SPORTS

Jets look for offensive tweaks from Predators under new coach Laviolette

10/16/2014 05:23 EDT | Updated 12/16/2014 05:59 EST
WINNIPEG - The Jets are expecting a new kind of offence from the Nashville Predators when the two teams meet Friday in Winnipeg's home opener.

After 15 seasons under Winnipeg-born Barry Trotz, the Predators changed horses when they missed the playoffs for a second straight season, replacing Trotz with Peter Laviolette. They also added forwards James Neal, Mike Ribeiro and Olli Jokinen, who played the last two seasons with the Jets.

"They've got a new coach but they've got new faces too," said Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice, who only took over the Jets in the middle of the last season. "They're trying to implement more of the offensive game that we've seen with other teams that Pete's coached."

Laviolette comes to Nashville from the Philadelphia Flyers but also won a Stanley Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes.

"They're aggressive and on the puck and they like to control it and hang onto it and create as much confusion in the offensive zone as they can," Maurice added. "But right now they look like pretty much every other team in the NHL. They're trying to play well defensively and when they get something going they've got some good players."

The Jets (1-2), as Maurice starts his first full season as head coach, are still trying to forge their identity and he wants it to start with a strong defensive game, much like the one Trotz brought to Nashville.

"What we're all striving to achieve is that consistency in the game you play," he said. "I think what (Nashville) got to be is they got to be really consistent in one style of game and they just played it very, very well."

The Jets and Predators (2-0-1) have a few things in common besides Jokinen, who will be back for his first game since the Jets cut him loose at the end of last season.

They both entered the NHL at around the same time in the late 1990s as part of the league's southern U.S. expansion. The Jets were then known as the Atlanta Thrashers. They also both struggled last season, finished out of the playoffs and changed head coaches.

But, unlike the Jets, the Predators found their NHL feet early and had only missed the playoffs for two years in a row before their coaching switch, after an almost unbroken string of seven appearances. The Thrashers made one appearance seven years ago, were swept in the first round, and have had seven coaches including Maurice.

The Predators best finishes in the playoffs were a couple of semifinal exits in 2011 and 2012.

The Jets are looking to gain some ground starting this week with their five home games but Nashville is no pushover now that goaltender Pekke Rinne is back and healthy. His absence for much of last season due to injury was a major factor in the team's struggles.

"They're always a tough team to play against," said 10-season Thrashers/Jets veteran centre Jim Slater.

"They've got a new coach this year (but) under Trotz they were very structured. Everybody played the same way, all four lines. They definitely have some weapons on that team that you have to watch out for but in the end they play a team game and it's going to be a tight match for us."

The Jets have had to do some juggling with top-six winger Evander Kane out for an indefinite period with a knee injury but Dustin Byfuglien has also proved dangerous in Kane's spot on a line with Blake Wheeler and sophomore centre Mark Scheifele.

Maurice says starting the season on the road should help settle things down for the Jets Friday night at home.

"Having those three games under your belt takes a lot of those nerves out of the opening."

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