PREDATORS (26-16-4) at BLUE JACKETS (13-27-5)
TV: FS-TN, FS-O (HD)
Nashville 8-2-0; Columbus 4-5-1
The Predators have won three of four against the Blue Jackets this season, but the games have all been close, with none decided by more than one goal and two of them going to overtime. Nashville took the most recent meeting, 6-5 on Dec. 22 at Bridgestone Arena.
At first glance it might appear that Nashville and Columbus are close in the standings, sitting at fourth and fifth in the Central Division, but they are different teams in very different places. While the Predators are not far behind the League leaders, the Jackets are merely trying to stay afloat, 25 points behind the Preds. Nashville will look to climb even closer to the top when the two teams meet Thursday night.
Nashville's last time out didn't go exactly as the team might have hoped, as it fell 3-0 to the Rangers in New York. But even with that loss in their rearview mirror, it's hard for the Predators to feel too bad about how they've played lately. The Preds have been one of the hottest teams in the League of late, winning 14 of their last 19 games to pull right into the thick of the Central Division race.
That race is a tough one, as Chicago, Detroit and St. Louis are all jockeying for the top spot not only in the division, but in the conference. With its recent hot streak, Nashville is not far behind, setting up the realistic possibility that half of the West's postseason field could come from the division. The Predators' recent play has put them in the West's top eight, and with a multi-game cushion between them and the ninth position, the team must be breathing more comfortably than it did earlier this season. Thursday night gives the Predators another chance to pick up ground in the race as they close their current three-game road trip.
Few teams in the League, between on-ice struggles, injuries and a coaching change, have had quite as frustrating a season as Columbus, but remarkably the Jackets just might be playing their best hockey right now. While that might not sound like much considering how deep in the League cellar they are, the Blue Jackets are coming off a 4-2 win against Edmonton on Tuesday night that was their third win in six games.
A win against Nashville on Thursday would be a good time for the team to build some momentum, because life is about to get tougher courtesy of the schedule. This game will cap a four-game homestand for the Jackets, who head out on a six-game road trip through the Midwest, Florida and California that starts Saturday night.
Who's Hot: Rick Nash
has 4 goals and 1 assist in his last five games for Columbus. … Pekka Rinne
has started to look dominant for Nashville, winning his last five starts while putting up a 1.60 goals-against average in that span.
Columbus recently placed RJ Umberger
on IR with concussion-like symptoms. The team is still waiting for Jeff Carter
(separated shoulder), Mark Letestu
(hand surgery), James Wisniewski
(broken ankle) and Kristian Huselius
(groin) to return. … Ryan Suter
is not expected to play for the Predators on Thursday, but his return is anticipated soon.
How hard has it been for the Jackets to find consistency this season? On Nov. 21, Columbus beat up the Flames 4-1 for their second win in a row. That is the last -- and only -- time the Jackets have won consecutive games this season. They have yet to win consecutive games in regulation.
It may be too early to say Columbus is playing out the string, but with the prospects looking dim it appears the best motivation at this point is to play spoiler. The Jackets will get a big chance to do that against a division rival Thursday night, and if they aren't able to pull it off they'll get another shot Monday night in Music City as the teams will meet again to wrap up their season series.