Struggling Blue Jackets return home to face Preds
PREDATORS (23-14-3) at BLUE JACKETS (15-18-8)
: Nashville 6-3-1; Columbus 1-7-2.
: Fourth of six meetings this season between these Central Division rivals. Nashville won a pair of 4-3 shootouts at home on Nov. 21 and Dec. 10, then claimed a 5-3 victory in Columbus in the most recent matchup on Dec. 14. The Predators have dominated the Blue Jackets in recent years, winning 13 straight home games and going 8-2-2 in their last 12 visits to Columbus.
: Nashville responded nicely to what could have been a crushing blow getting swept by Chicago in a home-and-home over the weekend -- the Predators won a one-goal game in St. Louis on Tuesday. Meanwhile, Columbus was looking to build off a thrilling 1-0 win over Detroit on Monday, but wound up losing 2-1 in a shootout to the New York Islanders the following night. The Predators are back to within six points of the Blackhawks in the Central while the Jackets are one point behind the Blues for fourth.
: As disappointing as it had to be losing twice to Chicago when a pair of wins could have created a tie atop the division, Nashville didn't waste any time pondering what could have been. Instead, Patric Hornqvist scored the go-ahead goal and the Predators built a 4-1 lead before eventually holding on for a 4-3 victory over the Blues.
"They kept coming and coming, you know you have to give credit to those guys," said goalie Pekka Rinne, who stopped 24 shots. "They played hard, they battled hard to the end, but I think we managed the game really well even though we were under the pressure. Our guys did a great job."
: A bright spot in Columbus would be that the Blue Jackets have definitely tightened up defensively of late. They've given up just eight goals over their last four games, even though that has only resulted in one victory. Steve Mason
recorded 34 saves in the overtime shutout of the Red Wings. He stopped another 24 shots against the Islanders on Tuesday, but all the Jackets managed in support was a third-period goal by R.J. Umberger
"We're playing better defensively and that's huge for this team," Umberger said. "For so long we struggled giving up 5-6 goals. We scored so many but we couldn't keep that pace up. The defense is getting there and we have to build off it."
: Hornqvist has goals in consecutive games and three of his last four, giving him 13 for the season, just one behind Martin Erat for the Nashville lead. Erat has points in 12 of his last 14 games, recording 10 goals and eight assists during that span. ... Mason has stopped 58 of 59 shots over his last two starts for Columbus.
: Erat (knee) and defenseman Kevin Klein (head) both left Monday's game with injuries that may keep them out of the Predators' lineup on Thursday. Forwards Jordin Tootoo (broken foot), Jerred Smithson (broken hand) and Colin Wilson (groin) are all on injured reserve.
The Blue Jackets will be missing defensemen Marc Methot
(shoulder) and Rostislav Klesla
(groin) and forward Derek Dorsett
: No one player embodies the fits Nashville has given Columbus over the years more than Steve Sullivan, who recorded a hat trick the last time these teams played. Sullivan has 16 goals and 27 assists in 39 career games against the Blue Jackets, his best output against any opponent.
: As the Blue Jackets try to put together some sort of positive streak, the Predators probably aren't the first team they want to see at the other end of the ice. This game will test the resolve of a team that has struggled mightily since late November.