Predators @ Blue Jackets preview: Time for a Slumpbuster

COLUMBUS, OH - OCTOBER 7: Nick Spaling #13 of the Nashville Predators and the Samuel Pahlsson #26 of the Columbus Blue Jackets battle for the puck during the game at Nationwide Arena on October 7, 2011 in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Tonight in Columbus (6:00 p.m. Central on FS-TN), the Nashville Predators will seek to get back on the winning track, as a recent slide has dropped them to 11th place in the Western Conference. The Blue Jackets, meanwhile, are stirring themselves out of an early season slumber and are playing competitive hockey of late, threatening to climb out of the conference basement for the first time all season.

Follow after the jump for the breakdown!

Saturday's game vs. Anaheim should be a sellout, but check out our Tickets page to find deals on the resale market!

Tale Of The Tape

Nashville (12-11-4) at Columbus (8-16-3)
NSH Offense vs. CBJ Defense CBJ Offense vs. NSH Defense
5-on-5
GF/60 SF/60 Shoot % GA/60 SA/60 Save %
NSH Offense 2.2 (23rd) 25.5 (28th) 8.5 (13th) 2.4 (12th) 31.6 (27th) 925 (9th) NSH Defense
CBJ Defense 2.8 (23rd) 28.9 (10th) 904 (24th) 2.1 (24th) 29.8 (15th) 6.9 (28th) CBJ Offense
GA/60 SA/60 Save % GF/60 SF/60 Shoot %
Special Teams
NSH PP vs. CBJ PK CBJ PP vs. NSH PK
GF/60 SF/60 Shoot % GA/60 SA/60 Save %
NSH 5-on-4 6.6 (10th) 51.6 (11th) 12.7 (12th) 6.0 (18th) 52.8 (21st) 887 (14th) NSH 4-on-5
CBJ 4-on-5 10.2 (30th) 50.3 (13th) 798 (30th) 3.6 (28th) 54.2 (7th) 6.7 (29th) CBJ 5-on-4
GA/60 SA/60 Save % GF/60 SF/60 Shoot %

This isn't exactly what you'd call a battle of titans... but the Blue Jackets have been devastated by shoddy goaltending so far. Of course, as we'll see below, they may have found a solution there for the time being, so this game will prove a stiffer test than these season-long averages might imply.

Columbus Blue Jackets

With 12 points in their last 10 games, the Blue Jackets are playing like a respectable NHL team lately, after that horrifying start which stuck a fork in their playoff hopes before the season even hit Thanksgiving. The guy they hoped could carry the job in goal, Steve Mason, continues to flounder (.875 save percentage, 3-12-1 record) and former Pred Mark Dekanich, who was supposed to back Mason up, has been injured without playing a game yet.

Their salvation has been found in journeyman Curtis Sanford, who, now with his 3rd NHL team after spending the last two seasons in the AHL, has stabilized things enough so that Columbus can take some time to further evaluate the team before making major changes.


Curtis Sanford

#30 / Goalie / Columbus Blue Jackets

5-11

185

Oct 05, 1979



GP MIN W L OTL GA GAA SA SV SV% SO
2011 - Curtis Sanford 11 636 5 3 2 22 2.08 291 269 .924 0

One move they have made recently is the hiring of Craig Patrick as senior advisor, a hire which bodes well for the Blue Jackets' long-term prospects. In the here & now, however, Columbus is glad to have Kristian Huselius back in the lineup, after an off-season training injury caused him to miss the first 25 games of the season. His return gives the Blue Jackets a pretty enviable group of forwards, with the sort of depth up front that is causing some uncomfortable situations.

Recently, for example, Derick Brassard's agent went public with criticism of Columbus management, claiming they were using his client as a scapegoat for the Blue Jackets' awful start. I can't see how that kind of move will help his cause with the coaching staff, but you'd have to think that perhaps it has earned him a ticket out of town via trade, once the right opportunity comes along.

Coming into tonight's game, the Blue Jackets are opening up a home stand, after having salvaged a .500 road trip with a win at Montreal Tuesday night:


Columbus Blue Jackets Last 5 Games

@ Montreal Tue 12/06 SO - W 3 - 2
@ Edmonton Fri 12/02 L 3 - 6
@ Calgary Thu 12/01 SO - W 4 - 3
@ Vancouver Tue 11/29 L 1 - 4
St. Louis Sun 11/27 L 1 - 2

Nashville Predators

Still without Jordin Tootoo tonight while he serves the last game of his suspension, the Preds will look to find the winning combination against their old expansion rival in Columbus. Nashville won their season opener here 3-2, so they'll look to re-establish their dominance over the longtime Central Division also-ran (at least next year they won't have that title any more - they'll be the Central Conference also-ran!).

Sergei Kostitsyn returned to the lineup Tuesday against Phoenix, and put 3 shots on net in just 11:15 of ice time. Has he gotten a message from the coaching staff about being more aggressive offensively? We can hope...

The scoring leadership up front has been taken over by Craig Smith, in what may be a new tradition in Nashville of a surprising name stepping up each season to lead the way. Last year it was SK74, and the year before that it was Patric Hornqvist with his 31 goals.


8475225_medium

Craig Smith

#15 / Center / Nashville Predators

6-1

197

Sep 05, 1989



GP G A P +/- PIM PPG SHG GWG
SOG PCT
2011 - Craig Smith 27 8 14 22 0 20 4 0 0 74 10.8

Sure, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is running away with the rookie scoring race, but 2nd ain't bad, and Smith leads the Predators in goals, assists, and total points right now. He's the one guy who has lived up to all the summer hype, and then some.

They'll need that kind of leadership as Nashville seeks to get their offense rolling consistently again. They've hit the ballyhooed 3-goal mark just once in the last 8 games, and kept their opponents under 3 only twice in that span.

So can the Preds put it together at both ends of the ice tonight and break out of their current funk?


Nashville Predators Injuries

Questionable

Player Injury Type Injury Date
Francis Bouillon groin 12/07/2011

Out (IR / Out / Suspended / Physically unvailable)

Player Injury Type Injury Date
Blake Geoffrion shoulder 11/29/2011
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