Predators vs Blue Jackets Preview: Blue Suede Jackets

Haha, get it, because their goalie is named Elvis? Please laugh.

The Predators will take on the Columbus Blue Jackets tomorrow at 7 PM Central time, hoping for a pair of wins to start off what will be a crucial year for the team’s current core. After a disappointing showing in the play-in round last season, the Predators will attempt to build off of a strong effort in their second game of the season against the Jackets. Not much has changed from the previous game (seeing as it’s only been two days since the teams last played), but here’s what you need to know for today’s preview.

The Predators

The Predators infuriated me (and many others) by playing maddeningly inconsistent hockey all of last year. One period they’d be dominant and creating high-danger chances at will, the next they’d sputter and forget how to pass/break out/play the game they get paid to play at a professional level. The fundamental failures from an execution standpoint concerned me, and I really wondered if there were work ethic issues in the locker room or something of that nature that could explain the inexplicably poor results I saw on the ice. Last night seemed to suggest that those problems could be a thing of the past. Nashville played one of their most complete games within the past two years, refusing to go down without a fight against a tough Columbus team that looks to contend for the top of the division.

The Predators registered poor underlying results in the first period at even strength, and that honestly matched the eye test; a 47.22 CF% and 37.31 xGF% aren’t exactly ideal, and neither is allowing the first goal. Nashville did both and still managed to win the xGF and CF battle with a solid second period and an absolutely dominant third period. This team was prone to turtling and late-game collapses last year, but it appears they’ve turned over a new leaf and learned (or rediscovered) how to get better as the game goes on. I saw Ryan Johansen laying out to block shots, Rocco Grimaldi and Nick Cousins forechecking like fiends, and all manner of “effort plays” that really make me excited for what this team can do.

For the past few years, Nashville has always had the talent to make deep runs in the playoffs; the issue has been system, execution, and at times the compete level of some of the top players on the roster. This season under John Hynes has seen a shift in at least one of those areas that cannot be disputed: the tactics that the Preds play with are completely different. Gone are the days of treating the puck like it’s a bomb once you cross the red line, replaced by a slick transition game focused heavily on controlled puck movement and zone entries. The power play looks fresh with a heavier emphasis on exploiting the overload system’s strengths, utilizing more cross-crease passing and effective net front traffic. While I remain skeptical of Coach Hynes’s ability to elevate this team in the long term, his work thus far is promising; hopefully the Predators continue to show that this new system is a good fit that they can execute on a nightly basis.

The Blue Jackets

Columbus dictates play via a mix of physicality, neutral zone harassment and tight checking by all four forward lines. This strategy has given Nashville fits with other teams in the past (Arizona and LA last year), but this time the Predators adapted as the game went on. The Blue Jackets had only seven shot attempts in the third period, indicative of an offense that just couldn’t crack a deeper Preds squad. With Elvis Merzlikins and Joonas Korpisalo as the options in goal, Columbus has a chance to win every night; still, I question whether this team has any real offensive difference makers besides Oliver Bjorkstrand and the now-estranged Pierre-Luc Dubois. Max Domi was acquired to assuage this problem and help the power play out, but he was largely ineffective and saw a paltry 12:57 TOI despite supposedly commanding a top-six role, thanks to what looked like a late benching. I’m absolutely shocked that John Tortorella isn’t a big fan of a player who stinks on defense; who could have seen this coming? Domi will probably get more minutes and this might just be a one-off thing, but if it isn’t I doubt Columbus is scoring four goals in a game barring disaster for the Preds.

How To Watch

The game will be aired on television via FS-TN and radio via 102.5 The Game. The puck drops at 7 PM Central time.

Pregame Listening

It’s time for part two of this duel, y’all. Let’s get some fitting music rolling.

Happy watching, cowboys, cowgirls, and everyone else. Go Preds.