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Jones, Johansen in focus as Blue Jackets visit Predators

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

The Nashville Predators have been on a pretty good roll over the last month or so, and that roll has them not only solidly in a playoff position, but also squarely in contention to unseat one of the league’s best in the Central Division.

A few weeks ago, it may have seemed unlikely that Nashville could crack into the Central’s top three, especially with the likes of Dallas, St. Louis and Chicago picking up points on a nightly basis and separating themselves in the West. However, the tables have turned lately for the Predators and entering Saturday, they are only two points back of the Blackhawks with an equal number of games played (74).

Nashville’s 13-2-5 clip in its last 20 games has provided a nine-point cushion on the playoff bar, so clinching a playoff spot is a mere inevitably at this point.

The big story: Saturday’s game at Bridgestone Arena is the first meeting between the Blue Jackets and Predators since the biggest trade of the NHL season, which came on Jan. 6. Columbus sent center Ryan Johansen to Nashville in exchange for defenseman Seth Jones, and each player has made a considerable impact in his new home.

On Nov. 20 at Nationwide Arena, the Blue Jackets got a superb effort in goal from Sergei Bobrovsky and solid performances from their top players en route to a 4-0 win.

Bobrovsky made 39 saves in what was, to date, his lone shutout of the season. Gregory Campbell and Ryan Johansen scored in the first period, Boone Jenner added on in the second, and former Predator Scott Hartnell tacked on an empty-netter to seal the deal for Columbus, which got a needed bounce-back win on home ice.

A few years ago, there was some concern as to who would step into Ryan Suter’s shoes and become the reliable No. 2 guy behind captain Shea Weber on the Predators blueline. The answer came in the form of soft-spoken but super-skilled Swiss defenseman Roman Josi, who has become one of the league’s best all-around defensemen in short order.

Not only is he currently the highest-scoring Predators defenseman but he’s the team’s second-leading scorer, tallying 12 goals and 41 assists while playing all 74 of Nashville’s games so far this season.

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