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Preds, Jackets set to renew rivalry

by Brian Hunter
PREDATORS (9-6-3) at BLUE JACKETS (12-6-0)


Last 10: Nashville 4-6-0; Columbus 7-3-0

Season series: First of six meetings this season between these Central Division rivals. Nashville won five of six on the 2009-10 schedule, although two wins came in overtime and two others via the shootout. Steve Sullivan had a hat trick in the Predators’ 5-3 win on Dec. 14 and tied teammate Martin Erat and R.J. Umberger of the Blue Jackets for the series scoring lead with 3 goals.

Big story: This has been one of the most lopsided matchups in the NHL in recent memory, as the Predators have dominated the Blue Jackets to the tune of a 23-3-2 record since the start of the 2006-07 season. That includes 14 consecutive wins in Nashville. But Columbus has the home ice Monday and a great deal of confidence after sweeping a three-game California road trip.

Team Scope:

Predators: Nashville has spent time at both ends of the Central standings during a topsy-turvy first six weeks to the season. While the Predators currently sit at the bottom of the division, they seem to be pointed back in the right direction again following consecutive wins over Montreal and Carolina. Erat had the shootout winner in a 2-1 decision over the Hurricanes, and the Preds will look to continue that momentum into the finale of a four-game road trip.

"It wasn't one thing," coach Barry Trotz of his team’s earlier struggles. "We got away a little bit from the defensive game we like to play, and the puck was getting in the back of our net. We weren't playing that poorly. Sometimes, teams go through that. They were working hard, but it was not coming easy."

Blue Jackets: What’s currently going right for Columbus? Just about everything. Both goaltenders are sizzling -- Steve Mason made 47 saves Friday in an Anaheim and Mathieu Garon followed up with his third shutout in four games the following night in San Jose. Captain Rick Nash is on an absolute tear -- he scored all the goals in the Blue Jackets’ 3-0 win over the Sharks for the natural hat trick. They hadn’t won at HP Pavilion since Jan. 8, 2004.

"I can't remember ever leaving here happy," Nash said. "We're usually in a hurry to get out of here. We finally cracked them here."

Who's hot: Predators goalie Pekka Rinne has stopped 51 of 52 shots over his last two starts. Marcel Goc has 3 goals in as many games. ... Nash has 8 goals in his last five games for the Blue Jackets. R.J. Umberger has 1 goal and 5 assists during a five-game points streak. Garon is 5-1-0 with a 1.08 goals-against average and .960 save percentage this season.

Injury report: Nashville forward David Legwand and defenseman Ryan Suter are day-to-day with lower-body injuries. Forward Matthew Lombardi is on injured reserve with a concussion. ... Columbus forward Derek Dorsett (undisclosed) is day-to-day while forwards Ethan Moreau (hand) and Kristian Huselius (high ankle sprain) are on injured reserve.

Stat pack: Cal O'Reilly, playing in what he hopes will be his first full NHL seasons, leads the Predators with 13 points. He scored his fourth goal of the season against the Canadiens on Thursday and had a shootout goal Saturday vs. the Hurricanes. ... Jakub Voracek of the Blue Jackets recorded his 100th NHL point with an assist on Nash’s second goal Saturday.

Puck drop: First-year coach Scott Arniel is doing everything he can to keep Columbus focused in the wake of its wildly successful California swing.

"We certainly have to put this road trip behind us," Arniel said in the Puck-Rakers Blog on the Columbus Dispatch website. "We have a team sitting in our city now, already there ahead of us. It's a division opponent, too. We have to forget about this trip, get focused on Nashville, start over and do it again."

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