The Predators battle the Blue Jackets for the third time this season, with tonight's game being the first in Columbus. Nashville has won each game between them so far, each in the shootout, and will try to reverse a 9-game winning streak in this rivalry by the home team.
Follow after the jump for the complete breakdown...
Meet the Enemy (14-12-6)
Ken Hitchcock has not been happy with the recent play of his forwards, and it sounds like we could see some juggled lines tonight. The report from their morning skate is that Kristian Huselius (who has 24 points in 23 career games against Nashville) is getting bumped down to the second line, but no matter how they look, their top two lines can certainly bring the pressure.
Meet the Good Guys (18-11-3)
With Jordin Tootoo out and a callup not coming today, Wade Belak returns to the ice for the Preds. Guessing that Patric Hornqvist would get the chance to move up, that would give us the following lines:
Jason Arnott (16 goals and 20 assists in 35 games) and Steve Sullivan (13 goals, 27 assists in 38 games) have both exceeded the point-per-game pace against Columbus in their career.
Even Strength Play
|5-on-5 data from Behind the Net|
|TEAM||GP||GF||GA||GF/60||SF/60||Sht %||GA/60||SA/60||Save Pct.||+/- per 60|
I still find it hard to believe that Columbus is tied for the 2nd-worst defense in the NHL in 5-on-5 play. As for the Preds, they've slowly but surely approached the break-even point but the occasional stinker drops them back.
Columbus PP vs. Nashville PK
While their power play still sits 4th overall in the NHL at 23.0%, oddly enough the Blue Jackets have a tougher time on home ice, where they rank 18th. The Nashville penalty killers have been decent lately, but they still rank 24th at 78.4%.
Nashville PP vs. Columbus PK
Might the Predators power play come back to life? In the last four games, they've gone 4-for-17 after 5 scoreless games. All the same, this isn't exactly a battle of titans, given as neither team has much to be proud of on this side of the special teams matchup. The hope here is that Nashville gets back to the disciplined play that provides them more power play chances than the opposition.
Probably the biggest difference between this Blue Jackets team and recent one. Last season, Steve Mason was a Vezina Trophy finalist, and the year before that Pascal Leclaire tore up the league. Now, however, Columbus' goaltending has been mediocre at best. Tom Reed indicates that Mason gets the start tonight:
#1 / Goalie / Columbus Blue Jackets
May 29, 1988
|2009 - Steve Mason||25||1426||10||9||78||3.28||717||639||.891||1|
Pekka Rinne played well Saturday against Detroit, but with back-to-back games tonight and tomorrow, Dan Ellis gets the nod against Columbus. In 5 games against the Blue Jackets, Ellis is 3-1-1 with a 1.25 GAA and .963 Save Percentage:
#39 / Goalie / Nashville Predators
Jun 19, 1980
|2009 - Dan Ellis||13||656||5||5||30||2.74||328||298||.909||0|
As well as the Predators have played lately (2-0-1 last week), they need to keep piling up the points in order to keep up in a very competitive Western Conference. Even though Nashville has earned 12 points over the last 10 games (5-3-2), only one team in the top eight has earned less than that over the same period of time (San Jose at 4-3-3).
Columbus, however, has dropped down to 12th and is 2-5-3 in their last 10. A win in regulation tonight by the Predators can help provide a little more breathing room between themselves and a Blue Jackets team that most observers had picked for the playoffs before the season began.