Even though there are only two games on the schedule, it will be a busy week for the Nashville Predators, with back-to-back contests against division rivals, followed up by the All-Star festivities taking place in Ottawa, Ontario. While the bulk of the roster will get a chance to rest up for a few days, that weekend will give Shea Weber, Craig Smith, and (if he's recovered from injury) Ryan Suter the opportunity to represent Smashville on the NHL's big stage.
But before the big show, they've got serious work to do...
Monday vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
While the Preds' recent hot streak has visions of Central Division championship contention dancing in fans' heads, they'll need to follow up Saturday's impressive win over the Blackhawks with a similarly well-rounded effort against the sad-sack Columbus Blue Jackets (7:00 p.m. on FS-TN).
It might be tough to maintain that level of intensity after beating Chicago in front of a sellout crowd which included thousands of Blackhawks fans, but those are two points for the taking that the Preds will need if they hope to rub shoulders with Detroit, Chicago and St. Louis over the final months of the season.
There will be 3 big lineup questions for this game. 1) Will Anders Lindback get the start? 2) Will Ryan Suter and/or Francis Bouillon be ready to play? 3) Which forwards will be scratched?
Tuesday at Chicago Blackhawks
Just as the Blackhawks had the excuse of being tired Saturday night, the Predators will hop on a plane right after Monday's game for a rematch with Chicago at the United Center (7:30 p.m. Central on FS-TN), where the Blackhawks will be waiting on a couple days' rest. If Nashville can pull off victories in both these games, they could pass the Hawks for 3rd place in the Central Division.
Thursday - All-Star Fantasy Draft
Once again, the All-Star teams will be chosen via a schoolyard-like draft (7:00 p.m. Central on NBC Sports), and you can bet that with Zdeno Chara captaining one team, and Nick Lidstrom staying home, Shea Weber is likely to be the first defenseman taken. If Suter is able to go, it will be interesting to see whether he and his D-partner end up on the same squad or not.
Saturday - All-Star Skills Competition
The All-Star Skills Competition (6:00 p.m. Central on NBC Sports) will give us a 3rd chance to see Weber battle Chara for the title of Hardest Slap Shot, but the task will prove difficult as the big Bruin has dominated this event in recent years. The KHL claimed this weekend that one of their players set another "world record" for the Hardest Slap Shot, but there are some key differences in how they handle things which make direct comparisons with the NHL competition difficult.
This event will also give Craig Smith his chance to shine as part of the 12-rookie group added to the rosters, he'll participate in portions of the Skills Competition, but not the All-Star Game itself on Sunday. Where will we see him compete? Fastest Skater, perhaps?