Predators Game Day Preview: Columbus @ Nashville

Can the Nashville Predators keep the momentum rolling, as they play the second of three critical Western Conference matchups this week on home ice? You might remember the first time these teams met this season; that was the Saturday night home game when David Legwand scored a shorthanded goal and the game winner in the shootout, just hours after this son was born.

After the jump, let's break down the matchup...

Meet the Enemy

This is quite a different Blue Jackets team than we're used to seeing - sure, 10th place in the Western Conference standings (14-11-5) is pretty typical, but the manner in which Columbus has gotten to this point is the strange part. Under Ken Hitchcock, they've been almost Predator-like; short on goal-scoring, long on team defense and solid goaltending. This season, that formula has been reversed. The BJ's give up the most goals in the West, and get enough scoring from their big guns (Rick Nash, Kristian Huselius, R.J. Umberger, Raffi Torres and Antoine Vermette) to remain competitive. The Cannon is SB Nation's Blue Jackets blog, and I'm sure they'll be charged up for tonight's game.

Derek Dorsett's return to the lineup gives them a Jordin Tootoo-like presence they've been lacking in recent weeks. Check the Columbus Dispatch to get an idea of what lines we might see from Columbus.

Meet the Good Guys

The Preds, at 17-11-2 (and 14-5-1 in their last 20), are starting to build up an impressive resume on home ice, having beaten San Jose, New Jersey, and Vancouver in recent games.

The lines for tonight will likely be as follows (I'm guessing that Belak plays, if Jared Boll dresses for Columbus):

Forwards
Sullivan - Arnott - Erat
Ward - Legwand - Smithson
Tootoo - Goc - Dumont
Belak - O'Reilly - Hornqvist
Defense
Suter - Weber
Bouillon - Klein
Hamhuis - Sulzer

 

Even Strength Play

5-on-5 Team Data from Behind the Net
 Team GP GF GA GF/60 Shots For/60 Sht % GA/60 Shots Ag/60 Save % +/- per 60
 Columbus 30 59 67 2.6 28.5 9.0 2.9 28.5 .898 -0.3
 Nashville 30 48 53 2.0 28.9 7.0 2.2 29.1 .924 -0.2

This is one of those rare occasions when the Preds meet an opponent who fares worse than they do in 5-on-5, and the big flaw with the Blue Jackets is their goaltending, which is among the worst in the league in this situation (which represents over 75% of a typical game). Advantage Nashville

Columbus PP vs. Nashville PK

The strangeness continues, as we see that Columbus is actually 4th in the league with a 23.3% power play unit. The Preds' penalty killers need to regain their mojo, having fallen recently to 23rd (78.1%). Advantage Columbus

Nashville PP vs. Columbus PK

While the main numbers might mean trouble for Nashville, as the Preds PP is 25th (17.2%) while the BJ's penalty killers are 18th (79.2%), the point of note here is that Columbus takes a lot of penalties, 5th-most in the league. Even though the Preds haven't been great with the man advantage, if they're given enough opportunities, they'll break through eventually. Advantage Nashville

Goaltending

Steve Mason completed a shutout last night against Florida, so will Hitch come back with him on short rest, or go with the backup, Mathieu Garon? Neither have played well so far this season, with save percentages south of .900:


GP MIN W L
GA GAA SA SV SV% SO
2009 - Steve Mason 24 1367 10 8 75 3.29 692 617 .892 1

GP MIN W L
GA GAA SA SV SV% SO
2009 - Mathieu Garon 11 465 4 3 24 3.10 236 212 .898 1

For Nashville, Pekka Rinne was stellar against the Canucks on Tuesday, and will presumably get his chance to follow up on that performance. You can't blame Barry Trotz if he goes with Dan Ellis, however. In 5 career games against the Blue Jackets, Ellis has a .963 save percentage, two shutouts, and a 1.25 GAA.


GP MIN W L
GA GAA SA SV SV% SO
2009 - Pekka Rinne 21 1162 12 6 50 2.58 555 505 .910 2

GP MIN W L
GA GAA SA SV SV% SO
2009 - Dan Ellis 13 656 5 5 30 2.74 328 298 .909 0

Advantage Nashville

Summary

While many of the factors set up nicely for the Preds in this one, we all know that the Columbus/Nashville rivalry is a heated one, and things can get out of hand quickly. The home team has done well lately between these two, taking 11 of the last 12 games in their series, and the Predators have won 12 straight over the Blue Jackets in Nashville.

Indicators like this may be nice, but the team needs to get the job done tonight - a win in regulation would put some nice breathing room between the two teams, and send a message ahead of Monday's rematch in Columbus.

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