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Game Preview #23: Predatory Intent

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Columbus travels to Nashville looking for confidence and consistency against a club that has found both.

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Nashville Predators

November 29, 2014 - 8:00 pm EST
Bridgestone Arena -- Nashville, Tennessee
Radio - 97.1 The Fan - TV - Fox Sports Ohio
Opponent's Blog: On the Forecheck

On the heels of a third period collapse against the Vancouver Canucks -- putting the "Black" in "Black Friday" --  the Blue Jackets journey to Nashville firmly caught in the vortex of a crisis in confidence.  The early losses -- largely attributable to injury -- put the club behind the eight ball, creating pressure for players unused to the roles they were in.  That breeds lack of confidence, which results in hesitation and tentative play, which in turn breeds lack of offensive opportunities and an excess of opportunities for the opposition.  That breeds further bad results, which increases pressure, decreases confidence, causes more tinkering with lines, reducing chemistry . . . you get the idea.

Bridgestone Arena -- the former "Death Star" in the Darth Vader days of the Preds-Jackets rivalry in the West -- would seem an unlikely place to begin the emergence from the slide, but stranger things have happened.  Peter Laviolette has the Predators hitting on all cylinders, combining efficient scoring  -- a new concept in Nashville -- with the traditional stingy defense, led by the resurgent Pekka Rinne.  The Preds have allowed only 45 goals in 22 games, and with the improved offense, the club now has a margin for error that they previously lacked.  That promotes confidence, which maximizes results.  At this early point in the season, Nashville would easily qualify as the surprise club in the difficult West.  Oh, yeah . . . they are also 9 -1 at home this season, including wins in their last five home tilts.

While the recent Dark Ages for the Blue Jackets have spawned thousands of armchair coaches and general managers, the solution offered here is  . .  simplicity.   Pick some lines, put them together, and keep them for two or three games, with the simple assignment of "Seek & Destroy".  Let the skaters skate, the scorers score, the hitters hit.  Let the players use the instincts and talent that got them to the NHL, and not have to think about the systems.  Thinking breeds more hesitation, which is the last thing Columbus needs. If there is no effort (as distinguished from results), there is no ice time.  Reward for what is done.  Period.  Three guys have carried the bulk of the load on offense , with Atkinson making a periodic contribution, and Jenner showing good play since returning from injury.

This just in:  Kerby Rychel and Michael Chaput have been recalled from Springfield, and Alexander Wennberg has been sent down -- presumably to find his scoring touch.  Wennberg was doing a lot of the little things well, but was increasingly showing signs of frustration at the offensive end.  Rychel has been playing very well in the "A", and with the streak the Falcons have enjoyed of late, he can bring some much-needed confidence to the roster.  Chaput has underwhelmed at the NHL level this season, but with Brandon Dubinsky and Mark Letestu still out, he is the most readily available choice for the 4th line center role.   Will we see Austin Madaisky anytime soon, in an effort to shake up the blue line?

There is nothing to lose by simply letting the dogs loose and saying "Sic 'em!"   Teams tend to break out of streaks like this with a bang, and Columbus is certainly overdue for a few breaks and some nets, rather than posts.

No morning skate in Nashville today, so had to consult my crystal ball for the Columbus lines for tonight.  Candid admission:  these lines may be equal parts prediction and desire, so treat accordingly.

BONUS - The Blue Jackets  broadcast will be making a rare guest appearance on 97.1 The Fan  -- the "flagship station".  Who knew?

Projected Lineups

Nashville Predators

(15-5-2, 32 points; 1st Division, 3rd Conference)

Filip Forsberg Mike Ribiero James Neal
Colin Wilson Calle Jarnkrok Craig Smith
Olli Jokinen Mike Fisher Gabriel Borque
Eric Nostrum Paul Gausted Taylor Beck
Roman Josi Shea Weber
Mattias Ekholm Ryan Ellis
Anton Volchenkov Seth Jones
Pekka Rinne
Carter Hutton

Columbus Blue Jackets

(6-14-2, 14 Points; 8th division, 15th conference)

Scott Hartnell Ryan Johansen Nick Foligno
Matt Calvert Boone Jenner Jack Skille
Kerby Rychel Artem Anisimov Cam Atkinson
Brian Gibbons Michael Chaput Adam Cracknell
Jack Johnson Dalton Prout
Jordan Leopold David Savard
Tim Erixon James Wisniewski
Sergei Bobrovsky
Curtis McElhinney