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Surging Predators play host to Blue Jackets

by Brian Hunter
BLUE JACKETS (3-13-2) at PREDATORS (10-5-3)

TV: FS-Ohio (HD)

Last 10:
Columbus 3-6-1; Nashville 7-1-2

Season Series:
Second of six meetings between these Central Division rivals. In the opening game for each team, Nashville won 3-2 in Columbus on Oct. 7 behind a 32-save performance by Pekka Rinne. Matt Halischuk scored the decisive goal for the Predators 39 seconds into the third period.

Big Story:
Ever since an early-season stretch in which they lost five of six, the Predators have become one of the NHL's hottest teams, with just a single regulation defeat in their last 10 games. They're 2-0-1 on a five-game homestand and trying to finish strong with matchups against the Blue Jackets and Oilers before heading back out on the road for five in a row.

Team Scope:

Blue Jackets:
There were encouraging signs for Columbus on Thursday night, even if the winning result the Blue Jackets desired wasn't there in the end. Heading into TD Garden, the home of the defending Stanley Cup champion Bruins who entered on a six-game winning streak, they more than held their own in a 2-1 shootout loss. Curtis Sanford made his first start of the season and stopped 26 shots, while Derek MacKenzie scored a power-play goal.

"It was a whale of a hockey game. We wanted to play a complete game, and I thought we did it," coach Scott Arniel said. "I've got to commend our guys. Against the Stanley Cup champions we went toe-to-toe. I would have liked to see us get rewarded and gotten the two points."

The line of Mike Fisher centering Martin Erat and Sergei Kostitsyn stood front and center in Thursday's 4-1 win over Toronto. Erat scored twice for Nashville, Fisher and Kostitsyn assisted on both goals, and Kostitsyn picked up a third helper on the game-winning goal by Ryan Suter, giving the trio 7 points for the night. Rinne continued his red-hot play since signing a long-term contract extension, finishing with 38 saves.

"Tonight was one of those nights where they couldn't get much going, and we took advantage of some of their turnovers and mistakes," said Suter, who added an assist on Halischuk's empty-net goal. "Everyone is playing better. Everyone is coming back hard and playing hard in the 'D' zone, and Pekks is standing on his head for us."

Who's Hot:
Blue Jackets defenseman Nikita Nikitin has contributed assists in each of his first three games since being acquired in a trade with the Blues, while fellow blueliner Grant Clitsome has 3 goals and 2 assists in his last five games and is third on the team in scoring with 10 points. … Rinne is 7-0-2 over his last nine starts with two shutouts and a .943 save percentage. Erat has 4 goals in as many games. Predators captain Shea Weber has 2 goals and 2 assists in the last three games.

Injury Report:
Columbus forward Kristian Huselius (pectoral surgery), defenseman Radek Martinek (concussion) and goalie Mark Dekanich (ankle) are on injured reserve. … Nashville forward David Legwand has missed the last four games with an upper-body injury.

Stat Pack: Sanford, who made a relief appearance for the Blue Jackets earlier this season, last started a game on Jan. 10, 2009 for the Canucks against the Sharks. He's looking for his first win since shutting out the Senators on Dec. 28, 2008. … Kostitsyn's points Thursday were his first since Oct. 27, snapping a four-game drought. He also missed time due to injury.

Puck Drop: Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Post-Dispatch reported in Friday's "Puck-Rakers" blog that Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson denied an RDS report that newcomer Jeff Carter has already requested a trade. Acquired from the Flyers in a blockbuster trade over the summer for forward Jakub Voracek and a first-round pick that became Sean Couturier, the 26-year-old Carter has 3 assists in eight games, missing 10 due to a broken foot.

"Look, nobody's happy right now," Howson told the Post-Dispatch. "Jeff's not happy. Rick (Nash) isn't happy. We've won three games. Nobody's happy. We see Jeff as part of the solution here. We want to get him integrated into the lineup and into the team. He's missed 10 games, and he's only now getting back into the lineup and playing. We gave up two very big assets for him."

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