Tonight, the Nashville Predators (29-19-3) will make their final regular season trip into Nationwide Arena to play the Columbus Blue Jackets (20-25-9) in a bitter division rivalry.
Both teams badly need a win. The Predators have lost their last three outings and are in desperate need of two points in tonight's game. After winning three in a row earlier this month, Columbus is 2-5 in their last seven games.
This will be the fifth meeting between the two clubs this season and the third in Columbus. In the Predators last visit to Columbus, on New Year's Eve, the Preds won 2-1, when David Legwand scored a goal 28 seconds into overtime. Also in Columbus on December 14, Steve Sullivan had his seventh career hat trick leading the Preds to a 5-3 win.
The first two meetings of the year were in Nashville where the Preds won both games 4-3, in shootouts. David Legwand had the game winning shot on November 21. On December 10, Mathieu Garon's shoot out win streak was ended by Steve Sullivan's game winning shot.
Tonight's meeting will provide a match-up of the last season's top two rookie goaltenders with Steve Mason (12-17-6, 3.30, .891) going for Columbus and Pekka Rinne (18-9-2, 2.80, .904) in net for the Preds.
The Predators will be missing Joel Ward and Marcel Goc who did not make the trip with the team but hopefully will be ready to return for Friday's game with Detroit.
Predators Keys to the Game
Throw the Record Book Out the Window...
As always when these two division rivals play, you can throw the record book out the window. In spite the Preds winning the last five contests, Columbus has gotten a point in four, three via a shootout and one in overtime.
Anything can happen in this rivalry as the games are played much like a chess match between Barry Trotz (who is seen as Darth Vader by the Columbus fans) and his friend, Ken Hitchcock. Star Wars references run rampant as Nashville is also seen as "The Evil Empire".
The bottom line is that no matter the what the records say or what the stats show on paper, this match-up is always a bloody fight to the finish.
Turn Around Needed for the Preds...
The Predators, who have lost three in a row, did not play poorly in the last two road games but they simply did not win. They did play fairly well in Colorado but the game turned on a questionable call when a goal was waived off on a goaltender interference penalty.
It is no short order but the Predators need to come out like a team possessed and take it full out to the shaky Steve Mason right from the start and never allow the Blue Jackets, or their crowd, take control of the contest.
Just as winning became a habit earlier this year, losing can also become a bad habit that the Preds do not need to fall in to. Coming close and moral victories do not add points to the standings.
Play with Discipline...
Games with Columbus have traditionally been very rough and tumble affairs. Jordin Tootoo has one sixth of his career penalty minutes against the Jackets. Both he and heavyweight Wade Belak will be dressed for tonight's game and each need to show discipline and not retaliate to Columbus' efforts to draw the Preds into penalties.
In recent games, Wade Belak has been drawn into several fairly pointless heavyweight fights that have done little to protect the well being of his fellow players or rally the team. I am hopeful that any fisticuffs that occur tonight will have a purpose and provide a boost the the Preds.
The Predators will return home after the game and practice at Centennial on Wednesday. They will travel to Detroit on Thursday and play the Wings on Friday night before returning home to start the last home stand before the Olympic break against Atlanta on Saturday night.
Buddy Oakes for PredsOnTheGlass