The Nashville Predators have recovered from a losing streak to win four out of their last five games (sure, 3 W's were via the shootout, but we'll take 'em), and face a stern test tonight in Columbus, where the Blue Jackets have surprised the NHL by jumping out to an 12-6-0 start. This is the first meeting between these two Central Division rivals this season, after the Preds won five out of six games against Columbus last year.
The puck drops at 6:00 p.m. Central, and will be broadcast on Fox Sports TN.
Check out The Cannon, SB Nation's Columbus blog, and follow after the jump as we take a look at what's in store...
The St. Louis Blues come to Bridgestone Arena on Wednesday, followed by Sean Avery & the New York Rangers on Saturday. Take advantage of the OtF discount to save money on Nashville Predators tickets for these, or any other home game.
Joel Ward is regularly asked to shut down top-scoring wingers, but Rick Nash presents a unique challenge with his combination of size, strength and speed. If the Blue Jackets can get him the puck effectively, Nash charges into the offensive zone like a boulder crashing downhill. He's also on fire these days, with a 5-game goal-scoring streak and a hat trick Saturday night against San Jose. Check out the highlights from that game to get a sense of what Ward is up against here (thanks for the suggestion, George):
The big question mark heading into this one, as always it seems, is injury. David Legwand and Ryan Suter are still uncertain to play, which could lead to more action for Nick Spaling and/or Alexander Sulzer. Fortunately, the line of Ward-Smithson-Tootoo had a strong game and chipped in a goal against Carolina, but Nashville needs to continue squeezing offensive production from wherever they can. The top unit of Sullivan-O'Reilly-Hornqvist is doing an admirable job, but can't carry the load every night when they get the attention of top defenders.
Simply put, names like Dumont, Erat, Wilson & Kostitsyn need to start showing up on the scoresheet with regularity. Of course, the absence of names like Lombardi and Legwand will slow them down a bit, but everybody has a role to play on a team, and the aforementioned wingers are here to drive the attack.
In the meantime, the Preds have been fortunate to get production from unlikely sources like Marcel Goc, Jordin Tootoo, and Cody Franson, who leads the Nashville defense with 8 points so far. Even with their help, however, the Predators' offense languishes in the bottom 5 of the league.
The bright spot, however, may be in net. With just one goal given up over the course of his last two games, Pekka Rinne may be heating up again, which is exactly what the Preds desperately need right now.
#35 / Goalie / Nashville Predators
Nov 03, 1982
|2010 - Pekka Rinne||13||752||6||5||33||2.63||385||352||.914||2|
What the heck is going on here? Most people expected the Blue Jackets to stink up the joint, considering the lack of personnel changes and a rookie head coach taking over in Scott Arniel. Well, one big positive has been the health of top defenseman Rostislav Klesla, a pretty versatile blueliner who played just 60 games over the previous two seasons, but is in good shape now and leads the league in Plus/Minus at the moment.
#97 / Defenseman / Columbus Blue Jackets
Mar 21, 1982
|2010 - Rostislav Klesla||18||1||4||5||16||10||0||0||0||13|
Nash is leading the way up front, of course, but Derick Brassard is off to a strong start as well. The big news is that Columbus is playing Top 5 defense so far, which is due in no small part to the work of backup goalie Mathieu Garon. Steve Mason hasn't yet shown much of a rebound from his disappointing sophomore season, but Garon has three shutouts and a sizzling .960 save percentage. Is it possible that the former Calder Trophy winner could find himself on the bench in favor of the journeyman Garon?
So are the Blue Jackets simply playing "above their heads" of late, like the St. Louis Blues who roared out of the gate but recently endured a 5-game losing streak, or are they a legitimate contender for a playoff spot this spring?
Get started on your holiday shopping at the OtF Store, where all prices now include free shipping. We've got the "Me So Hornqvist" and "Pass it to Shea..." t-shirts, and a whole lot more.