Wow, what a difference a week makes. The Jackets at this point last week were licking their wounds from a sound beating at the hands of the Avalanche and were heading west for a daunting California corridor road trip with three games in four nights against LA, Anaheim, and San Jose. A 3-0 road trip later, Columbus is back home for a quick turnaround against nemesis Nashville, but with a completely different mind-set and a red-hot Rick Nash. Right now, its time to keep the train moving in the right direction. The Jackets have won nine out of 12 and have outscored their opponents 26-7 in their last six wins (yes, I overlooked the 5-1 drubbing by Colorado, sue me). This is the first of two very important division games this week. And, if you’re looking for some last minute tickets, click the WFNY Tickets link above to get ‘em!
First and foremost, despite his shutout in San Jose on Saturday—and the fact that he’s leading the NHL in both goals-against average (1.08) and save percentage (96.0%)—Mathieu Garon may be sitting tonight; it’s looking like Steve Mason will get the start tonight in net. Other roster notes include Derek Dorsett, who probably won’t go tonight with an injury. Rick Nash will go, despite the nagging groin injury. It hasn’t slowed him down, as he’s riding a five-game goal-scoring streak (eight goals in that span) and buried all three Jackets goals on Saturday against the Sharks.
The Predators are a streaky team. They started the year off 5-0-3 in their first eight games and were sitting in first in the conference. They then lost five straight, but since have gone 4-1. They have a couple of injury issues of their own, as legendary Jackets-killer David Legwand is out with a lower-body injury, and Matthew Lombardi (concussion) and Ryan Suter (lower body) are both out as well.
That’s not to say Nashville isn’t still capable of giving the Jackets fits. Steve Sullivan and Martin Erat, for example, have been wearing them out for years: Sullivan has 43 points (including 16 goals) in 42 career games against the Jackets, and Erat has 39 points (including 13 goals) in 44 career games vs. Columbus. Jordan Tootoo has played the role of annoying agitator about as well as anyone can play it (88 PIM in 32 career games against the Jackets).
But, this year’s bunch of Predators aren’t scoring a ton. They’ve only topped three goals six times (hey, I’m not pointing fingers… the Jackets have only done it three times), and in those six games they’re still just 4-2-0. This brings me to my next point: the Preds aren’t playing the defense we’re used to seeing: they’ve allowed 32 goals in their last ten games, and that includes a shutout and a 2-1 SO win over Carolina this weekend.
So, if the Jackets can continue to generate some offense, you have to like their chances. Being at home, they’ll get the last line change, which should help coach Scott Arniel get his top line out there in some good matchups.
On defense, the Jackets have been very good when they win, especially of late. Even with the 5-1 loss to Colorado, they’ve given up just just 15 goals in their last eight games (less than two-per) with three shutouts. The fact that this club is fifth in the league in defense in spite of four of their six losses involving 21 goals scored on them tells you just how good they’ve been for most of the young season on D. That has to continue. Nashville is struggling on offense, and you don’t want to let a team up off the mat.
On Special Teams, the Jackets much-maligned Power Play actually improved on the three game road trip, thanks to a couple of PP goals. They also, however, gave up a shorty to Anaheim. So, if you’re scoring at home, the Jackets’ PP has scored eight goals, and allowed four short-handed goals. Not good times. The PK has been solid but not great, but Nashville’s Power Play is actually *worse* than that of the Jackets. Never hurts to just stay at 5-on-5 defensively, though, just to be sure.
It’s hard to sit Mathieu Garon with as well as he’s played, but given the fact that the Jackets are in the middle of a six-games-in-10-days stretch, I understand the need to switch back and forth. Still, though, the last time Garon had a shut-out he came out two days later and shut out another solid offensive team. Not sure I fully endorse the move to sit him, but then again, the prognosticators have been wrong about who would start in goal all through the road-trip, so don’t count out seeing Garon between the pipes tonight. Whichever goalie starts needs to stand tall against a physical-if-not-gifted Nashville offense.
DP is a native north-eastern Ohioan who has been living in Columbus since 1999. DP's main area of concentration here at WFNY is the Columbus Blue Jackets hockey team, and you can catch his weekly 5-Hole columns each Tuesday. During the summers, you can also catch up on all the Columbus Clippers news that's fit to print in his Clip Show columns. In his spare time, he works in publishing, plays the drums, and wastes hundreds of dollars on Browns season tickets.