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Nashville Predators @ Columbus Blue Jackets Preview: Old Enemies, New Faces

The Nashville Predators open up the 2011-2012 regular season by getting right down to business against two division rivals, playing tonight at Columbus (6:00 p.m. Central on Fox Sports TN) and Saturday night in St. Louis. Columbus, of course, went on a buying spree this summer in order to try and make the playoffs for only the second time in team history, and according to captain Rick Nash, that's their primary focus for the season. They're always looking for a chance to pass up the Preds, though, who have consistently more competitive teams than Columbus despite a similar expansion background.

More on the season's first test after the jump...

The Stats

How did these two teams finish up last season?

 Nashville (44-27-11) at Columbus (34-35-13) 
 GF/60   SF/60   Shoot %   GA/60   SA/60   Save % 
 NSH Offense 2.50 28.9 8.60% 2.10 30.5 931 NSH Defense
 CBJ Defense 2.60 28.9 909 2.60 28.9 9.10% CBJ Offense
GA/60 SA/60 Save % GF/60 SF/60 Shoot %
Special Teams
GF/60 SF/60 Shoot % GF/60 SF/60 Save %
 NSH 5-on-4 5.00 46.6 10.80% 4.80 47.5 898 NSH 4-on-5
 CBJ 4-on-5 7.00 53.4 869 4.80 53.7 8.90% CBJ 5-on-4
GA/60 SA/60 Save % GA/60 SA/60 Shoot %

This is something I'm going to tweak quite a bit going forward, but what I want to portray here is how two teams match up, setting Nashville's offense up against the Columbus defense on the left, and the opposite on the right, by showing Goals per 60 minutes, Shots per 60 minutes, and Save/Shooting Percentages in 5-on-5, and the main special teams battles (all data from Behind the Net, obviously). I'm entirely open to suggestions here on formatting.

Columbus Blue Jackets

Tonight, the Blue Jackets will be without one of their prime acquisitions, defenseman James Wisniewski, who is serving a suspension for a hit dished out during the preseason. The home crowd will still be excited to see Jeff Carter, however, the top-quality offensive center that Columbus has always been searching for. Will Carter establish some chemistry with team captain Rick Nash, or end up centering another line, and give the Blue Jackets a killer 1-2 punch? Either way, the Blue Jackets should be much more dangerous offensively, and have good reason to believe that they can improve upon last season's 29th ranked power play.

The Cannon is SB Nation's Columbus Blue Jackets blog, so make sure to swing by there and check out their primer for a thorough overview of the roster as it shapes up for the season. While I like what they've done up front (especially the pickup of Vinny Prospal), I have real doubts about their defense and goaltending, at least until Mark Dekanich takes over there.

Nashville Predators

Josh Cooper tweeted this morning that line rushes weren't available from the morning skate, so Barry Trotz may well have something up his sleeve in terms of what combinations we'll see tonight. I'll have my eye on three lineup choices in particular.

Craig Smith's NHL debut

With Mike Fisher on the shelf, what sort of opportunity will Craig Smith get to make an impact offensively? The Wilson-Legwand-Smith combo we heard about earlier this week sounds intriguing.

Will Mattias Ekholm play?

The choice of 3rd pair defensemen will also prove interesting. Is Mattias Ekholm just along for the ride right now, or will he get the chance to show his stuff? Jack Hillen enjoyed an impressive preseason, but he may make a better choice as 7th D-man, as he's more of a seasoned pro who you know will be ready to contribute if called on short notice.

Who will play in goal?

Pekka Rinne didn't practice yesterday due to illness, so stay tuned to see whether he gets the start tonight. With back-to-back games this weekend, it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world to let Anders the Giant take this one and rest Peks for St. Louis.

Are you ready to drop the puck?

So make sure to come back later for the Game Thread, and tune into the game on FS-TN! Hopefully we'll hear the crew on the Section 303 Mega Trip loud and clear all night long...