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Game #29 Preview: Blue Jackets finally return from long COVID break

Here’s what you need to know

Nashville Predators v Columbus Blue Jackets Photo by Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images

Thursday, December 30, 2021 - 7:00 EST
Nationwide Arena - Columbus, Ohio
TV: Bally Sports Ohio; Radio: 97.1 FM
Opponent’s Blog: On the Forecheck

Nashville Predators (19-11-1, 39 points, 2nd Central, 4th West)

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Columbus Blue Jackets (14-13-1, 29 points, 5th Metro, 10th East)

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It has been two weeks since the Blue Jackets last played a game, and it feels like it was two months. The entire NHL took a longer-than-planned Christmas break due to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant through the league. Now the games are back on, but with new protocols in place. On one hand, there are tighter restrictions in place with regards to masking at the facilities and off-ice activities on road trips. On the other hand, just yesterday the NHL announced a change to their guidelines that would allow for a shorter quarantine, in line with new CDC recommendations.

Will the time off benefit a Blue Jackets team that was struggling in December, or will they be affected by rust against a Predators team that played last night?

Player to Watch

Emil Bemstrom

A silver lining to the COVID absences is that it finally gives Bemstrom a chance to enter the lineup for his season debut. JKinCLE wrote about Bemstrom yesterday. It’s a compelling case for why the young Swede should play, and why he could make a big impact when he does. Also worth noting is the natural hat trick he scored in the third period of a game against these same Predators last spring.

Jackets Notes

Of the six players who entered the COVID protocol early last week, four have been cleared and are expected to play tonight: Boone Jenner, Jack Roslovic, Gabriel Carlsson, and Andrew Peeke ... Eric Robinson and Joonas Korpisalo remain in the protocol, and have been joined this week by Oliver BJORKSTRAND and Gavin Bayreuther ... Jakub Voracek left practice earlier this week with an undisclosed injury, but was able to return to practice yesterday ... Patrik Laine skated with the taxi squad in practice yesterday, which could suggest that the coaches feel he is still not ready to make his long-awaited return to game action.

The Other Bench

While the Jackets were ice cold, the Predators were the opposite as they carried a seven game win streak into the break. That was snapped with a loss in Washington last night ... Some of those wins came despite the entire coaching staff being in the protocol, and the AHL staff stepping up to replace them ... The Predators’ coaching staff includes former Columbus head coach Todd Richards, and his former assistant Dan Hinote ... Three Predators remain in the protocol: Roman Josi, Thomas Novak, and Colton Sissons. Of those, obviously Josi is the biggest blow. With Josi and BJORKSTRAND both out, each team is playing without their points leader.

Season Series

11/30/2021 CBJ 0 @ NSH 6
12/30/2021 NSH @ CBJ

Stats

Nashville Columbus
2.93 (16) GPG 3.18 (11)
2.63 (8) GAPG 3.36 (26)
25.6% (7) PP% 18.6% (17)
79.4% (20) PK% 78.7% (22)
51.0% (14) 5v5 Shot Attempt % 48.5% (21)
51.3% (19) 5v5 Unblocked shot attempt % 47.3% (24)
7.6 (19) 5v5 Shooting % 8.9 (7)
.926 (13) 5v5 Save % .913 (25)
Matt Duchene and Filiip Forsberg, 13 G Leader Boone Jenner, 11
Mikael Granlund, 22 A Leader Jakub Voracek, 21
Roman Josi, 29 P Leader Oliver BJORKSTRAND, 23
Mark Borowiecki, 50 PIM Leader Andrew Peeke and Cole Sillinger, 19
10-6-1 Home / Road 9-3-1
8-2-0 Last 10 2-7-1

Projected Lineups

Columbus Blue Jackets
Gregory Hofmann Boone Jenner Jakub Voracek
Emil Bemstrom Jack Roslovic Max Domi
Gus Nyquist Sean Kuraly Alexandre Texier
Justin Danforth Cole Sillinger Yegor Chinakhov
Zach Werenski Jake Bean
Vladislav Gavrikov Adam Boqvist
Gabriel Carlsson Andrew Peeke
Elvis Merzlikins
Daniil Tarasov
Nashville Predators
Filip Forsberg Mikael Granlund Matt Duchene
Eeli Tolvanen Ryan Johansen Luke Kunin
Yakov Trenin Michael McCarron Tanner Jeannot
Mathieu Olivier Nick Cousins Philip Tomasino
Mattias Ekholm Alexandre Carrier
Ben Harpur Dante Fabbro
Mark Borowiecki Matt Benning
Juuse Saros
David Rittich