Nashville Predators vs. Winnipeg Jets: Finding an Edge as NHL’s Best Meet
We can say it until our faces turn blue — the NHL’s playoff system is asinine. The Nashville Predators and Winnipeg Jets finished first and second in the league and yet here they are, facing each other in Round 2.
Sure, this is going to be an awesome series between two monster squads, but it feels a little bit cheapened that the winner of this series isn’t getting its ticket punched to the Stanley Cup Final.
I guess we should just enjoy the hockey — and hopefully profit from it.
Winnipeg Jets (+120) vs. Nashville Predators (-140)
Game 1: Winnipeg @ Nashville, 8 p.m. ET, NBCSN
Game 2: Winnipeg @ Nashville, 7 p.m. ET, NBCSN
Game 3: Nashville @ Winnipeg, 8 p.m. ET, CNBC
Game 4: Nashville @ Winnipeg, 9:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN
Game 5: Winnipeg @ Nashville, TBD
Game 6: Nashville @ Winnipeg, TBD
Game 7: Winnipeg @ Nashville, TBD
Injuries: Winnipeg star Patrik Laine was conspicuously absent from practice on Thursday, but head coach Paul Maurice downplayed it. The Jets could be without middle-six forward Mathieu Perreault for at least the beginning of the series. Nashville is set to be without Yannick Weber, although he was practicing during the Avalanche series. — Stuckey
Head-to-Head: Nashville won the season series 3-1-1. While a lot of the pre-series talk will focus on the two Vezina-worthy goalies, offense dominated the regular-season meetings. The teams combined to score 42 goals in five games (8.4 average), with four of the contests featuring at least eight total goals. — Stuckey
Did You Know? The Jets enter Round 2 against the Predators coming off consecutive shutout wins over the Wild to end their series. Since 2005, only one team entered the start of a series after allowing no goals in consecutive playoff games: the 2013 Rangers. The Blueshirts lost Game 1 and then the series in five games to the Bruins.
Since 2010, Peter Laviolette has coached both the Flyers (five seasons) and the Predators (the last four seasons). In both stints, his home/road splits in the playoffs have been extremely glaring. At home, Laviolette is 31-15 and has earned bettors 8.7 units. On the road, he is 19-28 and has cost his backers 4.2 units. — Evan Abrams
Player to Watch: The Predators have fantastic depth on the back end, but Ryan Ellis and his decreased shot attempts over the past month are something to keep an eye on. Over the past year, Ellis has averaged 2.5 shots per game (76th percentile), but over the past month his shots have plummeted to 1.9 per game (66th). He provides value to the Predators because of his lethal shot, but let’s not forget how frequently he blocks shots (96th percentile) as well. Only Pittsburgh (24.7) allowed fewer shots than Winnipeg (25.2) in the first round, so it’s difficult to see Ellis progressing back to his long-term mean in this series. Nashville could greatly benefit from another high-volume shooter if he does. — Joe Holka
Why Play the Preds? For starters, they have a significant experience advantage — the Preds made the Stanley Cup Final last year, while the Jets are the second youngest team to make the playoffs. Oddly enough, the Avalanche — Nashville’s first round opponent — was the youngest. While the Preds are in the middle of the pack in terms of average age, they have made the playoffs in each of the past four seasons, winning five series over that period. On the other hand, the Jets just won their first ever playoff series last round. That experience disparity could loom large in tight spots during the series, such as overtime or a potential Game 7 — especially in net.
Additionally, Nashville will have home-ice advantage. That could end up being the difference for two teams that finished in the top three in home wins. The Jets will miss that extra home game, especially since they were the best home team in all of hockey this season. The Preds would obviously rather play at home, but they actually lost an equal number (nine) of non-shootout games at home and on the road during the regular season. Meanwhile, the Jets’ delta between home non-shootout losses and road non-shootout losses was six. Based on their regular-season performances, the Preds are much more likely to steal one on the road — and they are the team that doesn’t need to. Nashville did take three of the four points in Winnipeg this year.
Finally, the Preds’ defense led the NHL in scoring by a wide margin. Of the 31 rearguards that had double-digit goals in the regular season, three were Predators: P.K. Subban (16), Roman Josi (14) and Mattias Ekholm (10). That list doesn’t even include Ryan Ellis, who had nine goals in half a season. The Jets didn’t have a single D man score more than eight goals this season. — Stuckey
Why Bet the Jets? There’s one area where I think the Jets have an understated edge: their forward depth. At the top of their roster, Winnipeg can hit you with Kyle Connor-Mark Scheifele-Blake Wheeler or Nikolaj Ehlers-Paul Stastny-Patrik Laine. Each of those trios would be the top line on just about every NHL team and will give the Predators’ incredible defense a run for their money. And while the Preds’ top four (Subban, Ellis, Ekholm and Josi) is unparalleled, Winnipeg’s third- and fourth-line forwards can score and have a chance to expose Nashville defensemen Matt Irwin and Alexei Emelin.
Another thing to keep in mind here: Even though the Predators have the best defense in the NHL, Winnipeg was the better team at suppressing shot attempts this season. Nashville’s defense has the advantage, but Winnipeg isn’t far behind at all.
You can make the argument that Pekka Rinne has the edge in goal — it’s close, but that is likely the case — but the Jets are so good at limiting scoring chances (they finished second in the NFL in preventing scoring chances at 5-on-5 this season) that Connor Hellebuyck should have plenty of help shutting down Nashville’s attack.
I’ve got this series as a coin flip. Over the course of the regular season, Winnipeg and Nashville had nearly identical peripheral numbers, and that tells the story. This is tight. So despite Nashville having home ice, I’m going with the plus money. J! E! T! S! Jets! Jets! Jets! — Michael Leboff
Leboff: Winnipeg in 6
Holka: Nashville in 7
Stuckey: Winnipeg in 7