The Nashville Predators will play the division rival Blue Jackets for the third time this season tonight at Nationwide Arena. The series is tied 1-1. The Preds won 3-2 on October 7 in Columbus on opening night. Payback came when the Blue Jackets broke the Predators 17 game home winning streak against Columbus with a 4-3 overtime victory on November 19 at Bridgestone Arena.
The Blue Jackets had a horrible start to the season, going 3-13-1with Steve Mason (3-12-1, 3.63, .875) being the primary netminder. On November 17, coach Scott Arniel was forced to go to journeyman goalie Curtis Sanford (5-3-2, 2.07, .924) when Mason was injured in practice.
Since Sanford moved into goal, the Blue Jackets have gone 5-3-2 and have played their best hockey of the season. Columbus plays at home tonight for the first time in five games after going 2-2-0 on the road which includes a 3-2 shoot-out win in Montreal on Tuesday.
The Predators have taken an opposite turn, going 2-6-0 after starting the season with a 10-5-4 record. Particularly concerning is the Preds' 0-3-1 record in their last four home matches, dropping their record at Bridgestone Arena to 4-5-3, which represents the fewest home wins in the NHL.
The Predators are expected to start Pekka Rinne (10-9-4, 2.59, .921) tonight who is 0-5-1 in his last seven starts. Anders Lidback (2-2-0, 2.52, .903) got the win in Rinne's start last week in Vancouver when he relieved Rinne after a poor opening period.
During the recent slump, the Predators power play has taken off. Starting with the last contest with Columbus, the Preds' man advantage has gone 10 of 34 and raised their season total to 19 of 98 (19.4%) which places them in the NHL top ten (9th) for the first time in many years, this far into the season.
Nashville's penalty kill is ranked 12th (83%) giving up 17 goals on 104 chances.The Jacket's special teams have been anything but with the power play ranked 26th (12.5%) and the penalty kill at 76.1% ranking them 28th.
Jordin Tootoo will miss playing one of his favorite opponents as he serves the second game of his suspension for running into Ryan Miller last Saturday against Buffalo. He has the most career PIMs against the Jackets, hitting 100 in the last meeting with Columbus. Blake Geoffrion (upper-body) and Francis Bouillon (groin) will also be on the sidelined.
Expect to see Brian McGrattan suit up to provide more room for the Predator skaters against the always chippy Blue Jackets.
Game time is 6 p.m. CST and will be on FS-TN. The Predators will return home after the game and prepare for the first of four in a row at home against Anaheim on Saturday at the Bridgestone Arena.
For other Predator previews, check out Ryan Porth, Amanda DiPaolo, Predatorial, The Tennessean, and Predators.com.
For Columbus previews go to the Columbus Dispatch, The Dark Blue Jacket, and The Cannon.
The game notes from NHL Media Services can be found here.
Buddy Oakes for PredsOntheGlass