Johansen stays hot as Predators cruise past Jets

James Neal and Ryan Johansen both had a goal and assist and Pekka Rinne made 25 saves to help the Predators beat the Jets 4-1.

Paul Maurice doesn’t think the Winnipeg Jets are in desperate times.

With a 4-1 loss at home Thursday to the Nashville Predators, the Jets are 21-23-3 and their playoff hopes are dimming as they remain at the bottom of the NHL Central Division and six points out of a playoff spot.

“I don’t think desperate hockey has any sense to it,” the head coach said. “Urgency? Listen, I’m not sure that they didn’t play as hard as they could, but we could play a little smarter and we could pass the puck better. I know that.

“But clearly we’re in a tough spot here now with the losses that are mounting here at home. But the urgency, I don’t know. I think they played hard, but I think we can play better. We can do more.”

Ryan Johansen, Craig Smith, James Neal and Calle Jarnkrok, with an empty-netter, scored for the Predators (21-18-8). Johansen and Neal also had an assist each.

Johansen now has four goals and nine points in seven games since his trade to Nashville from Columbus on Jan. 6.

Rookie Nikolaj Ehlers netted his ninth goal of the season for Winnipeg, which recorded its second loss in the second contest of a six-game homestand.

“It definitely hurts,” said Ehlers, who scored the game’s first goal on a breakaway at 4:16 of the first period. “We played a pretty good game, a full 60 minutes. We had some good chances and weren’t able to execute. But I think that there’s a lot we can take from this game and look forward to the next one.”

Winnipeg host New Jersey on Saturday.

The Predators continue their four-game road trip with the second game Saturday in Edmonton.

“It was a great team win, a good way to start off what is going to be a tough road trip and a tough few games coming up,” Neal said. “A team that’s right behind us in the standings, so it was a huge win.”

Pekka Rinne made 26 saves for Nashville. Connor Hellebuyck stopped 24 of the 27 shots he faced for the Jets (21-23-3).

Maurice was asked if Hellebuyck needs a rest after playing 19 of the team’s past 22 games.

“I don’t think so. This is a big-boy league,” he said.

Veteran goalie Ondrej Pavelec was taking light shots from goalie coach Wade Flaherty at Thursday’s morning skate, but there’s no time line for his return from a Nov. 21 injury.

The Jets were without forwards Alexander Burmistrov, Adam Lowry, Mark Scheiefle and Drew Stafford. All but Burmistrov are on the injured-reserve list.

“We’ve got enough good players,” Maurice said. “You’re going to have injuries.

“If we’re a good enough team to outshoot them 11-2 even strength in the second period, then you’ve got to be a good enough team to win the game.”

Nashville took the 2-1 lead on its first shot of the second period when Smith’s shot from inside the faceoff circle went high past a partly screened Hellebuyck for his 10th goal of the season at 5:04.

Neal scored his 17th goal at 18:08 when Johansen won the faceoff and sent the puck to him out in front. Jarnkrok added the empty-netter 25 seconds later.

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