Winnipeg can learn from Nashville

A smarter Predators meant death for Jets in Game 4

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I wasn’t particularly surprised by the Winnipeg Jets’ 2-1 loss to the Nashville Predators Thursday night.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 04/05/2018 (1679 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

I wasn’t particularly surprised by the Winnipeg Jets’ 2-1 loss to the Nashville Predators Thursday night.

While I laid out the reasons last week why I thought the Jets would win the series, I also said I expected some turbulence along the way.

It’s been a bumpy ride.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods Nashville Predators' P.K. Subban celebrates his goal against the Winnipeg Jets' as Dustin Byfuglien looks at the scoreboard during the second period of game four in Winnipeg on Thursday.

Even though the Jets won Game 1, they were dominated on the shot clock and in offensive-zone time. Heading into Game 2, I looked for more from them than just sitting back and depending on their scoring talent to win.

They were certainly better, and because of Nashville dropping into “prevent defence” mode with a one-goal lead in the third period, they tied it up. In the end, it wasn’t quite enough.

Before Game 3 in Winnipeg, I was wondering if the Predators learned a lesson from almost blowing the game by sitting back.

They obviously hadn’t — yielding a 3-0 lead to lose 7-4, with Predators players admitting afterwards that they were too passive after they jumped ahead.

Although it happens to many teams, it boggles the mind as to why it does.

Heading into Thursday night, I was prepared to write about how playing it safe, in the manner Nashville did, meant death.

All it was going to take was another flop from the Predators, and they earned the opportunity to do it, taking a 2-0 lead into the third period.

But they played it excellently, using a combination of clogging up the neutral zone and the odd hard forecheck when they had a chance to retrieve the puck.

We saw a much smarter Predators team overall, while being attentive to line changes and puck placement. They were quicker on pucks and were able to win more battles because of it.

The biggest difference in the Predators laying back in the neutral zone was they were working seamlessly in five-man units. Pushing the Jets into the areas they preferred, they were able to have their defencemen hold their blue line, forcing Winnipeg to make precision passes.

The Jets didn’t have enough speed built up coming up the ice to penetrate Nashville’s defence. When you combine that with them being unable to complete a decent pass, it made for a game that wasn’t in doubt until Patrik Laine drew them within one late in the contest.

This was a much more tactical event for me, as the coaches looked for any edge.

It started before the game, when Predators head coach Peter Laviolette switched out Alexei Emelin for Yannick Weber, but most notably Kevin Fiala for the old, gritty Scott Hartnell. The offensively gifted Fiala had ended Game 2 in double-overtime, so it looked like a plus for the Jets.

Paul Maurice inserted a healthy Joel Armia into the lineup, but the Jets head coach chose not to take slow-footed Matt Hendricks out in exchange for more speed.

Instead, it was Jack Roslovic who was out, as Maurice obviously doesn’t trust him or Armia to play the left side.

The Mathieu Perreault situation sounds like a player saying he’s ready, but the coach not feeling it.

With Hartnell engaging Dustin Byfuglien early and offering to drop the gloves, one could wonder if it got the big man off his game a bit.

Byfuglien absolutely dominated Game 3 and was arguably the star of the series to that point.

It certainly wouldn’t be intimidation, but did it get him to shift his focus a bit? It’s hard to say, as Byfuglien obviously wasn’t the same player, but neither was the whole team.

So, where does this take us from here?

I might as well start with the big defenceman, who had put the Jets on his shoulders by beating the Predators both physically and on the scoreboard.

I expect him to get back to that, although he’s had a lot of help from his defensive brethren, most notably the top pairing of Jacob Trouba and Josh Morrissey.

While the Predators are known for offence from their back end, I was confident last week that the Jets would produce, which has held true.

Conversely, Nashville’s defencemen have shown how good they can be at smothering the attack when they have support.

While checking ice time after the second period Thursday night, some weird numbers showed up. Morrissey had played the least (11:17). He and Trouba (12:27) sandwiched Toby Enstrom (11:46) and Ben Chiarot (12:24). Byfuglien led (16:33) and Tyler Myers (13:45) was next up.

The variances obviously changed in the third with the Jets chasing the game.

While this likely had something to do with matchups, keeping two of the three top Jets defencemen on the bench that much was an interesting development.

In goal, both Pekka Rinne and Connor Hellebuyck have had their moments; it hasn’t had a huge impact on the series being tied.

We know the Jets can score. Mark Scheifele leads the way with four goals in this series. Brandon Tanev has three; Blake Wheeler and Paul Stastny have two each.

Laine notched his first Thursday; the other two young guns — Kyle Connor and Nikolaj Ehlers — are still looking for theirs.

It’s not fair to put all the pressure on the youngsters, but the three of them have been an integral part of the team’s success this year.

Winnipeg’s survival doesn’t necessarily depend on them, but some production would be most welcome.

Of course, fans will take that from anybody; it’s all about the win.

Chosen ninth overall by the NHL’s St. Louis Blues and first overall by the WHA’s Houston Aeros in 1977, Scott Campbell has now been drafted by the Winnipeg Free Press to play a new style of game.

Twitter: @NHL_Campbell

Scott Campbell

Scott Campbell
Columnist

Scott was a member of Winnipeg Jets 1.0 for a couple of seasons and also played for the WHA Jets team that won the last Avco Cup in 1978-79.

History

Updated on Saturday, May 5, 2018 9:00 AM CDT: Final

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