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Jets get another pass at Predators after losing home opener to Nashville

11/03/2014 02:38 EST | Updated 01/03/2015 05:59 EST
WINNIPEG - The Winnipeg Jets are soaring back to the MTS Centre for another crack at the Nashville Predators.

Nashville spoiled the Jets' home opener last month with a 2-0 shutout, but Winnipeg will have renewed confidence for Tuesday's rematch after returning from a road trip with seven of a possible eight points.

It included back-to-back 1-0 shutouts in New York and then Chicago from both their goalies.

The Jets (6-5-1) are still not scoring a lot of goals themselves and they got some timely help Sunday night from the goalposts in Chicago, but they're using their youth, size and strength and finding ways to win.

"That was kind of the theme of the third period in New York," said coach Paul Maurice after the win in Chicago.

"Starting to win some of the ugly battles and not expecting the game to be smooth and when we embrace that and just play like a good solid grinding team, eventually our offence will come."

But it all starts with goaltending, he said, which is not news to Jets fans.

The Jets have given up 26 goals in their first 12 games and scored just 22. That deficit in their goal differential is something that has plagued the team for years and kept them out of the playoffs.

Sunday's win was a huge confidence booster for Michael Hutchinson, the rookie from Winnipeg's farm team, brought in to back up Ondrej Pavelec this season. He got the job after playing three good games for the Jets at the tail end of last season, winning two of them.

He was yanked early in his only other start this season, a 4-1 loss in Los Angeles on Oct. 12, and with more back-to-backs coming (two more in November alone) and the need in general to give Pavelec a breather, feeling some confidence in their No. 2 is a must for the Jets.

Pavelec has regularly been one of the hardest working netminders in the NHL based on his ice time and this season is shaping up no different. He sits second only to New Jersey's Cory Schneider right now.

The shutout not only boosted Hutchinson's confidence in his abilities but the team's confidence as well.

"The guys will see Hutch going into the net with the full belief we've got a chance to win the game," Maurice said.

Pavelec let in the most goals in the league last season, as he did the season before and the season before that, but Maurice and the Jets have said they need to see better defensive play from the rest of the team before they can fairly judge his performance.

That's starting to happen a lot more regularly.

"It's huge," Hutchinson said of the way players blocked shots in front of him Sunday night.

"It really gets you excited as a goalie when you see players laying down in front of shots blocking them for you."

He says this road trip was good for helping that new defensive focus take hold.

"We're really committed to team defence. It's unfortunate we didn't score a large number of goals in the last couple of games but we're still able to get points and that's the main thing."

Nashville (7-2-2) is coming off a 3-1 win in Vancouver Sunday night.

The Predators are very much on the good side of the goal differential line with 29 for and 22 against, thanks to snipers like former Penguin James Neal and the goaltending of Pekka Rinne, who has a goals-against average of 1.88 and save percentage of .931 after 10 games this season.

They'll be playing in Winnipeg without defenceman Anton Volchenkov, serving a four-game suspension for an illegal hit to the head of Calgary Flames forward Michael Ferland during Nashville's 4-3 loss to the Flames on Friday.

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