The Winnipeg Jets are, at the moment, second in the Central Division. That could change in an instant, with their head-to-head battle with the Nashville Predators set to settle the question of divisional supremacy. Eventually.
Right now, the Jets are a point behind the Predators.
Winnipeg is a day removed from a 5-2 loss to the league-leading Tampa Bay Lightning and a few removed from a 5-2 victory against the Columbus Blue Jackets. They clashed with Nashville last Friday and took the win.
The Predators, meanwhile, edged out the Minnesota Wild twice in their last two games and that gave them the Central lead.
The Jets may have to wait until the bitter end of the season to find out exactly where they stand and exactly who they’ll stand across from when the playoffs begin. It could be St. Louis, who could prove a tough draw despite a chilling streak as of late. It could be the Dallas Stars or Minnesota Wild. Or even, yes, Arizona.
The Jets have 16 games to go this season. Seven are home games. 11 are against playoff teams and five are against divisional rivals, including a vital March 23 matchup against the Predators. That game could decide post-season pole position for both clubs.
The Predators, by the way, have 13 games to go.
The benefit is at least notionally clear: home ice advantage.
Winnipeg would obviously love to face off at MTS Place as much as possible when the fur really starts to fly, while #Smashville has its own special character in Music City. Beyond the morale boost, sometimes home ice advantage isn’t really an advantage at all. Witness last year’s playoff tangle between the Jets and Predators for more information (hint: home ice wasn’t always a plus).
There are problems for the Jets. Injuries to Dustin Byfuglien and Josh Morrissey may have pushed the likes of Sami Niku into the fold, but it’s hard to imagine the situation is ideal. Byfuglien could be back soon, as he could practice Thursday in Raleigh.
But Winnipeg is also enjoying the upgrade at centre trade deadline pickup Kevin Hayes has brought about, plus Blake Wheeler is on fire with six goals in his last three games.
Can the Jets take the division and pick up a wild card matchup for the first round? It’s likely. But they’ll need to stack up those divisional wins, with a special eye on that critical March 23 confrontation.
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