against them and recording 25 of a possible 30 points in the standings (.833 points percentage). The club has averaged 3.13 goals per game in that span and allowed an average of 1.86 goals. The stretch of contests includes the team's 7-0-1 road record, with their only loss coming in overtime to the Jets.

Filip Forsberg has scored 28 goals so far this season, extending a career high in the category (previously 26 goals set last season). Eighteen of those goals have come since the start of the calendar year, which ties him for third in the category, behind only Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby. His 18 goals in that span are also the most by any member of the Preds, which accounts for 22.8 percent of the team’s total goal production (18-of-79) in that time length.

Forsberg was tied for the League lead in goals during the month of February with 12, setting a franchise record for most goals by a Pred in a single month. The native of Ostervala, Sweden, was named the NHL's First Star of the Week last week after posting two hat tricks in three games. He was also the NHL's Third Star for the month of February.

With his empty-net goal on Saturday, Captain Shea Weber is now one goal shy of surpassing Martin Erat for sole possession of second on the franchise’s all-time goals list. Erat had 163 goals with the Nashville Predators, while David Legwand (210 goals) is the franchise leader in goals. Weber has 17 goals so far this season, the eighth time in his career he's reached the 15-goal plateau.

In addition to goals, Forsberg also leads the Preds in points with 51, followed by defenseman Roman Josi, who has 47. Mike Ribeiro is third on the team with 46 points, including a club-high 39 assists. James Neal's 23 goals are second to Forsberg, followed by Weber with 17 and Craig Smith with 16. Goaltender Pekka Rinne is 26-18-10 on the season; Carter Hutton owns a 7-2-2 record.

Ryan Johansen is on a three-game point streak versus the Jets (2g-5a). Josi has an assist in three of his last four games against Winnipeg (3a) and Neal has a point in three of his last four games versus the Jets (3g-3a).
Former Jets Captain Andrew Ladd has departed since the Preds last faced Winnipeg, as he was traded to Chicago prior to the Feb. 29 Trade Deadline. Blake Wheeler leads the Jets with 59 points, followed by Dustin Byfuglien and Bryan Little, who are tied with 42 points apiece; however, Little is out for the remainder of the season due to injury. Ondrej Pavelec is 7-10-2 on the season; Michael Hutchinson is 7-12-2.

The Predators took the last meeting between the two foes by a score of 4-1 at the MTS Centre. Nashville had a goal apiece from Calle Jarnkrok, Johansen, Neal and Smith. Rinne stopped 26-of-27 shots on the night for the Predators. Nashville was a perfect 4-for-4 on the penalty kill and 1-for-3 on power play.
Johansen leads the Predators in points against Winnipeg this season with seven (2g-5a). Neal and Jarnkrok lead the team in goals with three each vs. the Jets. All-time, Nashville is 17-9-4 versus the Jets franchise.

Real Deal Moose:

Calling a trip to Winnipeg a homecoming for Preds forward James Neal is a bit of a stretch, but the team’s high-scoring winger does have an undeniable connection.

The Manitoba Moose of the American Hockey League join the Winnipeg Jets in calling the MTS Centre home, and for five games in the 2008-09 season, a 20-year-old Neal did too. The forward was in the midst of his first season with the Dallas Stars when he was assigned to the AHL, but since the Stars did not have an affiliate team at the time, Neal found out Manitoba would be his ultimate destination for the assignment.

“For an American League team it’s a great place to play, the fans are awesome, the building is packed every night. It was a quick stint, but enjoyable,” recalled Neal. “It was just kind of a weird situation, with them not having an American League team and going to Vancouver’s farm team and playing with guys that weren’t affiliated with the Stars organization… Mark Fistric and me went down together, so it was a different experience.”

Neal used four goals and five points in his five AHL contests with the Moose as a springboard to leave the NHL’s primary development league for the final time in his career, going on to record his first of eight consecutive 20-goal seasons (an on-going streak) when he potted 24 scores in his rookie season with the Stars.

“I stayed at the same hotel we’re staying at now for a couple weeks and managed to get back up to Dallas.” Neal said. “All those bumps in the road you go through help you get back to the National Hockey League.”

Offense Heating Up:

The Predators recent hot streak on the scoreboard has been noticeable enough. Nashville has notched at least four goals for four-straight contests and has hit at least three scores in a game six consecutive times.

Going back even further to Jan 20., the Preds rank among the NHL top clubs in goal scoring per game at 3.15.

Why the increased production? Center Mike Ribeiro still points to what many consider to be the reason behind the club’s 12-game point streak: a foundationally successful team defense.

“The offense is there because of our defense. I think they go together,” said Ribeiro. “Forechecking is part of your defense, creating turnovers is part of your defense and coming back to your zone and leaving it as a group, I think creates more offense. We’ve been able to play good defense and our offensive chances are coming from that. Good defense is still what we need to seek to focus on.”

“We all knew we had to get our lines going and with the way Ribeiro, [Filip] Forsberg and [Craig] Smith started playing, it gave our whole club a bit of a boost,” Neal said. “They were producing and getting timely and big goals. That elevates everyone’s game and Pekka [Rinne] is playing great, and us playing well in our own end leads to good offense. It’s a combination of just playing good hockey and getting more offense.”

First to 30:

Fourteen goals in his last 14 games has dramatically altered the statistical outlook on Filip Forsberg’s season. The 21-year-old Swede has already established a career high in goals with 28 and is on the cusp of becoming the team’s first 30-goal scorer since the 2009-10 campaign (Patric Hornqvist: 30g-21a).

Long-time linemate and often the recipient of primary assists on Forsberg’s goals, veteran Mike Ribeiro says to credit Forsberg’s shot release as the main reason for his scoring prowess. Going back to Brett Hull, one of the game’s all-time best scorers, it’s all about the release.

“I think it’s all about how he shoots,” Ribeiro said. “Him and Neal, if they can shoot seven to 10 times per game, they are going to score a goal every time. I think he’s started skating a little better as well, and the added confidence always helps. Once you score one it gives you a boost, and those guys, once you score one it helps a lot. In your second year, you have to figure out what defenses are going to do to you, they play you differently because they know what you like to do and you have to adjust. He’s figured that out.”

Some of the credit for Forsberg’s year of course goes to Ribeiro and the veteran’s ability to deliver a timely saucer pass right in the sophomore scorer’s wheelhouse.

“Shooters are complicated; they like it in a certain spot to shoot,” Ribeiro explained. “You have to know where they want the puck placed, it’s like a target I’m aiming at. Some guys, it’s more in front, others in the middle and some guys are on the back foot. I guess by practicing you know where they want it, and when you have a second to position the puck that's where you go."

Projected Lineups:

Nashville Predators:

The Predators held an optional morning skate on Tuesday. The below lineup is based on the line rushes seen at Monday's practice in Nashville.

Calle Jarnkrok Ryan Johansen James Neal
Filip Forsberg Mike Ribeiro Craig Smith
Miikka Salomaki Mike Fisher Viktor Arvidsson
Colin Wilson Colton Sissons Austin Watson
Roman Josi Shea Weber
Anthony Bitetto Ryan Ellis
Mattias Ekholm Petter Granberg


Goaltenders: Pekka Rinne is the projected starter in net after leaving the morning skate first, with Carter Hutton serving as the backup.

Extra: (D) Barret Jackman, (F) Gabriel Bourque (IR; upper-body), (F) Paul Gaustad (upper-body), (F) Eric Nystrom (IR; lower-body)

Winnipeg Jets:

Drew Stafford Mark Scheifele Blake Wheeler
Mathieu Perreault Alexander Burmistrov Scott Kosmachuk
Marko Dano Adam Lowry Chris Thorburn
Matt Halischuk Andrew Copp JC Lipon
Toby Enstrom Dustin Byfuglien
Jacob Trouba Tyler Myers
Ben Chiarot Paul Postma


Goaltenders: Ondrej Pavalec is the projected starter in net with Michael Hutchinson serving as the backup.

Extra: (F) Anthony Peluso, (F) Nikolaj Ehlers, (D) Grant Clitsome (IR), (F) Bryan Little, (D) Mark Stuart (IR), (F) Joel Armia

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