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Preview: Blue Jackets at Predators (3/20)

Location: Bridgestone Arena

Game Time: 7:00 pm Central


Radio: 104.5 The Zone (WGFX-FM)

Nashville: 40-26-5 (85)
Columbus: 29-31-11 (69)

Season Series:
11/21/09 – CBJ 3 – NSH 4 (SO)
12/10/09 – CBJ 3 – NSH 4 (SO)
12/14/09 – NSH 5 – CBJ 3
12/31/09 – NSH 2 – CBJ 1 (OT)
1/26/10 – NSH 2 – CBJ 3

The Evil Empire: Ken Hitchcock once dubbed the Predators as “The Evil Empire” due to their total dominance of the Jackets through the all-time series. Of the five matchups in 2009-10, the Predators have won four: 2 shootout wins, an overtime win and a regulation win. The lone blemish was a 3-2 loss in Columbus in the midst of a five-game losing skid. Since the Blue Jackets came into existence, the Predators have asserted their dominance, winning more games against them than they have against any other opponent. Through 56 games, the Predators have won a remarkable 39 times (including an 11 game winning streak at one point), losing only 12 times in regulation. Last season marked a sign of emerging parity in the series, with the home team taking each tilt. This season, however, the balance of power seems to have shifted back to Nashville.

Dashed Hopes: Last season, Columbus made its first playoff appearance in franchise history and the fan in Ohio were clearly expecting improvement. Instead, the Jackets retroverted back to their also-ran status. Ken Hitchcock, the coach who got them to the playoffs last season, was fired before the Olympic break, with former Milwaukee Admirals head coach Claude Noel taking his place. With 10 games left in the season, the Jackets sit second-to-last in the conference and have been all-but-eliminated from the playoff hunt, sitting 12 points back of the 8th place spot. In addition, through 71 games, they have only won 11 games on the road and only one since Noel took over as head coach.

Mason’s Sophomore Slump: Last year’s Calder Trophy winner, Steve Mason, is having a season to forget. After a rookie campaign that saw him win 33 games (9th in the NHL), register a 2.29 GAA (2nd in the NHL), and shut his opponent out 10 times (1st in the NHL), he has fallen off considerably. This year, Mason has won 17 games (27th in the NHL), has a GAA of 3.17 (38th in the NHL), has a save percentage of 0.897 (last among starting goaltenders). This year, Mason has let in 6 or more goals a mindboggling 5 times.

Reunion of Sorts: Speaking of Claude Noel, this will be the first time that several of his former Admirals players face off against him as a head coach. Cal O’Reilly, Jerred Smithson, Jordin Tootoo, Dan Hamhuis, Kevin Klein, Ryan Suter, Shea Weber and Pekka Rinne all played under Noel in Milwaukee.

Quest for 50: Martin Erat’s latest scoring tear appears to have made a 50-point season more of an inevitability than a question. With 10 games left, Erat has 46 points, having scored 11 points in his last 11 games. Jason Arnott and Patric Hornqvist also appear to have a shot at the barrier, with 44 points a piece. Arnott has scored in 4 straight games and has 9 points in the 10 games since the Olympic break. Hornqvist has 6 points in his last 5 games and has scored in the last 3.

Hornqvist sets Milestone: With his goal on Thursday night against the Wild, Patric Hornqvist set the single season franchise scoring record for a Predators draft pick. With 27 goals, Hornqvist needs just 3 to become only the 4th Predator to eclipse the 30-goal barrier.

Not That Impressive: The Tennessean ran an article earlier this week about how the Predators had spread out their scoring, featuring 9 30 point scorers on the team, saying it put them in “rare air”. The article ignored the fact that for 6 of the last 7 years, the Predators have had at least that many 30-point scorers:  2007-08 had 9, 2006-07 had 12 (including 8 50-point scorers), 2005-06 had 9, 2003-04 had 10, 2002-03 had 9, and 2001-02 had 9. While there are still 10 games left, only Marcel Goc (with 25 points) has a remote chance of becoming the 10th one. It’s not a sign of a “new balanced attack”. It’s a sign of the status quo.

Legwand-O-Meter Still Ticking: David Legwand has not scored a goal in 29 games. Per the Legwand-O-Meter, that’s over 76 days since a goal.

Wilson Still Grooving: Colin Wilson had his second career multi-point game on Thursday and has scored 7 points in his last 7 games. Despite playing only 24 games this season, Wilson is now second on the team in game-winning goals, with 3. Consider this, through 24 NHL games, Colin Wilson’s career game-winning goal total is equal to that of Jordin Tootoo (345 games) and higher than Wade Belak (531 games).

Quick Notes: On Thursday, Dustin Boyd finally picked up his first point as a Predator, getting the second assist on J.P. Dumont’s first period goal…Pekka Rinne picked up his second shutout in less than a week on Thursday. In his last 4 starts, Pekka has an incredible .956 save percentage with a GAA of just 1.22.