NASHVILLE – The Winnipeg Jets have been blessed with a golden opportunity Sunday to steal not one but two games on the road against the NHL’s best regular-season team.
Both sides of this Central Division heavyweight tilt have promised more quality chances and a faster pace heading into a suddenly pivotal Game 2 in Nashville.
“The win from last game doesn’t impact, certainly a casualness from our part going into Game 2,” says Jets coach Paul Maurice. “There’s lots of places that we can get better in our game. And we’re going to need to. They’ll push hard.”
Here are a few notes we gathered from the Predators and Jets rooms before puck drop.
Subban casts his Norris ballot
Alongside Drew Doughty and Victor Hedman, the Professional Hockey Writers Association nominated Nashville’s P.K. Subban a Norris Trophy finalist this season.
But Subban says another Predators blueliner is deserving of the honour.
“If I could vote for the Norris, Roman Josi. If I could vote a guy in, he’s a guy who hasn’t been in the top three yet who probably deserves to be,” Subban said. “I’m sure he will be before his career is over, but he’s a guy who definitely deserves recognition. If I’m gonna have someone take my spot, it’d be him.
“Think about when [seven-time Norris champ] Nick Lidstrom played. Would [one-time winner] Scott Niedermayer have won more Norris trophies? Probably. The reality is, there’s defencemen who are more established or have been doing it longer and sometimes it’s tough. It only takes one year to break through.
“If [Josi] is not in the top three, he’s in the top five or six. He’s right there. It just comes down to voting, and sometimes you need to get the bounces too. He’s been great for us. Not just him, but [Mattias Ekholm] and [Ryan Ellis] too. They’ve been great. Pick who you want, but we’ve got a lot of guys who could be in that conversation.”
Subban weighs in on McDavid debate
Scoring leader Connor McDavid’s absence from the list of Hart Trophy finalists sparked many a barroom deliberation this week. Subban has already said publicly that he believes Nathan MacKinnon is deserving of the Hart Trophy, and he credits the pace of the Colorado Avalanche’s play with accelerating his own club’s play in the post-season.
We asked Subban who he voted for in the player-nominated Ted Lindsay Award, given to the most outstanding player.
“I don’t even think I put my vote in, to be honest. Probably McDavid. You can go McDavid, Crosby, MacKinnon, any of those guys. It’s so crazy,” Subban says.
“McDavid, people forget how good he actually is. I talk about MacKinnon for MVP, and I really believe he deserved it, but McDavid leading the [league] in scoring and his team isn’t even in the playoffs. It’s hard to not look at that. That’s the league. It’s a good problem to have in this league, where you have such a tough decision to make on who’s going to be MVP.”
Forsberg growing into leader
It is the trade that just keeps on giving for the Predators — the April 3, 2013 deadline deal that saw an 18-year-old Filip Forsberg arrive from Washington in exchange for Martin Erat and David Latta.
It was, perhaps, the most lopsided trade of a generation, judged today not only by Forsberg’s annual 60-plus point production, but also by the fact he has become a young leader here in Nashville.
“When I first came in we had a really good leadership group with Shea Weber, Mike Fisher, Patric Hornqvist, Pekka [Rinne], those guys that I just looked up to,” Forsberg said Sunday. “I think I’ve just been growing into that, [but] a lot of guys have done the same thing. Roman has been a part of that and Ryan Ellis, Ekky [Mattias Ekholm], a couple guys that have definitely been a core of the group since I came in.”
The post Forsberg hit on the power play in Game 1 was a focal point for Nashville’s lack of scoring. He rang one off the iron with the score 2-0, and moments later Mark Scheifele made it 3-0 for Winnipeg.
How hurt is Watson?
Despite playing just 4:09 in Game 1 before leaving with an undisclosed injury, Austin Watson led all Predators in hits, with five.
The third-line winger is rapidly gaining a reputation as a post-season performer; he co-leads Nashville in playoff scoring with linemate Colton Sissons (four goals and seven points).
“The more you understand his total impact in the game from his size, his skating, his courageousness, his defensive play, then you see him chip in offensively, the more you realize how important he is to a lineup,” says Predators coach Peter Laviolette.
Watson participated in practice Saturday but his status for Game 2 is being kept secret, and he’s one of the few Preds who can battle to the nasty area in front of the net.
The Predators have spoken about how much more physical the Jets are than the Avalanche, while the Jets have found this series less rough than their five-game set versus Minnesota.
“I don’t think [Game 1] was that physical,” Jets checking centre Adam Lowry said. “They lose Watson early — he’s a big part that drives that physical play with that line.”
If Watson doesn’t play, could we see the playoff debut of Finnish Olympic sensation Eeli Tolvanen?
“I’m not really looking to change the lineup, based on last game,” Laviolette said. “But he’s a good young player and he’s part of the depth of our organization and part of the future of our organization. There’s no telling what happens in a long playoff run. We found that out last year.”
Perreault is 85% healthy, nearing return
Winger Mathieu Perreault suffered a shoulder injury way back in the Jets playoff opener when Minnesota captain Mikko Koivu levelled him in open ice.
The veteran has been skating and shooting for a few days now. Estimating his health at 85 per cent (to match his sweater number), Perreault hopes to be ready this week, but coach Paul Maurice has said that rookie replacement Jack Roslovic has been playing strong enough that it’s no foregone conclusion he’ll be bumped out.
“Right now, the team is playing well, so you don’t feel the urgency to push it,” Perreault said. “Once I feel good, I’ll let the coaches know and it’s their decision.”
The Jets’ other injured depth forward, Joel Armia, has been skating on his own back in Winnipeg.