Tonight marks the first meeting of the season between these two bitter Central Division rivals. Can the Preds (11-8-1) keep their hot streak going against the Blue Jackets (12-6-2) as they continue to climb through the Western Conference standings?
After the jump, let's break down the matchup...
Meet the Enemy
Mike from The Cannon, SB Nation's Columbus blog, fills us in on how the Blue Jackets' season has gone:
The Jackets season thus far has been a tale of two different teams, one that looks focused and establishes the tone of the game by playing "Hitch hockey"- that is to check in all three zones, with the offense being a by-product of good checking. The other team isn't playing Hitch-hockey, rather it's trying to force the issue and be "pretty" with the puck. The problem is, the Jackets aren't talented enough to be playing "pretty". More often than not this year however, they have played how coach Hitchcock wants them to, and the result is a 12-6-2 record, good for second in the Central Division. The team is led by of course Rick Nash, and while Steve Mason has gotten off to a slow start things are looking up for the Calder winner- he looked like his old self last game in a 4-1 win over Dallas. The Jackets use a defense-by-commitee approach, but they are hard-working. Fedor Tyutin and Anton Stralman have been big reasons why the Jackets have the 4th ranked powerplay in the league. Along with Nash, sophomores Jake Voracek and Derick Brassard help carry the offensive load-and you can never count out Kristian Huselius-who is putting up serious points since returning from injury.
Meet the Good Guys
Winners of 8 out of their last 10 games, the Predators are finally firing on (almost) all cylinders. While Barry Trotz has talked about getting Alexander Sulzer back in the lineup at some point, the lines carrying over from last game look as follows:
There was some experimentation with an Erat-Goc-Tootoo line as well, so we'll have to see if we get more of that. Getting Erat's offensive game rolling is probably Trotz's biggest challenge at this point.
After initially indicating otherwise, it looks like Ken Hitchcock is going with last year's Calder Trophy winner, Steve Mason tonight. He's struggled to follow up on his stellar rookie season, however:
#1 / Goalie / Columbus Blue Jackets
May 29, 1988
|2009 - Steve Mason||15||878||8||5||51||3.49||438||387||.884||0|
Will Pekka Rinne get the chance to show that he should have perhaps won the Calder instead last year? He's been dominant of late, and has been getting the vast majority of starts. I'll update later on once we know for sure who Nashville's starter will be. update: As noted below, Pekka gets the nod!
#35 / Goalie / Nashville Predators
Nov 03, 1982
|2009 - Pekka Rinne||13||715||8||4||28||2.35||332||304||.916||2|
Sorry for the abbreviated preview, but today's a busy one. It should be a good game tonight, however; the Blue Jackets have rung up a good record so far and have won three straight coming in, but Mason is vulnerable in net. The Preds will want to take advantage of that early on for sure.