While they may not approach last season's franchise-record 110 points, the Nashville Predators are proving to be a worthy contender in the Western Conference.
The Predators look to continue their strong play Thursday night when they host the Central Division rival Chicago Blackhawks for the first time this season.
After losing key players Paul Karirya, Peter Forsberg, Scott Hartnell and Kimmo Timonen from last season's team, Nashville figured to have a difficult time matching last year's success. Getting outscored 29-9 during a six-game losing streak in October only served to further illustrate that.
The Predators (9-7-1), though, have rebounded to go 7-1-1 in their last nine games, including a home-and-home sweep of Columbus on Saturday and Monday.
The line of Martin Erat, Jason Arnott and J.P. Dumont combined for four goals and five assists in Monday's 4-1 road win over the Blue Jackets.
Erat had two goals and two assists for a career-high four points.
"We know we have to play hard for 60 minutes," Erat said. "Nothing is for free in this league. We paid the price for it and now we're just trying to move up in the standings."
Nashville has played six of its last seven games on the road, collecting an impressive nine of a possible 12 points in those contests.
"It can be a lot harder to win on the road, but our guys have bought into the style of play we have to play on the road in order to be successful," Predators coach Barry Trotz told the team's official Web site. "We have gotten a great all-around effort, with different contributions every night."
Chris Mason stopped 29 shots in Monday's win. Mason is 3-0-1 with a 1.92 goals-against average in his last four games after going 0-7-0 with a 5.08 GAA in his previous seven appearances.
Dumont has three goals and four assists in his last six contests following a six-game pointless skid.
The Blackhawks (10-8-0) had a season-best three-game win streak snapped Wednesday with a 4-2 loss at Columbus.
"We did get the first goal, but I just didn't like the way we played," Blackhawks coach Denis Savard said. "We didn't protect our blue lines. ... We had chances to get pucks in behind their 'D' and we didn't. We've got to want to do that."
Duncan Keith and Dustin Byfuglien scored for Chicago, which played its first of six straight on the road due to an annual Thanksgiving circus in the United Center. They haven't had a winning record on this trip since 1997.
Impressive rookies Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews were both held without a point Wednesday and were a combined minus-five. It was only the second time this season that both went pointless in the same game.
With backup Patrick Lalime starting against Columbus, Nikolai Khabibulin figures to be back in net Thursday. Khabibulin, though, is 0-5-0 with a 4.38 GAA in his last five starts versus Nashville.
The Predators won the first meeting this season 5-2 at Chicago on Nov. 4. Nashville is 5-0-1 in the last six matchups overall, but is only 1-1-2 in the past four at home.