By Amanda DiPaolo
Columbus Blue Jackets 20-15-3
Nashville Predators 18-13-6
The Nashville Predators first home game of 2011 features the division rival Columbus Blue Jackets, just one point ahead of the Predators in the Western Conference standings.
Nashville has dominated the Blue Jackets over the years, losing only once in regulation to Columbus since the start of the 2001-02 season. But Columbus is riding a three-game winning streak. Nashville has dropped the last three decisions at home and just ended a five-game losing skid beating the Minnesota Wild Friday night 4-1.
The Predators will try to build off their success Friday night to continue their home winning streak against the Blue Jackets. Nashville is currently 14-0-0 against Columbus at Bridgestone Arena since the start of the 2006-07 season. It is the longest active home winning streak in the entire NHL. Overall, the Predators boast a 41-13-(4)-1 record against the Jackets.
Traditionally, the rivals play close games and both teams will be trying to build off momentum from their previous play. For Columbus, they hope to come into Nashville and continue their three-game winning streak. Despite the winning streak, and Friday’s victory where the Blue Jackets beat Ottawa 4-3 in overtime, they are 4-4-2 in their last 10 games.
Nashville is 5-5-0 in their last 10 games. The Predators ended a five-game losing skid by beating the Wild on Friday night, 4-1. Two goals were scored on the Wild’s empty net, the first time in franchise history the Predators more than one empty net goal in a single regular season game.
The Predators hope to keep winning Sunday night in Nashville. The return and strong play of David Legwand did not go unnoticed. Legwand was put on a scoring line with Colin Wilson and Marek Svatos Friday, rather than his recent season-and-a-half stint as a shut-down forward with Joel Ward and Jerred Smithson. Nick Spaling centered Legwand’s former linemates.
With the return of Legwand and the addition of Svatos to the lineup, Nashville hopes to create some offensive spark, which has been lacking. In six games, the Predators have scored 9 goals, but two were empty netters on Friday.
On the defensive side of things, Nashville continues to excel since the middle of November. The Predators have a teams goals-against average of 2.43, ranking fourth in the NHL, but leading the Western Conference. Furthermore, the penalty kill remains solid. Since their 3-0 win in Montreal November 18th, the Predators have killed off 64 out of 70 chances on the man advantage for opponents, a 91.4% kill-off rate. The Predators are tied for fifth in the NHL and are first in the Western Conference at 85%. Also since November 18th, Pekka Rinne has played in 12 games and leads the league in goals-against average with 1.64 during that span of time.
All eyes continue to be on Marek Svatos. Having played in his first NHL game this season at a little under 10 minutes, watch for his numbers to increase–as well as the pressure on his shoulders to find the back of the net.
While things are looking up for the Predators, the road ahead is a tough one. Nashville plays only three home games in January, playing 10 games on the road. The Predators also continue to battle through injuries. Steve Sullivan remains out of the lineup, as do Jordin Tootoo and Matthew Lombardi. Martin Erat is likely to be the first to return to the ice.
If only Erat could return to play Sunday night against Columbus. The Czech has nine points against the Blue Jackets in their last seven visits to Music City.
Game time is a special 5pm start time at Bridgestone Arena. Tickets are still available.
Are you looking for tickets to an upcoming Predators home game? Follow this link for discounted tickets. Make an account and then use the word Preds as the code for the discount.