Despite being one of the worst scoring teams in hockey, the Winnipeg Jets have found a way to remain competitive in the Central Division through the first 17 games.
Even a return to last season’s middling scoring could go a long way to turning them into playoff contenders, and the next step comes Saturday night as they make their fourth stop on a five-game trip against the Nashville Predators.
Though they’re posting an alarmingly low 1.82 goals per game a season after finishing 15th (2.67) in 2013-14, the Jets (9-6-2) have been one of the NHL’s better defensive teams. They’ve limited opponents to 2.00 goals per game after finishing last season 22nd in that category at 2.82. Over a 5-1-1 stretch, including Thursday’s 3-1 win at Carolina, Winnipeg has allowed just nine goals.
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Offensively, Blake Wheeler had his second multigoal effort of the season. He’s also got seven points in his last six games against Nashville.
"We like the way we’ve been playing recently and we didn’t want to get away from that because of one loss," said Wheeler, whose team was coming off Tuesday’s 3-0 defeat in Montreal. "We’re a confident group right now. You never want to lose two games in a row. That’s a staple of good teams, teams that are playoff-caliber teams.
"We didn’t want to let this slide."
Part of the defensive effort could be the fact they’ve faced below-average shot totals this season (28.2) after ranking 17th a season ago (30.1).
It’s also got plenty to do with solid goaltending. Backup Michael Hutchinson made 22 saves Thursday to improve to 2-1-0 with a 1.50 goals-against average in four games.
Starter Ondrej Pavelec has been strong most of the season, particularly over a 5-1-2 stretch with a 1.44 GAA. That run includes a 3-1 home win over Nashville on Nov. 4 as the Jets evened the season series 1-all.
Collectively, the goaltenders’ save percentage ranks among the league leaders (.929) a season after finishing 24th (.907).
Pavelec figures to get the nod versus the Predators, against whom he’s 4-4-1 with a 2.07 GAA in 10 games.
Nashville (10-4-2) hasn’t been too far off the Jets’ defensive zone numbers, limiting opponents to 2.06 goals per game, though it suffered a 4-3 loss in St. Louis on Thursday and is now tasked with continuing its run of avoiding consecutive defeats this season.
The Predators continued to get production from Filip Forsberg, who scored his seventh goal on a six-game scoring streak and added two assists to give the 20-year-old 13 points on a seven-game point streak.
It’s a level of production Nashville anticipated.
"The only question was going to be when, not if," general manager David Poile told the team’s official website.
Pekka Rinne has been established for quite a bit longer but will be looking for a bounce-back effort after allowing four goals on 27 shots. Still, the veteran is 4-1-0 with a 2.01 GAA this month and posted a 31-save shutout in Winnipeg on Oct. 17.
As a starter, Rinne is 5-0-0 with a 1.99 GAA against the Jets.
In front of him, the Predators have made things a bit easier by limiting short-handed situations. They’ve faced an NHL-low 43 and posted a 5-for-6 kill in the last four games.
Winnipeg hasn’t done much with the power-play chances it has had as the club’s special teams have mirrored its even-strength play. The power play is 3 for 22 (13.6 percent) over eight games, while the penalty kill is 23 for 25 (92.0).