Tonight the Nashville Predators head into Nationwide Arena to take on the Columbus Blue Jackets in a game that, considering the Predators' recent slide, looks much more important than originally thought. The Predators will be without key players Joel Ward and Marcel Goc, which means that its even more crucial (this is my favorite dead horse) that Nashville comes out firing.
Check out the matchup analysis after the jump.
UPDATE: You can watch the Predators and Blue Jackets live via the internet in a free preview of NHL GameCenter.
Nashville coming in:
Honestly, I don't have much good to say about anything that falls under the "coming in" category. The Predators blew three straight games that they should have won, plain and simple. Against Toronto, it was tied 3-3 late in the 3rd and the Preds had all the momentum. Against Phoenix, Nashville led 2-1 going into the 3rd and lost 4-2. Finally, in Denver, they outplayed the Avalanche but took a bevy of penalties, most notably a bogus goaltender interference penalty on Patric Hornqvist that negated a Ryan Suter game-tying goal. Nashville, with a 29-19-3 record and 61 points, dropped 3 playoff places and sit in 7th.
In summary, it wasn't a good week.
Columbus coming in:
The Blue Jackets' is a season that has been mired in slumps and missed expectations. After a franchise-first playoff berth last year, hopes were justifiably high in Columbus to start the season. They've completely gone away from their calling card, defensive hockey under Ken Hitchcock, and are allowing a whopping 3.18 goals per game (good for 27th). Their special teams are pretty good, but not good enough to overcome such dismal even strength defense. Captain Rick Nash is still having an excellent season, even though the Jackets are in 14th in the West with a 20-25-9 record and 49 points. For your SBN Jackets news, head over to The Cannon.
For the Preds, young defenseman Cody Franson has been very impressive in the offensive zone lately. Check out the +/-:
|2009 - Cody Franson||39||5||10||15||10||14||1||0||2||0||64||7.8|
For Columbus, former Flyer R.J. Umberger has been playing well and his goal tally is a little surprising to me. In fact, he'd lead Nashville in points:
|2009 - R.J. Umberger||54||18||18||36||-16||21||5||1||3||0||142||12.7|
For Nashville, as much as I'd like to put Jason Arnott here, Dirk convinced me yesterday that he's not THAT cold. I'll return Dan Hamhuis to this spot, mainly because I like to close my eyes when he's on the ice
|2009 - Dan Hamhuis||47||4||8||12||-1||28||0||0||0||0||68||5.9|
For Columbus, I direct you to the goalie position below...
The Guys in Goal
John Glennon reports that Pekka Rinne will finally get a second consecutive start. I'm looking forward to seeing if he can improve on a good performance against the Avalanche.
|2009 - Pekka Rinne||33||1778||18||9||83||2.80||866||783||.904||2|
For Columbus, Steve Mason hasn't won consecutive starts since October and let in several soft goals against the Wild. Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch reports that he will get the call tonight.
|2009 - Steve Mason||38||2056||12||17||113||3.30||1033||920||.891||2|
For the Predators, the loss of Marcel Goc and Joel Ward means we STILL don't get to see a full-strength Nashville squad:
For the Blue Jackets, the Columbus Dispatch reports these lines:
While the losing streak was certainly discouraging, playing the Blue Jackets could be just what Nashville needs. If any team can't solve the Predators, its Columbus. Nationwide Arena has been a home away from home of sorts for the Preds, and with Coach Trotz not happy about the recent slide I look for the Predators to end the losing streak tonight. I've got Darth Vader* down for 4 markers, and the opposition 1 as Pekka Rinne begins to cement a hold on the number one job.
*for those unfamiliar with the Darth Vader reference, it refers to a press conference a couple of seasons ago in which Ken Hitchcock, Blue Jackets head coach, referred to the Predators as Columbus' "Darth Vader" because the Jackets were rarely able to overcome them. While I wasn't able to find an article or video from the instance, you can go here and here to note references by Columbus journalists. Apparently Hitch wasn't too far off-- since 2006-07, Nashville is a staggering 22-2-2 against Columbus and 4-0-0 this year.