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Gameday: Nashville Predators at Columbus Blue Jackets, 3/19/13

NASHVILLE PREDATORS

at COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS

March 19th, 2013
Nationwide Arena
Columbus, Ohio
6:00 p.m. CDT
TV: FOX Sports Tennessee
Columbus leads season series 1-0

Tonight the Nashville Predators and Columbus Blue Jackets, two clubs heading in opposite directions, meet for the first time since opening night.

NASHVILLE PREDATORS

(11-12-6, 4th in Central)

If there has ever been a time when the Nashville Predators and Columbus Blue Jackets have had the same record this deep into a season, I don’t remember it. The Preds are only ahead of Columbus right now by virtue of having more of their wins come in regulation or overtime rather than in a shootout.

That means this game is all about saving face for the Preds. And it isn’t an easy scenario, either, now that Paul Gaustad has joined Colin Wilson, Hal Gill, and Patric Hornqvist on injured reserve. The prospect of keeping some slip hope of a playoff spot alive will add a dash of extra drama for anyone who needs it.

NHL: Nashville Predators at Columbus Blue Jackets

Shea Weber and the Preds have been one of the league’s worst teams lately. (PHOTO: Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports)

Key players

Shea Weber (5G-11A) has begun to step up lately, almost like some sort of sleeping giant awakened from his slumber. He’s been effective at even strength and on the power play, even if the rest of the team has barely even been effective at making line changes.

Flipping a coin would probably be a better way to guess which Pekka Rinne (10-9-5, 2.24 GAA, .914 SV%) will show up than trying to read any kind of data for a sign. It’s not all been the big guy’s fault by any means, but he’s been inconsistently brilliant at best this season.

NHL: Nashville Predators at Dallas Stars

David Legwand has six points in his last six games. (PHOTO: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)

Others to watch

Your pick of underperforming Nashville Predators forwards is only limited tonight by the fact that David Legwand has started to score. He had a five-game point streak snapped last game against Edmonton, which leaves him with six goals and seven assists in 29 games.

Taylor Beck could make his NHL debut tonight. He’s been the leading scorer for the Milwaukee Admirals this season, with 41 points (11G-30A) in 50 games. He might be the kind of forward who could help make Chris Mueller and Zach Boychuk effective.

COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS

(11-12-6, 5th in Central)

This has to be a pretty exciting time in Columbus. The team is moving to the Eastern Conference next season, they have a new general manager who appears to be competent, and they’re riding a 10-game point streak. Oh, and then there’s the chance to surpass their long-time rivals. I imagine it feels a lot like Nashville being in position to beat Detroit. The only difference is the satisfaction would come from passing up an ailing team to move into fourth place in the division instead of winning a playoff series. Still, that’s a lot more than the Preds can accomplish with a win tonight.

Nashville Predators at Columbus Blue Jackets

Sergei Bobrovsky has been the hottest goalie in the league lately. (PHOTO: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports)

Key players

Sergei Bobrovsky (9-6-5, 2.00, .932) has emerged as a clear number-one in Columbus after starting the season in as part of a tandem with Steve Mason (2-6-1, 3.08, .897). He’s been turning heads lately with two shutouts in his last five starts, and he earned the NHL Third Star of the Week yesterday with a 0.62 GAA and .983 SV% in his three starts last week.

Others to watch

The Blue Jackets score by committee much like the Preds used to do before the lockout. Vinny Prospal (9G-6A), Derick Brassard (4G-11A), Mark Letestu (6G-8A), Fedor Tyutin (1G-13A), Nick Foligno (3G-10A), Jack Johnson (4G-8A), and R.J. Umberger (5G-5A) all have double-digit point totals for the season.

Jared Boll (1G-3A, 79 PIM) ranks fourth in the league in penalty minutes. He had an uneventful fight with captain Shea Weber in the first game of the season – the only Preds game this season that didn’t feature Rich Clune. I would be not at all surprised if those Clune and Boll dropped the gloves in this game.

Bottom line

Only two things separate the Nashville Predators and Columbus Blue Jackets right now. The first is that ROW tiebreaker; more of the Jackets’ wins have been in the shootout. The second is momentum. Columbus has points in all of its last 10 games, while Nashville has nine regulation losses in its last 14 outings. This game will decide whether those trends reverse or stay their respective courses. I won’t rule the Preds out completely, but I certainly don’t expect anything from them at this point.

Topics: Columbus Blue Jackets, Nashville Predators

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