BLUE JACKETS (20-15-3) at PREDATORS (18-13-6)
TV - FS-Ohio (HD)
Last 10 - Columbus 4-4-2; Nashville 5-5-0
Season series - This is the third of six meetings between the two Central Division rivals. Their previous two matchups came within a 10-day span, starting with Steve Mason earning a 27-save shutout for the Jackets in a 2-0 win in Columbus on Nov. 22. When Nashville returned to Columbus on Dec. 1, the Predators earned a measure of revenge with a 4-3 shootout win.
Big story - As it has been most of the season, the Central-Division race has offered next to no breathing room. While the first-place Red Wings appear to be comfortably in front in the division, the remaining four teams are separated by only three points. With 43 and 42 points respectively, Columbus and Nashville both are currently outside the Western Conference's top eight. But they also have games in hand on Anaheim, which occupies the No. 8 spot with 44 points.
Blue Jackets - Since losing to Vancouver and Chicago by a combined score of 11-4, The Jackets have rattled off three straight wins, including a 4-3 overtime win against the Senators on New Year's Eve. Despite blowing a 3-0 lead, Columbus pulled it out in overtime with Jakub Voracek scoring the winner. It was a welcome way to start off 2011, not to mention a four-game road trip that starts Sunday in Nashville.
Predators - 2011 couldn't come soon enough in Nashville, where the Predators were mired in a five-game losing streak before topping the Wild 4-1 on New Year's Eve in St. Paul. David Legwand and Shea Weber registered two assists each and Pekka Rinne got his first win since returning on Dec. 23 from a knee injury that forced him to miss eight games.
"The previous two games I really felt victimized because we were the better team, but sometimes it doesn't show up on the scoreboard," coach Barry Trotz said after the game. "I think it was a little test for us. We're not going to make it easy, and we're going to test your sternness, your mentality and your resolve a little bit."
Who's hot - Jackets captain Rick Nash has carried his team offensively most of this season. Columbus' franchise leader in virtually every offensive category, Nash has 5 points in his current three-game point streak. … While the Predators are among the lowest-scoring teams in the League, Patric Hornqvist has led the way offensively. He scored the winning goal against the Wild after taking a franchise-record 14 shots against Dallas in the Preds' previous game.
Injury report - Columbus comes into Nashville injury-free. … For Nashville, Matthew Lombardi (concussion), Martin Erat (upper body), and Steve Sullivan (lower body) are all on IR.
Stat pack - The Predators would love to have Sullivan in the lineup against Columbus; he has 43 points in 44 career games against the Blue Jackets. While fans in attendance won't get to see Sullivan on Sunday, they can expect to get their money's worth. Five of the last eight games between Nashville and Columbus have gone beyond regulation time.
Puck drop - If the Blue Jackets are looking to make a New Year's resolution, they might want to consider improving their play away from Nationwide Arena. Heading into their four-game road stretch, Columbus has lost seven of their last eight road games. Prior to that skid, they had won seven of their previous eight games on the road.