Nashville's eight-game streak of earning points in the standings came to a close tonight in Columbus as the Blue Jackets won a tightly contested 2-1 game. Both of the Calder Trophy candidates played well in this one, as Pekka Rinne stopped 31 of 33 Columbus shots, and Steve Mason made 21 stops on 22 Predators attempts.
The win by the Blue Jackets allows them to maintain 6th place in the Western Conference standings, while the Predators awaited the outcome of the Edmonton/Anaheim game to determine whether they'd hold on to sole possession of 7th.
The first period saw Columbus apply most of the pressure, outshooting Nashville 17-6 and getting several close-in chances. The Preds took the early lead, however, as a 3-on-2 rush resulted in Steve Sullivan sending a feed to Cal O'Reilly, who simply drove to the net and kept his stick on the ice for the goal. With just under a minute left in the period, however, the Blue Jackets tied it up when R.J. Umberger was left uncovered deep in the zone, and a quick turnover turned into a stuff shot and quick bat at the rebound to put it past Pekka Rinne.
The second saw Columbus earn an early power play, but team tendencies held sway as the NHL's 30th-ranked PP couldn't muster much against Nashville's 4th-ranked penalty kill. Both sides predictably kept things tight defensively, as shots were just 9-5 in Nashville's favor. The Preds suffered another injury loss, however, as Antti Pihlstrom headed to the locker room with a dreaded "upper body injury" and did not come back to the game.
The third started out with a little more activity both ways, but Columbus took the lead on a Raffi Torres goal. Nashville got a huge scare shortly thereafter, when Jiri Novotny drilled J.P. Dumont face-first into the dasher at the Blue Jackets' bench. Dumont lay motionless on the ice for quite a while before heading off, although he did return to the game later on. While there was no call made on Dumont's boarding, a make-up Holding call came shortly afterwards, which turned into a 5-on-3 when Umberger swiped Mike Santorelli's stick away from the play. The Preds couldn't capitalize on the advantage, however, leaving them a goal down with just minutes left.
In the waning moments, the Preds never could manage to generate a strong offensive chance with the goalie pulled; the Blue Jackets kept play to the outside, and chipped the puck back out to center ice often enough to run the clock down.
All in all, it was a reasonably gritty effort on Nashville's part, but of course a 2-1 loss counts the same as an 8-0 blowout in the standings. The two teams meet again Saturday at the Sommet Center, after the Preds play at Chicago on Friday.
As they prepare for the next game, I wonder if Barry Trotz will switch some of the line combinations. Santorelli seemed to have no chemistry with J.P. Dumont and Vern Fiddler (just as in his earlier stint with Nashville), as they generated a combined 2 shots. Joel Ward led all Predators with 6 shots on goal.
For further Preds-focused reaction, head over to What the Puck.