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Game #44 Recap: Nashville Predators at Winnipeg Jets

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Just when you thought the game was over, Nashville scored three straight.

Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports

Say what you will about games between the Nashville Predators and your Winnipeg Jets, they've been nothing if not must-see TV this season. After Bridgestone Arena played host to both Nov. 14th's cataclysmic loss and a Jan. 5th recording of the Connor Hellebuyck show, it was Winnipeg's turn to host the season series.

Game 3 did not disappoint. The Jets overcame a rocky start to build a 4-1 lead, only to see it evaporate in the 3rd period. Luckily, noted leader man Blake Wheeler rose to the occasion, saving Winnipeg from a devastating defeat by scoring the game-winning goal in overtime. Final score 5-4.

It was the kind of finish which causes journalists to curse under their breath:

Twelve Thoughts

A new direction: The Winnipeg Jets cause much consternation and handwringing around here, but we're not the only fans a little stressed at the moment. Including tonight's overtime loss, the Predators are 2-6-2 in their last 10. Prior to this game, they were 1-4-0 in their last 5. Things are out of tune in the Music City.

And so the team has looked to shake things up recently. In addition to reassigning Cody Hodgson to the Milwaukee Admirals, the team also sent Viktor Arvidsson down with him, recalled both Kevin Fiala and Cody Bass, and placed Colin Wilson on IR to boot. That's one way to get the attention of a struggling club.

Started from Milwaukee now I'm here: Both recalls immediately drew into tonight's lineup. With all due respect to Cody Bass, the greater story was Kevin Fiala. Nashville's 11th overall selection in 2014 had disappointed both during training camp and subsequently in the AHL. The player himself confessed to early season troubles:

Nashville did not go out and acquire Ryan Johansen in order to take a step back this season. They want to make the 2016 playoffs, and then proceed to win a round or three. With this in mind, their recent struggles have prompted David Poile to go off-script in an attempt to fix things.

That is not usual language from a General Manager, and nakedly reveals both his frustration and determination. Take solace, Mr. Poile, for the early returns on your Hail Mary pass seem quite favourable:

Thanks to Kevin Fiala, the Preds took 00:59 seconds to go up 1-0 in the 1st period. Skating alongside Ryan Johansen and James Neal on the 1st line, Fiala tallied 1 goal, 5 shots and 17:48 TOI on the night. Colin Wilson who?

Less power but no less beautiful: The last time the Preds and Jets clashed, it was Winnipeg's power play which offensively carried them to victory. Having failed on 2 out of 3 opportunities, courtesy of Drew Stafford both times, Nashville needed to keep special teams from killing them once more.

Mission accomplished, for the most part. Winnipeg went 1 for 5 on the power play tonight, but that single PP goal was a moment of quiet perfection:

The poise and patience of Blake Wheeler, the positioning and shot of Bryan Little. It was truly a thing of beauty:

Ryan Johansen also had a smooth and silky power play goal of his own, and that's all I have to say about that.

They cannot both be true: Okay I lied, let's talk a little more about Ryan Johansen. The John Tortorella favourite had a three point night over 20:11 minutes played. With six points in four games, the centreman has quickly taken to his surroundings in Nashville. Unfortunately for Preds fans, they've also gone winless in those four games. I'm pretty sure that means causation.

From the frontline to the blueline: Enough about Nashville's franchise centre. Let's focus on Winnipeg's elite defenceman. Dustin Byfuglien was an absolute beast tonight, with two emphatic goals. Buff's first came off his own rebound, and considering how it happened almost immediately following a Mark Stuart fight, I presume he was motivated by the fisticuffs.

His second goal was just Buff being Buff. Strong, mobile, offensively minded, unstoppable:

A question of value: Let's step back from the game to discuss something off-ice for a moment. Bob McKenzie recently touched upon the Byfuglien situation, and his words were boat-rocking to say the least:

The response I and many others had to this was, "So why the bleep isn't he signed yet?" Term has always been the scarier aspect of a Dustin Byfuglien extension. Five years is eminently manageable, and $7,000,000 hardly outrageous for what you're getting. When mainstream analytics rockstar Travis Yost says "I'd sign that", it's probably a reasonable deal.

Cheers and fears: On this note of discussion over financial commitment, Byfuglien decided to go and have a statement game. Randy Turner adequately summed up the feelings many had after Big Buff's second goal:

However, the conversation soon shifted from raucous accolades to "Oh dear God in heaven is he all right?", as Byfuglien was felled by a poison arrow Cody Bass:

The moment (I hesitate to even call it a hit) did not look good, and as Sara Orlesky tweeted out, neither did the aftermath. Some cruel and unfeeling folks openly and near-immediately wondered if an injury might provide opportunity. However, it seems they will be sorely disappointed:

It's a hard-knock life: Byfuglien wasn't the only Jets player having a rough go of things. Aside from taking a puck to the face, Andrew Ladd seemed to be a magnet for physical abuse. None was more egregious than this absolutely terrible hit by Paul Gaustad:

I've always believed that the Winnipeg Jets could still obtain significant value for Ladd and Byfuglien at the trade deadline (not just in the offseason or season's early months). But this belief is dependent on one incredibly important dice roll: health.

If Winnipeg hangs onto their two high-profile UFAs until the trade deadline is nigh, they are gambling that both will remain healthy and thus desirable to a contender. Tonight's crash-bang-boom plays involving Ladd and Buff had me seeing potential 1st round draft picks flash before my eyes. They're both one bad injury away from being worth nothing as a rental, which would in turn put Winnipeg in an interesting, if uncomfortable situation.

#PekkaProblems: I took a brief look at Pekka Rinne's subpar performance of late in yesterday's article on Michael Hutchinson. Click here if you're curious. Beyond those, Adam Vingan shared a number of additional interesting (see: damming) statistics:

Rinne's SV% on the evening? .792%. David Poile really needs to find out how much Bob Murray wants for Anton Khudobin.

A fool's errand: Rinne's struggles stand out even more in a game such as this, where the Predators controlled possession. The shots were 35 - 24 overall in favour of Nashville, and 31 - 19 at even strength. The fancy stats discrepancy was even more dramatic. As per Natural Stat Trick:

betterinot

Their top-line of Fiala, Johansen and Neal was patently ridiculous, posting an even strength Corsi For of 102, versus 30 Against. Fiala had the lowest CF% of the three, at 72.22. The 2nd pairing of Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis also made a good account of themselves.

For Winnipeg, the top-line had a rough go of things and Tyler Myers was downright horrific:

tylermyersisterrible

Regression to the mean: It was wonderful to see Nikolaj Ehlers on the scoreboard last game against the San Jose Sharks. Given his ridiculously terrible run of late, including a shooting percentage of just 2.56%, his luck was bound to change eventually.

The hope for struggling goalscorers is always that one tally will open the floodgates. It's a bit early to make that proclamation, but Ehlers did light the lamp for the second straight game and eighth time of the season. Now this is podracing capitalizing on a breakaway:

O Captain! My Captain!: After James Neal tied things up at 4-4 to send the game to overtime, the ending was obvious and inevitable. Future captain Blake Wheeler would save the day. And you know what? That's what happened:

#leadership.

In calling out his teammates, Wheeler invited the Sword of Damocles over his own head. It was an onus he did not shy away from, and on this important night to lead by example, Wheeler did just that.

In conclusion: So how's the situation look? Welp, the Winnipeg Jets end their three game homestand with a record of 1-2-0, having been outshot 91 to 90 (a number skewed by their 44-22 performance against Buffalo). They now go on a brief jaunt to Minnesota, before coming home to begin a six game homestand. Winnipeg remains last in the Central Division, though at least tonight helped serve to drag Nashville down with us. As per NHL.com:

standingsjan15

Bonus thoughts: The Jets caught one heck of a break late in the 3rd period when, instead of needing to kill a 4 on 3, Ryan Johansen took an equalizing penalty. Folks like to complain that the refs are out to get them, but it appears the linesmen have our back:

Greg Devorski, hero. Give that man a key to the city. On a related note, we need linesmen to call more penalties. It's wildly entertaining.

And finally, since I know we all have an undying love for James Neal, what better note to end on than this lovely hit courtesy of Adam Lowry:

Thanks for reading!