Predators aim to limit penalties vs. high-powered Jets
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Nashville Predators are taking more penalties than any team in the NHL and allowing the opposition an average of just under five power-play chances per game.
Even with goalie Pekka Rinne playing some of the best hockey of his career and a penalty-killing unit that rose to the occasion Saturday night in a 5-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche, spending double-figure minutes in every game playing a man or two short is not the recipe for success.
"We definitely don't want to roll the dice playing a first period like that with 11 penalty minutes," Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said after the Colorado game.
Improved discipline is probably an emphasis for Laviolette heading into a Monday night visit from the Winnipeg Jets, who definitely have the skill and snipers to hurt a team that winds up in the penalty box.
At 12-4-3, Winnipeg is one of the pleasant surprises of the NHL season. The Jets appear to have beefed up their third and fourth lines, a serious weakness in recent years, and Connor Hellebuyck has stepped up to be the No. 1 goalie.
Offseason acquisition Steve Mason was supposed to be the man, but he started the season surrendering seven goals to the Toronto Maple Leafs, and things never got better. Hellebuyck, who showed flashes of being a top goalie the last two seasons but never married potential with consistency, has run with this latest opportunity.
In a 5-2 win Saturday over the New Jersey Devils, Hellebuyck stopped 34 shots, marking the 11th time in 14 starts that he ceded two or fewer goals. Not coincidentally, Hellebuyck is 11-1-2 with a 2.27 goals-against average and a .932 save percentage.
Winnipeg also got big production from its fourth line in its latest win. Joel Armia, Matt Hendricks and Mathieu Perreault teamed for two goals and four assists, with Hendricks and Perreault each finding the net.
"We were feeling good coming into tonight," said Hendricks, a former Predator. "We wanted to start contributing a little bit more. It's nice to be able to help the team on the scoreboard."
While the Jets received depth scoring, Nashville (11-6-2) rolled out its big guns to notch its sixth win in seven games. Craig Smith and Viktor Arvidsson each potted goals against the Avalanche, giving them seven and eight, respectively, while defenseman Mattias Ekholm scored for the third consecutive game.
The Predators have found the scoring touch over the past seven matches that eluded them in the first 12, averaging 4.4 goals per game and tallying five goals or more three times. In the first 12 games, Nashville went 5-5-2 and managed just 28 markers.
"I think a lot of guys are chipping in," Ekholm said. "If you have a bad game, you know you have to be on your toes for the next one because guys are stepping up, guys are scoring, so everyone has to play on their top level every game."
Rinne (10-3-2, 2.45, .922) figures to get the call in net after winning for the fifth time in six games against Colorado. He made 29 saves in beating the Avalanche for the eighth straight time.
Winnipeg will play without veteran defenseman Toby Enstrom (lower-body injury) Monday night. Enstrom, who was injured Saturday, could miss up to eight weeks.
Nashville will be without forward Austin Watson, who will be starting a two-game suspension issued by the NHL on Sunday night. Watson was punished for boarding Avalanche forward Dominic Toninato on Saturday, an incident that drew a major penalty and a game misconduct in the first period.
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