With a Sunday matinee game on the menu, the Blue Jackets are in Nashville to take on the road-weary Predators for their final game before Monday's trade deadline.
For the Jackets, it couldn't be a bigger trip - they'll be playing the next five games on the road, or at a better time. The club is rolling through February with an 8-1-1 record in their last 10 games, and a win today would move them into a tie with three other teams for 70 points, including the Predators.
After the Jackets added veteran d-man Craig Rivet yesterday, GM Scott Howson said "You can never have too many veteran defensemen." It's a move to add experience and to keep the club from having to force rookies like John Moore or David Savard into situations where they can get too far over their head. It's also very interesting that Columbus is heavily scouting Colorado, Montreal, and Atlanta. With the majority of the Western Conference still in a position to be buyers, Monday's trade deadline is going to be fascinating.
Rivet did join the team in Nashville yesterday, but it's not clear if he'll play tonight, or if they'll try to get him some practice time before slipping him into the lineup. For now, it's working, so why make too many changes?
The team has a chance to impress this afternoon - there's no doubt they've given Howson the confidence to be a buyer. But one more strong performance might be just what they need to convince a player of interest with a no-trade clause that this team is a strong contender who just needs one more piece to become truly dangerous.
Meanwhile, the Predators continue to struggle after losing to Columbus on Tuesday, going on to be shut out against the Blackhawks on Thursday and then losing in Dallas yesterday afternoon after giving up a pair of third period goals.
The Preds are going to be tired, frustrated, and looking to re-assert their dominance on home ice. The Jackets are going to have to take that away from them.
Keys To The Game:
- Bodies - With Ryan Suter and Sergei Kostitsyn back in the lineup, the Predators will have regained a good bit of offensive potential and defensive ability compared to the team we saw Tuesday night. The Jackets just have to push through them regardless.
- Keep Moving - The Jackets got into bad trouble against the Coyotes when they stopped skating on Friday night. They cannot allow that to happen this afternoon. The team has to keep their hustle up, and set a pace that the Predators can't match. They're a team who are basically playing straight off the plane - the Jackets have had a day to prepare, and they need to play like it.
- Power Levels - The Jackets' power play is as hot as it's ever been this season, going 7 / 19 in the last 3 games. The Predators, on the other hand, haven't been able to kill penalties lately to save their lives. My heart bleeds, really...
- Lindback? - Reports from the Preds AHL affiliate in Milwaukee indicate that goaltender Anders Lindback, who was sent down for a conditioning stint, may be on his way back for today's game. The Preds have been riding Pekka Rinne for much of the season - it's entirely possible that the young goaltender could get the start today to try and give Rinne a rest.
- TCB - With every point crucial, they can't give away points today. Not with the chance to leapfrog the Preds in the standings with a win (the teams are currently tied on total wins, but Nashville has a 2 point edge due two more OT losses) . Get it done, and get it done in 60 minutes.
If the last 7 games of the month were the Jackets' first playoff series of the year, they've done well - 5-0-1 with this final game to play. Enough to have won the "series", for sure.
The next set of games will be a lot more challenging, considering they'll be out on the road and deep into Western Canada before getting to return for a home and home series with the Blues. They don't have to be pretty victories, they don't have to look amazing, but the boys need to keep with wins going, any way they can. As we keep saying, the Jackets have between 1-3 games in hand on every current playoff team. This stretch of games is where the team starts making up some of that ground, and those games don't do the Jackets any good if they don't win.
This is their time. They must rise to the occasion.
|Rick Nash||Derek MacKenzie||Jakub Voracek|
|R.J. Umberger||Antoine Vermette||Matt Calvert|
|Chris Clark||Samuel Pahlsson||Derek Dorsett|
|Ethan Moreau||Andrew Murray||Jared Boll|
|Jan Hejda||Anton Stralman|
|Fedor Tyutin||Marc Methot|
|Grant Clitsome||Kris Russell|
|Blake Geoffrion||David Legwand||Patric Hornqvist|
|Sergei Kostitsyn||Mike Fisher||Martin Erat|
|Nick Spaling||Jerred Smithson||Joel Ward|
|J.P. Dumont||Colin Wilson|
|Ryan Suter||Shea Weber|
|Shane O'Brien||Cody Franson|