2011-12 season preview: Winnipeg Jets

2010-11 record (as the Atlanta Thrashers): 34-36-12, 80 points; 4th in Southeast, 12th in East

Playoffs: Did not qualify

To some, it might be appropriate to throw out last season. The Atlanta Thrashers are now the Winnipeg Jets, transforming a team in a non-traditional (but huge) market into a second opportunity for a small but rapid Canadian market to support an NHL team. Kevin Cheveldayoff is the new general manager, Claude Noel will be the new coach and the jerseys and arena will be totally different.

That being said, the roster remains largely the same. They’ll just be playing with a bigger home-ice advantage and the higher level of scrutiny (honeymoon stage or not) that comes with it.

Offense

Normally it’s reasonable to keep defensemen out of this category, but when has Dustin Byfuglien been normal? The hybrid blueliner can play a wing or defensive position, but the general idea is the same: he should bull his way around the ice and unleash his terrifying slap shot without hesitation. Byfuglien earned an All-Star appearance with a blazing first half before falling apart in the second half. He may be a defenseman (or the Jets might decide to move him back to forward), but there’s no denying that he’s the catalyst of this team’s attack.

The rest of the forwards are rounded out by some players with size (Eric Fehr, Nik Antropov), guys who’ve had one strong season but need to prove they can do it again (Bryan Little, Andrew Ladd) and promising youngsters with unclear potential (Evander Kane, Alex Burmistrov). It might be hard to deny 2011 first-round pick Mark Scheifele a spot in the lower end of the lineup, if the team decides that he’s better off in that role at the NHL level (instead of getting higher profile reps at a lower level).

On paper, the Jets’ attack isn’t too frightening, but a lot of wild cards are at play.

Defense

For all the blustery praise about Byfuglien, he wasn’t quite the same when his talented scoring partner Tobias Enstrom got banged up. The small Swede put together two consecutive 50-plus point seasons that largely went under the radar because of the Thrashers’ woes. He should get some well-deserved attention if he puts together another strong campaign, even if he might get lost in Buffy’s shadow.

Zach Bogosian has been a disappointment so far – he’s seemingly an unshaped form of clay but has all the tools you’d hope for in a future star defenseman. It’s the intangibles such as hockey IQ that keep holding him back, but perhaps a change of scenery might help him reach his first-round potential.

Ron Hainsey is a three-time 30-plus point defenseman, but his scoring numbers keep tumbling. That’s not a huge problem with the offensive gems this team could sport from the blue line, as long as he uses his size to continue to improve in his own end.

Overall, defense is a strength for Winnipeg – at least from the perspective of scoring points. The Jets’ weakness though is keeping the puck out of their own net.

Goalies

Both Ondrej Pavelec and Chris Mason are in contract years, so each guy has a lot on the line. Pavelec hopes to show that his flashes of potential can turn into seasons full of sustained success while Mason needs to prove that he deserves to continue working at the NHL level.

Pavelec was outstanding at times last season, although consistency might be the key (that or not getting too frustrated with a defense that might hang him out to dry more often than other goalies). Mason produced some solid work in St. Louis and Nashville, so the Jets have reason to believe that he’ll bounce back from a rough season in which he sported an ugly .892 save percentage.

Coaching

Sure, he coached the Columbus Blue Jackets on an interim basis in 2009-10, but in the grand scheme of things, this is Claude Noel’s first real chance at a coaching job. Craig Ramsay did a nice job of getting the most out of an unusual roster, so Noel has his work cut out for him. Finding the right balance between getting the most out of the team’s greatest strengths (youth and dangerous offensive defensemen) and limiting the drawbacks of their weaknesses (such as the mistakes that come from being so aggressive) remains key. Perhaps his years as Ken Hitchcock’s assistant will influence him in a positive way.

Breakout candidate

Sure, he hasn’t been totally under the radar in his first two seasons – people still revere him for knocking out Matt Cooke – but Kane seems primed for a leap. Maybe it’s because he received Bobby Hull’s blessing to wear number 9 or perhaps it’s just the natural maturation of a power forward, but there are some who believe he could flirt with 30 goals this season.

Best-case scenario

Some might argue that this team should stock up on prospects, but honestly, the people of Winnipeg would go insane over a playoff run in the first year. The best-case scenario would involve the team earning a postseason bid thanks to an All-Star season from Pavelec, dynamic work from Byfuglien and a score-by-committee approach from their offense.

Reality

The Jets feature a strange mixture of players. The ceiling seems fairly modest (sixth seed), but it’s not crazy to at least think about a playoff run of some kind. On the bright side, fans would probably let a rough season slide, so the Jets are in as close to a win-win situation as an NHL team can enjoy.

That being said, winning is always appreciated, too.

Predators survive Blues’ big late push to win Game 1

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The Nashville Predators’ 4-3 Game 1 win against the St. Louis Blues makes it difficult to use “perfect.”

You could get away with using that word, mind you, as the Predators followed up their surprising sweep of the Chicago Blackhawks by going up 1-0 against the Blues in St. Louis. Still, the ride was so bumpy in the third period, it’s probably wiser to focus on the fact that Nashville is unbeaten.

Because, yikes, that third period was a roller coaster for Nashville.

via Natural Stat Trick

P.K. Subban scored a goal and two assists in the first 40 minutes to help the Predators bring a 3-1 lead into the final frame. The Blues absolutely dominated play in the third, however, briefly tying the game as they put immense pressure on Pekka Rinne & Co.

Ultimately, the Predators received a game-winner from an unlikely source in Vernon Fiddler, gaining a 1-0 series edge.

Even so, few will talk about “mystique” after that shaky finish.

For one thing, both Rinne and Jake Allen allowed goals that they’d like to forget. Also, both squads experienced lopsided periods; Nashville dominated shots in the second (15-8) while the Blues almost doubled-up the Preds in the third (11-6).

Nashville also seems likely to play without rising rookie Kevin Fiala, who was hospitalized after an absolutely horrifying crash into the boards.

It was a weird and often wild – sometimes nasty – contest, with the Predators ultimately coming out on top. There’s plenty of intrigue heading into Game 2, which airs on NBCSN at 8 p.m. ET on Friday. (You can also watch online and via the NBC Sports App; here’s the livestream link.)

WATCH LIVE: Second round begins with Predators – Blues, Oilers – Ducks

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Update: With both games likely to run simultaneously, note that Ducks fans can watch on NBCSN in the Anaheim market while the game is also available via streaming links below.

In addition to that, Ducks – Oilers is slated to begin on NHL Network.

This tweet explains it in additional detail.

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The second round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs is set to begin on Wednesday, and the NBC Sports Group has you covered with wall-to-wall coverage.

We start with a battle of the hottest goalies in the postseason so far as Jake Allen and the Blues host Pekka Rinne and the Predators. The duo of Game 1’s wraps up when Connor McDavid and the Oilers take on Ryan Getzlaf and the Ducks.

Here’s what you need to know:

Nashville Predators vs. St. Louis Blues

Time: 8 p.m. ET

Network: NBCSN (Stream online here)

Edmonton Oilers vs. Anaheim Ducks 

Time: 10:30 p.m. ET

Network: NBCSN (Stream online)

Video: Austin Watson takes a shot at Vladimir Tarasenko

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The St. Louis Blues and their fans showed class in how they reacted to Kevin Fiala‘s very, very scary injury during Game 1.

Still, these are two physical Central Division rivals, so you expect to see some nastiness here and there between the Blues and Nashville Predators.

One moment that will likely divide onlookers came when Predators tough guy Austin Watson got a shot in on Vladimir Tarasenko, at least briefly hurting the world-class sniper.

It’s unlikely to be a big deal since Tarasenko seems to be OK, but there may be some debate here. On one hand, there are those who believe Watson got away with a cheap shot; on the other, some seem to imply that there was some embellishment. Maybe it’s even a combination of the two?

Either way, the Predators enter the third period up 3-1, so St. Louis will likely ask Tarasenko to focus on getting revenge by scoring goals.

Blues just have no answer for P.K. Subban right now

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In the first round, P.K. Subban was dominant against the Chicago Blackhawks, but mainly if you look at “fancy stats.” There’s nothing wrong with two assists in that sweep, but those aren’t jaw-dropping numbers.

You don’t need to dig deep to see his impact on Game 1 against the St. Louis Blues. A mere glance at the box score – or a chance to see his blistering shot – and you’ll realize that the Nashville Predators defenseman has been a nightmare for Jake Allen & Co. so far on Wednesday.

Subban seemingly scored his first postseason goal with the Predators to make it 1-0, but Colin Wilson was actually credited with the tally.

No bother there. Subban gave the Predators a crucial lift shortly after player resumed following Kevin Fiala‘s horrifying injury, getting that first Predators playoff goal with another booming shot.

Subban managed to draw a slashing penalty on Scottie Upshall and also sent another huge shot to set up a James Neal goal. There’s no mistaking that P.K. has played a huge role in Nashville going up 3-1 so far; the Blues need to find some answers, and fast.