October 19, 2018

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Scheifele looking forward to Music City return

Winnipeg Jets' Mark Scheifele scored seven goals in four games at Bridgestone Arena during the team's second-round playoff series against the Nashville Predators last season.

TREVOR HAGAN / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES

Winnipeg Jets' Mark Scheifele scored seven goals in four games at Bridgestone Arena during the team's second-round playoff series against the Nashville Predators last season.

Mark Scheifele is going back to the building where it all happened.

The 25-year-old Kitchener, Ont., product and his Winnipeg Jets teammates return tonight to Bridgestone Arena — home of the Nashville Predators — for the first time since the two Central Division rivals met in the second round of the 2017-18 NHL playoffs. Game time is 7 p.m.

The Jets posted a well-earned 5-1 triumph in Game 7 on May 10 to advance to their first Western Conference final against Vegas, a series the Golden Knights wrapped up in five games.

But back to the battle waged between the league’s best and second-best squads during the 2017-18 regular season — the Predators won their first Presidents’ Trophy with 117 points, while the Jets were right behind with 114 — and the heroics of Winnipeg’s top-line centre in Round 2 of the post-season.

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Mark Scheifele is going back to the building where it all happened.

The 25-year-old Kitchener, Ont., product and his Winnipeg Jets teammates return tonight to Bridgestone Arena — home of the Nashville Predators — for the first time since the two Central Division rivals met in the second round of the 2017-18 NHL playoffs. Game time is 7 p.m.

The Jets posted a well-earned 5-1 triumph in Game 7 on May 10 to advance to their first Western Conference final against Vegas, a series the Golden Knights wrapped up in five games.

But back to the battle waged between the league’s best and second-best squads during the 2017-18 regular season — the Predators won their first Presidents’ Trophy with 117 points, while the Jets were right behind with 114 — and the heroics of Winnipeg’s top-line centre in Round 2 of the post-season.

Scheifele fired seven goals in the four games staged in the Tennessee capital, including two-goal performances in Games 1 and 2, and the clincher. He set an NHL record for most road goals in a playoff series.

Speaking after practice Wednesday in Winnipeg, Scheifele said it’s a treat to return to a true U.S. hockey haven early in the new season.

"It’s a loud building, and any loud building gets you going as a player. We got to experience it at a pretty heightened level last year," Scheifele said. "Obviously, we’re excited for another tough test, another tough challenge, against Nashville. It’s always a fun game against them. They play a hard game, and we saw that in the playoffs last year. After that series, obviously, there’s a bit of a rivalry now."

Scheifele finished with 14 playoff goals, just one back of Washington Capitals marksman Alex Ovechkin, who scored 15, although he played in seven more games.


 

He’s no philosopher, but Ben Chiarot maintains the importance of knowing himself continues to work in his favour.

The Jets defenceman, now in his fifth season in the NHL, has suited up for three straight games to begin the season and will be united with Dustin Byfuglien on the second pairing tonight. It’s a spot he’s familiar with, having partnered with big No. 33 for long stretches when the oft-injured, now-departed Toby Enstrom was sidelined in previous seasons

Defenceman Ben Chiarot brings a physical edge to the Jets' defensive corps.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Defenceman Ben Chiarot brings a physical edge to the Jets' defensive corps.

While Chiarot has gone pointless in games against St. Louis, Dallas and Los Angeles, he’s been efficient and reliable. His playing style doesn’t exactly lend itself to posting garish scoring stats — in 57 games last season, he scored two goals and added a dozen assists — so, Chiarot won’t catch anyone’s eye when judged by the usual performance markers. But he was a plus-15, dished out an average of two solid hits a night and kept overt giveaways to a minimum.

The 6-3, 220-pound rear-guard also played 16 of the Jets’ post-season games, chipping in three helpers while providing a consistently physical element, particularly in the series against the Preds. Being flashy isn’t Chiarot’s style, and he knows it.

"I’m confident in what I bring to the team and my role. I saw last year, especially in the playoffs, how effective it can be and how valuable it can be, so I just play my game and bring the physical play every night," said Chiarot, 27. "I went through that lesson, I learned that, and now I think you just see me using it every night.

"I know better what my game is now, more than I ever have before, and what makes me effective out there, so there’s no turning it on and off. For me, this is how I play and that’s what I do."

Jets head coach Paul Maurice said defining himself as a forceful, stay-at-home blue-liner serves Chiarot — and the hockey club — well.

"That’s something we talk about with every player. ‘What are you really good at?’ And he became that physical guy. He can move the puck, but (he’s) a real hard man to play against," Maurice said. "That (was) the message to Ben coming back: before you think about taking the next step and start generating offence, make sure you understand how valuable what you’re good at is. And he’s protected that in the first three (games)."


 

Kyle Connor plays the 100th game of his NHL career tonight in Music City

Winnipeg Jets forward Kyle Connor will play his 100th career NHL game Thursday, when the Jets take on Nashville.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Winnipeg Jets forward Kyle Connor will play his 100th career NHL game Thursday, when the Jets take on Nashville.

Playing the left side with Scheifele and right-winger Blake Wheeler on the Jets’ top line, the 21-year-old from Michigan scored the game winner in Tuesday’s 2-1 triumph against the Los Angeles Kings and has a goal in three straight games to begin the season.

To say he scores crucial goals would be a huge understatement. Of his 36 career goals (including 31 last season, tops among all rookies) Connor has nine game winners, including five in his last 13 games dating back to last season.

"He’s just a really smart player. We saw once he got some confidence last year the level he can play at. He’s just so dynamic and so quick getting in and out of space, he’s just really tough to defend," Wheeler said after the win over the Kings. "He came into camp, he’s been one of our top guys. You can tell this summer he worked on his game, got better. And I can’t tell you how exciting it is to play with a guy like that every day."

jason.bell@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPJasonBell

Jason Bell

Jason Bell
Assistant sports editor

Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).

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