Gameday: Columbus Blue Jackets at Nashville Predators, 4/4/13

COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS

at NASHVILLE PREDATORS

April 4th, 2013
Bridgestone Arena
Nashville, Tennessee
7:00 p.m. CDT
TV: FOX Sports Tennessee
Columbus leads season series 2-1

The Columbus Blue Jackets and Nashville Predators both made big trades yesterday, changing their looks as they both make a push for the playoffs with less than a month left in the 2013 NHL season. Tonight they meet for the fourth of five times this season.

COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS

(15-14-7, 5th in Central)

NHL: Columbus Blue Jackets at Vancouver Canucks

Sergei Bobrovsky will be looking for revenge against the Nashville Predators. (PHOTO: Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports)

The Columbus Blue Jackets walked away from the NHL trade deadline one of the biggest winners, with new general manager Jarmo Kekalainen making trades with the New York Rangers, Calgary Flames, and Philadelphia Flyers on the final day for dealing this season.

Key players

Sergei Bobrovsky (12-8-6, 2.13 GAA, .927 SV%) is officially the main man in net now that backup Steve Mason has departed for Bob’s old home in Philadelphia. He was roughed up pretty badly by the Preds last time he faced them, one of the few blemishes on an otherwise excellent month of March that saw him named the NHL’s Third Star for that period.

Marian Gaborik of the Columbus Blue Jackets

Marian Gaborik brings his offensive prowess to Columbus. (PHOTO: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports)

Marian Gaborik (9G-10A) was the biggest acquisition on NHL trade deadline day. He only has four goals in his last 30 games and had made himself a permanent home in John Tortorella’s doghouse, but Kekalainen made special arrangements to get him to Nashville in time to make his debut with the Blue Jackets. It’s hard to imagine that being less than a major motivator for the Slovakian sniper.

Others to watch

Mark Letestu (9G-10A), currently second on the team in scoring behind veteran Vinny Prospal (10G-11A), is enjoying arguably his best season since first breaking into the league in 2009-10.

The Jackets will also have established players returning from injured reserve. Nick Foligno (5G-10A) returns after a week on IR, while Brandon Dubinsky (1G-8A) is returning from a longer stint.

NASHVILLE PREDATORS

(15-14-8, 4th in Central)

Nashville Predators forward David Legwand

David Legwand tops the Nashville Predators in points and is second in goals. (PHOTO: Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports)

The Nashville Predators are still technically in the playoff hunt, though their closest rivals all have games in hand. That makes it even more important for the Preds to win, in regulation if possible, against their Central Division rivals.

Key players

David Legwand (10G-11A), who slumped pretty badly to start the season, has managed to work his way into a tie for the team lead in scoring after a successful month of March. Now that Martin Erat is gone, there should be pressure on him to continue producing, especially if Mike Fisher (9G-10A) is scratched due to injury for a third straight game.

NHL: Nashville Predators at Chicago Blackhawks

Without top-flight Pekka, the Nashville Predators’ chances of winning are slim. (PHOTO: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports)

Pekka Rinne (14-10-7, 2.29 GAA, .913 SV%) has begun to look like his old self again lately, giving up just four goals in his last 190 minutes in the Nashville net. As always, he is the cornerstone of the team’s game plan so any chance they have of winning starts with a strong performance from him.

Others to watch

Taylor Beck (2G-4A) had assists on both of Nashville’s non-empty-net goals on Tuesday, giving him six points in his first eight NHL contests. He’s playing well enough that I almost wish he’d been called up earlier in the season when the team was struggling mightily.

In addition to missing Fisher, the Preds look likely to also be without Gabriel Bourque (11G-5A), the team’s leading goalscorer. Both players are listed as questionable.

Bottom line

Most of the remaining 11 games for the Nashville Predators have them facing Central Division rivals who (with the exception of Chicago) are also competing for bottom-tier playoff spots. That makes regulation wins even more valuable than usual, since they effectively double in impact when they come against an immediate challenger.

Pulling off a win against the Blue Jackets is going to be arguably tougher than ever before, given the new lineup their GM has given them and the departure of one of Nashville’s top-line forwards in Martin Erat. But it’s necessary if the team still wants to make the playoffs, as GM David Poile suggested they could after trading Erat yesterday. This is shaping up to be one of the bigger games these two teams have ever played in the history of their rivalry.

Topics: Columbus Blue Jackets, Nashville Predators

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