Reports out of Columbus yesterday say the Nashville Predators will open their 2013 NHL season against the Columbus Blue Jackets on January 19th.
The Columbus Blue Jackets are the perfect team for the Nashville Predators to open against in the shortened 2013 season. And that’s not just because they’ll be expecting to win (though they will expect that). No, the Blue Jackets are the perfect first opponent because they can serve as a good barometer of what we can expect from the Predators this year.
There’s no question that last year’s version of the Blue Jackets were a disaster. Essentially none of their free-agent splashes worked out, and they ended up dealing Jeff Carter to the Kings for Jack Johnson. Then, before the lockout began, they shipped off their captain and up-to-then Columbus lifer, Rick Nash, to the New York Rangers. It was a schizophrenic season straight out The Big Book of Hockey Fan Nightmares. And yet, complete mess that they were, that Blue Jackets team still played the Predators tough before the wheels completely came off in January.
The first four of last season’s games between Nashville and Columbus were all decided by one goal each, including one win for the Jackets and two more games in December where the Predators won only by pulling off the kind of miracle comebacks you’d call BS on if you saw them in a movie. Point is, an “easy win” against Columbus wasn’t a given for a strong Nashville Predators squad even when facing one of the worst incarnations of the Jackets in a while.
If an easy win against Columbus wasn’t a given last year, it doesn’t project to be one this year, either. The fans up in Ohio are expecting more from their team this year after the front office got busy making moves to address last year’s train wreck.
The team upgraded in goal, picking up goalie Sergei Bobrovsky in a trade with the Philadelphia Flyers. Though they lost Nash, they replaced him with former Rangers forwards Artem Anisimov and Brandon Dubinsky. Role-playing forward Nick Foligno, fresh off the best season of his five-year career, left Ottawa for Columbus as a free agent. And then there’s young playmaking center Ryan Johansen, who played well in limited time during his rookie season and is expected to step up into a bigger role this year.
The Nashville Predators will be expected to win against Columbus, and the fan base will be watching closely to see not only if they live up to the expectation but how they go about fulfilling it. Will the new defense play a detail-oriented game on all three pairings? Will Nashville’s young forwards carry their share of the offensive load from the start of the season? Is Pekka Rinne ready to return to dominant NHL form after half a season in the KHL? That kind of pressure will hopefully serve as a way to season the Preds for the other 47 games on the schedule.