Preds, Jets both limp into Central showdown

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The Nashville Predators sit atop the Central Division, but they’re not happy these days. The simple explanation? They’re not playing well.

The Predators have lost two of their last three games — shut out in both defeats — and their lone victory was a shootout win over the free-falling Edmonton Oilers.

The Winnipeg Jets are second in the Central, only one point back of the Predators and with three games in hand. But they aren’t flying high lately, either.

Winnipeg has lost two straight games, the latest in stunning fashion, and collected just one victory in a six-game swoon (1-4-1).

There is some good news coming very soon for one of these clubs, as someone has to win when the Jets play host to the Predators on Friday night in a battle for first place in the division (although the hard-charging St. Louis Blues have closed ground incredibly quickly and will overtake them both if something doesn’t change).

Expect a couple of desperate teams when the puck drops.

“We just got to find a way to win more games,” Winnipeg forward Patrik Laine told the Winnipeg Sun recently. “We’re capable of winning a lot of games, like we showed earlier in the season. But with this kind of defense and the way we played in the last couple minutes (against Minnesota in their last game), we’re not going to win these games. Just try to find some more ways and hopefully learn from these mistakes we made and not make those mistakes again.”

The Jets believed they had a victory in hand in their last outing, holding a 2-1 lead on the Minnesota Wild with less than two minutes remaining Tuesday night. Instead, the Wild scored a pair of goals 26 seconds apart to claim a 3-2 victory in regulation.

“That can’t happen,” said Laine, who has netted four goals in the last three games to break out of a prolonged scoring slump. “We played some good hockey until the tying goal. After that, we let it go for a bit, they scored two. That was kind of the turning point of this game. We can’t let it happen.”

Not helping Winnipeg’s cause are injuries, with a trio of defensemen — Josh Morrissey (upper body), Dustin Byfuglien (ankle) and Joe Morrow (lower body) — out of action.

The Predators are licking their wounds after a 2-0 loss to the Blues that same night.

“We could have done a better job,” assessed Predators forward Wayne Simmonds, who was acquired from the Philadelphia Flyers at the trade deadline. “The first period we played well, and the second period, I don’t think we played well from the start of it. Maybe if we capitalize on one of those power plays, it’s a different story.”

The Preds should be concerned about their special teams play of late. They have managed only one power-play goal in the last seven games, capitalizing once in 23 chances. Meanwhile, the penalty kill has surrendered six goals in the last six games, and killed only 16 short-handed situations in the same span.

Nashville will receive one boost for the game, with forward Mikael Granlund, who was acquired from Minnesota at the deadline, suiting up. He missed last game for the birth of his first child.

–Field Level Media

Jets miss out on Stone, get what they needed on deadline day

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A man named Mick once recited some words into a studio microphone and out popped out one of history’s most widely recognized songs.

“You can’t always get what you want” is an excellent summation for general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and his Winnipeg Jets, who may have lost the Mark Stone Sweepstakes on Monday, but ended up getting what they needed after leading the day with six transactions.

Stone, of course, was the de facto top prize for several teams heading into the day. His homecoming to Winnipeg, the city he grew up in and just a couple hours east of where he played junior hockey, would have been the stuff movies are made of. But when the Jets announced they had acquired Kevin Hayes from the New York Rangers, it was evident that Stone’s ship had passed them by.

Your eyes, understandably, light up when one of the league’s premier two-way players enters the market. It’s a no-brainer that Cheveldayoff and his Cup contender wanted in, and he certainly had the assets to get the deal done.

But when you’re a general manager that has raised a stable of prospects like Cheveldayoff has, parting with them isn’t easy. And if the Jets couldn’t re-sign Stone long-term (and it would have required some significant roster surgery to make it work), then giving up names like Jack Roslovic and Sami Niku likely became a non-starter for what would have amounted to a very expensive rental player.

None of this is to say that the Jets didn’t go out and get what they needed on Monday. The thought process coming into the 2019 trade deadline was similar to that of the year before: the Jets wanted a second-line center to bolster an already potent offense.

They got that in Hayes, 26, who will suit up for the Jets on Tuesday after being acquired for a first-round pick in 2019, a conditional fourth-rounder in 2020 and forward Brendan Lemieux. The Jets didn’t waste any time getting that deal out of the way, either, striking an accord with the Rangers in the early goings of Monday’s proceedings.

“Kevin is a good fit for us in many, many ways,” Cheveldayoff said after hanging up the phone on his sixth and final trade call of the day. “He’s someone, I think everyone talks about, obviously, his size and his offensive abilities, but I really think what’s really going to shine through here is his defensive abilities as well. Penalty killer, responsible — he’s someone, over the course of his career, has grown his game from just being a pure offensive player in high school and in college and grown his game to a really mature professional game.”

Offloading Lemieux was a shrewd move and an example of selling high on a player who was producing above what was expected.

[Winners and losers of the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline]

Winnipeg learned last year when they pulled the wool over the entire league’s eyes and traded for Paul Stastny, just how valuable another center was when added to their lineup. The Jets went all the way to the Western Conference final thanks, in part, to Stastny’s efforts. The expectation is for Hayes to do the same.

The Jets then added two left-shot defensemen, a spot on their roster that needed extra depth, especially after top-pairing d-man Josh Morrissey went down with an apparent arm injury in a 4-1 loss to the Arizona Coyotes on Sunday. With no conclusive status on Morrissey’s diagnosis — or at least that’s what the media was fed on Monday — Winnipeg traded for Nathan Beaulieu and Bogdan Kiselevich, two depth guys who offer enough upside to fill in if need be on the Jets’ back end.

Cheveldayoff wasn’t going to be caught off guard this time around.

“A couple of years ago, the night before the deadline we lost Mark Scheifele and it’s a very difficult situation going in at that point in time when you don’t have options in front of you, there are no centermen on market to really cover yourself with,” Cheveldayoff said. “In this situation here, obviously, Dustin [Byfuglien] is out, Joe Morrow is out and Josh [Morrissey] is still going to be evaluated. The team stayed in Arizona overnight, it was a scheduled travel day the way our schedule is set up. It made it difficult for [Morrissey] to really get assessed by our doctors in a timely fashion and I felt it was appropriate that we need to add the pieces to have the depth moving forward here.”

The rest of the West’s powerhouses all added to their rosters, so Winnipeg needed to do so as well. Hayes is a solid fit for the Jets. The depth defensemen were the insurance plan they required.

And in the end, Winnipeg did what it set out to do: improve its team.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

WATCH LIVE: Flyers host Jets on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Monday’s matchup between the Winnipeg Jets and Philadelphia Flyers. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

While the Tampa Bay Lightning lead the NHL with 76 points, the Western Conference has a tighter race at the top, especially in the Central Division, where Winnipeg currently owns the top spot and has four games in hand on the second-place Nashville Predators.

The Jets are currently on pace for 109 points and 52 wins. Last season, the team set franchise records in both wins (52) and points (114), but they still didn’t win the division (Nashville did w/ NHL-best 117 pts).

All-Stars Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele are top two on the team in points at 61 and 59, respectively. Kyle Connor is next with 38. Wheeler, tied for ninth in the NHL in points, is second in the league in assists (52) and although his streak of 20-goal seasons may end at five given he has only nine goals, he’s on pace for 104 points, which would be a career high and break Marian Hossa’s franchise record of 100.

In addition to the All-Star break, both teams are coming off their bye weeks, each having last played on Saturday, Jan. 19.

One of the bottom-dwellers of the Eastern Conference, the Flyers sit 14 points back of a playoff spot and are on track to continue their trend of missing the postseason the year after making it. From 1995-2012, the Flyers made the playoffs 16 times in a 17-season span. Since then, Philly has made just three postseasons in the last six years and each in alternating years.

Wayne Simmonds, a popular name in trade talks ahead of the Feb. 25 deadline, has played in all 48 games this season and put up 15 goals but just 23 points. He’s on track for his sixth straight season with 24-plus goals but only 39 points, which would be his fewest in a full season since 2011.

The Flyers are 7-8-2 since interim coach Scott Gordon took over for Dave Hakstol. The coaching change was one of several moves in what has been a tumultuous season for the team that has also included letting go of GM Ron Hextall and replacing him with Chuck Fletcher.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Winnipeg Jets at Philadelphia Flyers
Where: Wells Fargo Center
When: Monday, Jan. 28, 6 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Jets-Flyers stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

JETS
Kyle Connor – Mark Scheifele – Blake Wheeler
Patrik LaineBryan LittleJack Roslovic
Mathieu PerreaultAdam LowryBrandon Tanev
Brendan LemieuxAndrew CoppMason Appleton

Josh MorrisseyJacob Trouba
Dmitry KulikovTyler Myers
Joe Morrow – Sami Niku

Starting goalie: Connor Hellebuyck

FLYERS
James van RiemsdykClaude GirouxTravis Konecny
Oskar LindblomSean CouturierJakub Voracek
Scott LaughtonNolan Patrick – Wayne Simmonds
Phil Varone – Mikhail Vorobyev – Michael Raffl

Ivan ProvorovTravis Sanheim
Shayne GostisbehereAndrew MacDonald
Robert HaggRadko Gudas

Starting goalie: Carter Hart

Kenny Albert and Brian Boucher will have the call from Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pa. Pre-game coverage starts at 6 p.m. ET with NHL Live, hosted by Paul Burmeister alongside Jeremy Roenick and Anson Carter.

NHL Injury roundup: Updates on Byfuglien, Hall, Schultz and Karlsson

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Now we will take a quick look around the NHL at some of the significant injury situations and where they stand as the league comes out of the All-Star break this week. 

Byfuglien getting closer, but not expected to play this week

Dustin Byfuglien has not been in the Winnipeg Jets lineup since the end of December, and while he is expected to return to the ice this week for practice he is not expected to play in any of the team’s three games and did not accompany the team on its upcoming two-game road trip.

The Jets are in Philadelphia and Boston on Monday and Tuesday before returning home to play the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday night.

Jets coach Paul Maurice was asked on Sunday if there is any possibility that Byfuglien could return for that Thursday game and seemed to downplay the chances of it.

“I’m gonna say no because I haven’t seen him skate yet,” said Maurice, via Ted Wyman of the Winnipeg Sun. “If he comes out and he’s flying around we’d consider it. I don’t expect him to be.”

Byfuglien is the Jets’ top defender and has 29 points (five goals, 24 assists) in 32 games this season while playing more than 24 minutes per night.

In his absence the Jets have still managed to go 7-3-0 over the past 10 games to remain tied with the Nashville Predators at the top of the Central Division. That number is even more impressive when you consider they have also been without forward Nikolaj Ehlers for eight of those games.

Jacob Trouba and Josh Morrissey have done a fantastic job stepping up on the blue line without him.

After the home game against Columbus on Thursday the next chance for him to get back in the lineup would be two nights later against the Anaheim Ducks.

Taylor Hall not progressing as quickly as Devils had hoped

The reigning league MVP has not played since Dec. 23 and is not progressing as quickly as the Devils had hoped in his recovery from a lower-body injury.

He did skate for the first time before practice on Sunday, but is not yet ready to return to the lineup and will not accompany the team on its trip to Pittsburgh for Monday’s game against the Penguins.

Even though Hall has only appeared in 33 games this season and has not played in more than a month, he is still the team’s second-leading scorer with 37 points, just one behind Kyle Palmieri.

Palmieri has played in 15 more games.

For the season Hall has 37 points in 33 games and is still the driving force behind everything the Devils do when he is in the lineup. He has arguably been just as good as he was a year ago when he nearly single-handedly carried the team to a surprising playoff spot. Injuries, however, have limited him and the Devils.

The Devils won the first three games of Hall’s absence but have fallen apart in the weeks since going just 3-7-0 in their past 10 games, with only two of those wins coming in regulation.

Justin Schultz is getting closer

While there is no official timetable for his return at this point, and even though he is not returned to full practice with the team, Pittsburgh Penguins defender Justin Schultz has been skating on his own and seems to be inching closer toward a return.

After practice on Sunday Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said that Schultz is “approaching” being able to join the team for practice and that he is more “week-to-week” than day-to-day.

Schultz has played in just four games this season after fracturing his leg back on October. He was originally expected to miss at least four months. That timeframe, assuming it is unchanged, would set him up for a return sometime around mid-February. Or in other words, about two weeks from today.

His return, whenever it happens, would be a significant one for the Penguins because he would help solidify their top-four on defense without having to make another trade (though, they still might). While their top-pairing is set with Kris Letang and Brian Dumoulin, and they seem willing to ride with a third-pairing of Marcus Pettersson and Jack Johnson, their second pairing has been a bit unsettled as they’ve rotated Jamie Oleksiak and Juuso Riikola alongside Olli Maatta. None of those combinations have been bad, but Schultz brings an element offensively that neither Oleksiak or Riikola (or Maata, for that matter) can.

He would also help what is an already dangerous power play unit.

Erik Karlsson gets another week off to prepare

After being shut down for the three games leading up to the NHL All-Star break, San Jose Sharks defender Erik Karlsson was at least healthy enough to play for the hometown fans in Sunday’s game.

Now he has another week to recover as the Sharks do not return to action until Friday night when they host the Arizona Coyotes. It is expected that Karlsson should be ready for action at that point.

Prior to the injury Karlsson had returned to his usual Norris Trophy form where he can dominate the pace of the game and score at a level that is unmatched by almost any other defender. He has recorded 28 points in his past 20 games, while also posting some of the best shot attempt and scoring chance numbers of any player in the league. He has been great, and everything the Sharks could have hoped for him to be when they added him to an already strong defense in an offseason trade with the Ottawa Senators. The Sharks struggled in the three games he missed, winning just one of them and giving up at least six goals in all three of them.

They were 8-2-0 in the 10 games prior to that stretch.

More: Sharks soak in love from fans during All-Star weekend

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

 

WATCH LIVE: Jets take on Wild in Central Division clash

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Thursday’s matchup between the Minnesota Wild and Winnipeg Jets. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Minnesota is coming off a 4-0 shutout loss in Boston on Tuesday night, which snapped a three-game winning streak. This game is the Wild’s first home game in 201, and the team is looking to snap a four-game losing streak at Xcel Energy Center.

They’ve dropped six of their last eight home games (2-5-1) after going 8-2-2 in their first 12 games at home.

Zach Parise, one of the “Last Men In” All-Star candidates, has 38 points (19G-19A) in 41 games this season, and is averaging 0.93 points/game, his best since 2009-10 (averaged 1.01). He leads the team in goals (19) and has nine points (4G-5A) in the last seven games.

It was Winnipeg’s stars who all shined bright in Tuesday’s win vs. Colorado, with Blake Wheeler recording four pts (1G-3A), and Mark Scheifele (1G-2A) and Jacob Trouba each recording 3 pts (1G-2A).

While the Jets are in good playoff position entering the second half of the season, the team is focused on trying to become a more consistent force, and are trying to use last years’ experience of reaching the Western Conference Final to help lead to another successful run.

“We’re happy with where we’re at in the standings… but overall, as good as we’ve played, we know we have another level that we can get to,” said Bryan Little. “It only gets harder from here. For us, it’s just to elevate our game and to get ready for that.”

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

What: Winnipeg Jets at Minnesota Wild
Where: Xcel Energy Center
When: Thursday, Jan. 10, 7 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Jets-Wild stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

JETS
Kyle Connor – Mark Scheifele – Blake Wheeler
Patrik Laine – Bryan Little – Jack Roslovic
Mathieu PerreaultAdam LowryBrandon Tanev
Brendan LemieuxAndrew CoppMason Appleton

Josh Morrissey – Jacob Trouba
Ben ChiarotTyler Myers
Dmitry KulikovJoe Morrow

Starting goalie: Connor Hellebuyck

WILD
Jordan GreenwayEric StaalNino Niederreiter
Zach Parise – Charlie CoyleLuke Kunin
Jason ZuckerMikko KoivuMikael Granlund
Marcus FolignoJoel Eriksson EkMatt Hendricks

Ryan SuterJared Spurgeon
Jonas BrodinGreg Pateryn
Nick SeelerNate Prosser

Starting goalie: Devan Dubnyk

John Walton (play-by-play) and Pierre McGuire (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will call Jets-Wild from Xcel Energy Center. Tappen, Milbury and Jeremy Roenick will anchor studio coverage.