Predators Game Day Preview: Columbus @ Nashville

04-04_medium

Blue Jackets blogBethany's Hockey Rants

TV: FS-TN (Comcast 28, Dish Network 445, DirecTV 644)

Radio104.5 "The Zone" (WGFX)

As if last Tuesday's wasn't big enough, it's safe to say that tonight represents the most important game in the history of the Columbus/Nashville rivalry, which may not have the length of traditional duos like Montreal/Boston or Rangers/Flyers, but has all the intensity and ill-will that divisional opponents can develop.

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? (4) How effective will Jason Arnott be in his return to action?

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 JoseLos 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 watchSteve 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:

  Columbus Nashville
 Record  40-29-8 14th 38-32-8 19th
 Pts % .571 13th .538 19th
 Goals For/Game 2.71 21st 2.49 26th
 Goals Against/Game 2.68 8th 2.68 8th
 5-on-5 GF/GA 1.15 6th 0.95 19th
 PP% 12.8 30th 15.4 26th
 PK% 82.2 11th 83.7 4th
 Shots/Game 29.4 15th 28.9 21st
 Shots Against/Game 27.8 3rd 29.4 11th
 FO % 51.1 10th 52.2 4th

All signs point to another low-scoring, tight affair...

Next, let's take a look at which players draw penalties, and which ones head to the box (data through March 31):

 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

Especially given all the injuries up front, it will be essential for the Preds to tip the special teams battle in their favor. Columbus doesn't have much of a power play to speak of, but time spent on the PK leaves less for Nashville's offensive players.

Per Tom Reed at the Columbus Dispatch, the Blue Jackets' lines looked as follows in yesterday's practice:

 

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

 

Extra line: Chimera-Gratton-Dorsett

 

Commodore-Hejda
Tyutin-Methot
Russell-Backman

 

 

And lastly, the goaltenders:

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 56 3352 32 18 5 6 124 2.22 1521 1397 .918 10

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 47 2693 27 12 4 4 101 2.25 1293 1192 .922 7

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