Wow, we’re back here already? That’s right, it’s time for more Nashville Predators vs. Columbus Blue Jackets hockey, because none of us can get enough of this series. Nashville hopes to sweep this weekend doubleheader with a win today, but Columbus could finally make some adjustments to keep them from taking away the two points. For the things you should be watching, key storylines, and pre-game jams, read below.
Not much has changed since yesterday’s preview, but I have some notes from the first game that are worthy of discussion. Looking at the power play, the Predators appear to be employing a 1-2-2 system now instead of a 1-3-1, meaning that they have two men low instead of just one. This is an interesting change, but Nashville still has some adjusting to do in order to maximize the personnel they have on their two units.
The key here is going to be a combination of improved off-puck movement from the primary shooting options at the face-off dots (Forsberg and Tolvanen) and improved off-puck movement from the quarterback at the top of the umbrella (Josi). I need to see more movement towards the middle from the former group to take away pressure from the latter, and vice versa when the opening presents itself. If that doesn’t happen, teams will continue to play two members of the penalty killing box out high to disrupt passing and shooting lanes.
In terms of interesting developments at five-on-five, we have Eeli Tolvanen getting top-line minutes and top power play minutes, something that’s been a long time coming. The young Finn has been an elite defensive presence in his first chunk of real NHL action, and the offense is starting to come along as well.
I’d like to see Tolvanen rip it even more, but his primary adjustment is more concerning his off-puck movement in the offensive zone. Tolvanen doesn’t threaten to attack the net as often as he should, and as a result defenses are already starting to structure their containment around the face-off dot. I’d like to see him drive to the crease a bit more to dissuade this strategy; his foot speed may not be elite, but he has good burst in his first few strides and can use that to his advantage.
The Blue Jackets
Jackets fans are about done with John Tortorella’s shenanigans. The NHL’s most infamous curmudgeon continues to hamper Columbus with his player usage, and I really can’t understand what he’s watching that’s made him think David Savard is still a good defenseman in a top-pair role.
Columbus again failed to effectively stymie Nashville through the neutral zone yesterday, and the continued failure of the Jackets to shut down opposing transition has been their downfall this year. The Predators have superior forward talent in the top six and a slightly more coherent offense, and that’s been all the difference.
Columbus will likely employ the same ho-hum, “force them to the perimeter and then sit tight” strategy today, something that doesn’t bode well for fans who want Nashville to tank for a draft pick. Still, it means we’ll probably get to see some goals, so I’m not complaining.
Three Big Things
- Pay attention to the tweaks to the power play. Are the Predators doing a better job at threatening the middle of the ice, or are they just standing at the face-off dots and not producing any breaks in structure?
- How does Mattias Ekholm perform? Every goal and point the big Swede scores shifts the landscape of his trade situation. Could the Predators decide to keep him on the roster rather than trading him, or will they ask for a higher price given recent play and production? It’s a storyline worth tracking.
- What do we get from Pekka Rinne? The veteran goaltender has been a bit uneven in his past few starts, and he’ll once again be key in getting the win against an inferior team. Will he show out like he has at points in the season, or will he give up a few softies like he did against Detroit in his last start? Who’s to say.
A loss in this game might spell the end of John Tortorella in Columbus, at least if Jarmo Kekäläinen wants to hold him accountable at all. So, it’s time to pick a song with a fitting title that’s an NHL ’07 classic.
Hopefully Nashville is the team that finally puts poor Jackets fans out of their misery. Happy game day everyone, and as always, go Preds.