Predators Game Day Preview: Nashville @ Columbus

03-31_medium

Blue Jackets blog: Bethany's Hockey Rants

TV: FS-TN (Comcast 28, Dish Network 446, DirecTV 644)

Radio: 104.5 "The Zone" (WGFX)

Sixth place in the Western Conference is on the line tonight in Columbus; but 11th isn't too far away, either! Tonight is quite possibly the biggest game in the history of the Columbus/Nashville rivalry, considering the position of both teams and their need to earn points right now.

Questions to be answered: (1) As Nashville's sick ward piles up with injured players, can the young guns from Milwaukee fill key roles for a few games? (2) Will Pekka Rinne use this opportunity to outshine the NHL's other Hot Rookie Goaltender, Steve Mason? (3) Can the Preds build upon their 2-1-1 record so far against Columbus, and re-establish the dominance they've held over the Blue Jackets for the last few seasons?

Predators coming in: While the roster gets thinner, the victories continue to pile up; Nashville is riding three comeback victories in a row over San Jose, Los Angeles, and Detroit heading into tonight's game, and is 5-0-3 in their last 8 games.

Blue Jackets coming in: Columbus has made major strides in the last few weeks towards locking up a trip to their first playoff ever, going 7-2-2 in their last 11. Over the weekend, however, they did lose back-to-back games against St. Louis, the first of those games in a shootout.

Predators to watch: Steve Sullivan is heating up again, and the dynamic duo of Shea Weber and Ryan Suter on defense are stepping up as the forward ranks take hit after hit. It will be interesting to see what happens if Sully gets another breakaway chance against the rookie Mason...

Blue Jackets to watch: The leading contender for the Calder Trophy (rookie of the year) is Steve Mason, who leads the NHL with 10 shutouts. Rick Nash is the big name up front, and is chasing his second 40-goal season with 36 so far.

Here's a look at the two teams in the main statistical categories, along with overall NHL rank:

Nashville Columbus
 Record 38-30-8 16th 39-29-8 14th
 Pts % .553 16th .566 14th
 Goals For/Game 2.53 24th 2.72 21st
 Goals Against/Game 2.68 8th 2.70 9th
 5-on-5 GF/GA 0.96 17th 1.14 5th
 PP% 15.5 26th 12.9 30th
 PK% 83.5 4th 82.1 13th
 Shots/Game 29.1 19th 29.3 16th
 Shots Against/Game 29.4 11th 27.9 4th
 FO % 52.3 3rd 51.1 9th

For the Preds, the key will be to create and capitalize on power play situations. The PP has been better of late, and a goal or two with the man advantage can allow the team to hunker down in 5-on-5 action. The Nashville PK should be able to shut down a chronically awful Columbus power play.

Next, let's take a look at which players draw penalties, and which ones head to the box:

 Nashville Penalties Drawn Columbus Penalties Drawn
 Player Draws Fouls Pen +/-  Player Draws Fouls Pen +/-
 Jordin Tootoo 50 45 +5  Rick Nash 46 24 +22
 Martin Erat 25 24 +1  Jared Boll 45 36 +9
 Ryan Jones 24 10 +14  Derek Dorsett 40 35 +5
 Dan Hamhuis 23 25 -2  R.J. Umberger 30 19 +11
 Vern Fiddler 22 12 +10  Kris Russell 19 8 +11
 Joel Ward 21 12 +9  Kristian Huselius 19 20 -1
Penalties Taken Penalties Taken
 Jordin Tootoo 50 45 +5  Mike Commodore 17 45 -28
 Ryan Suter 17 35 -18  Jared Boll 45 36 +9
 Shea Weber 15 35 -20  Derek Dorsett 40 35 +5
 Greg de Vries 12 27 -15  Fedor Tyutin 13 29 -16
 Dan Hamhuis 23 25 -2  Rick Nash 46 24 +22
 Martin Erat 25 24 +1  Antoine Vermette 16 22 -6

 

Columbus is a team of extremes; Nash is an elite offensive force who often puts defenders in desperate straits, while Mike Commodore is down near the very bottom of the Penalty Plus/Minus rankings.

From Tom Reed at the Columbus Dispatch, we have the Blue Jackets lines from this morning:

Huselius - Malhotra - Nash
Umberger - Vermette - Williams
Torres - Peca - Boll
Murray - Novotny - Voracek

Commodore - Hejda
Tyutin - Methot
Russell - Backman

And lastly, a look at the goaltenders...

Nashville


GP MIN W L T EGA GA GAA SA SV SV% SO
2008 - Dan Ellis 35 1965 11 19 4 5 96 2.93 963 867 .900 3
2008 - Pekka Rinne 46 2634 27 11 4 4 99 2.26 1260 1161 .921 7



Columbus


GP MIN W L T EGA GA GAA SA SV SV% SO
2008 - Wade Dubielewicz 3 169 1 2 0 1 10 3.55 77 67 .870 0
2008 - Steve Mason 55 3292 31 18 5 6 123 2.24 1499 1376 .918 10

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