Predators play key division game against Jets

As the Nashville Predators work on turning around their slow start, they were presented with two breaks from the schedule-maker.

Not only are they finishing up a three-game homestand Friday when the Winnipeg Jets come to Nashville, they are also in the middle of a stretch of four straight games against their Central Division brethren, meaning wins can count for a little bit more.

“These games are huge,” Nashville forward Filip Forsberg said. “These division games are probably going to decide who's going to make the playoffs. That's been the case for the last couple of years now.”

Forsberg got the Predators' run of division games off to a good start, scoring a goal and picking up an assist Wednesday night in a 5-2 win over Dallas that upped their record in Bridgestone Arena to 7-1-1. What's more, it upped Nashville (9-7-3) from sixth in the division to fourth.

Nashville effectively swapped places with the Jets (9-11-2), a 3-1 loser Wednesday night in Minnesota. That dropped Winnipeg to 0-4-0 on its five-game road trip and 3-8-1 away from Manitoba this season.

“We were just about an inch shy on everything that happened for us tonight,” Jets coach Paul Maurice said. “Both teams were competing pretty hard on that puck and it was hard to get pucks to the net. The margin for error there was real small.”

There has been no margin for error for Winnipeg since it blanked Chicago 4-0 on Nov. 15 to claim second place in the division. It has been outscored 15-5 during its road trip and has been stuck on one goal for three straight games.

Given the way Predators goalie Pekka Rinne played this month, the Jets' chances of registering a crooked number don't look good in this one, either. Rinne (8-5-3) stopped 33 shots Wednesday night, including all 22 Dallas threw at him in the second period.

In 10 November games, Rinne is 7-1-2 with a 1.39 goals-against average and a .952 save percentage. He is not the entire reason Nashville is 6-2-1 in its last nine games, but he is clearly the team's first star this month.

“He's a good goalie,” Dallas left winger Jamie Benn said. “He's one of the best in the league and if he can see it, he's probably going to stop it.”

Also boding well for the Predators was getting goals from Forsberg and Ryan Johansen in the same game for the first time this season. Both have just two markers in 19 games, although Forsberg leads the team in points with 15 and Johansen has played a solid two-way game, ranking among the team leaders in plus-minus.

Nashville coach Peter Laviolette was particularly pleased with Johansen, and linemates Viktor Arvidsson and James Neal, for their work against the Stars' top line of Benn, Tyler Seguin and Cody Eakin.

“He's working hard at both ends of the ice,” Nashville Laviolette said of Johansen. “I think they're playing against big lines. Defensively, they're trying to be responsible and play a good game and still contribute offensively.”

Friday's game starts a home-and-home series between the Predators and Jets. They meet again on Sunday in Winnipeg.