Victories have not come easy early on for either the Winnipeg Jets or Nashville Predators.
These Central Division foes will each try for their second win of the season on Saturday night in Winnipeg.
While Nashville needed three games to record its first 2021-22 victory, Winnipeg went 0-2-1 — all on the road — before Thursday’s 5-1 home win over Anaheim. The Jets finally triumphed despite stars Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele being out due to COVID-19 protocol, as Kyle Connor had two goals with an assist, Pierre-Luc Dubois posted one of each and Connor Hellebuyck made 38 saves.
It was a needed positive effort and potential sign of improvement for Winnipeg, especially defensively, after it yielded 14 goals through its first three contests.
“It gets us going in the right direction,” Hellebuyck, who has a 3.75 goals-against average while starting all four games, told the Jets’ website. “Shows what we need to do to win games in this league.
“We need to continue to build off that.”
Connor is off to a hot start with five goals and two assists in four games. Meanwhile, Dubois and Andrew Copp have each recorded three goals and combined for nine points.
While it’s uncertain when Scheifele, then Wheeler, will be able to return to the ice, the Jets move forward still in need of even more improvement. One rough spot in particular is the penalty kill, where their opponents are 8-of-18 on the power play.
Nashville, however, is just 2-for-11 with the man-advantage on the young season. The Predators failed on all three of their power-play chances during Thursday’s 3-1 home loss to the New York Rangers.
After opening 2021-22 with three losses in four home games, Nashville will hit the road for the first time and play back-to-back days. Prior to Thursday’s contest, the Predators’ first three games were decided by one goal each. They’ve also managed eight goals from eight different players, and no more than three in any outing.
“We seem to have a hard time just finding those goals,” defenseman Mattias Ekholm told the Predators’ website. “I think we’re getting opportunities. They are there in the net front, but the puck doesn’t want to go in for us right now. And, that’s on us.
“Do a better job of just bearing down.”
Meanwhile, Juuse Saros has a 2.04 goals-against average while starting all four games for Nashville this season.
This will be the first game between Nashville and Winnipeg since February 2020. The Predators have won the last two meetings — both at Winnipeg — following a four-game losing streak in the series.
Connor has seven goals and six assists in 15 career regular-season games versus Nashville.
With a goal and three assists, Mikael Granlund has been the Predators’ top offensive performer out of the gate. Meanwhile, teammate and promising 2019 first-round pick Philip Tomasino recorded his first NHL goal on Thursday in his second career game.