Considering the inconsistent performance that the CBJ have had at home, and that Nashville clearly needs to be conquered in order for the Blue Jackets to have a clear road to the Stanley Cup playoffs, I consider this a Very Big Game in the grand scheme of things. Not a "must win" or a "should win" (considering that the CBJ have had trouble beating Nashville over the years), but a legit Very Big Game.
Might I also suggest that, as the Preds are currently residing in (ahem) 13th place in the Western Conference, seven rungs below Columbus, this is probably a Very Big Game for Nashville, too. OK, they're only three points behind us, but seven whole spots below Columbus sounds so good...
And, of course, it should be no surprise to any regular readers that I respect the hell out of the Nashville Predators franchise. With a tighter budget than Columbus, coach Barry Trotz and GM David Poile have worked magic over the life of that franchise. I've demonstrated that begrudging admiration on many, many, many, many, many occasions.
Predatweeter, who blogs at the awesome (for Preds fans, at least) On The Forecheck. I find him to be very reasonable while remaining a staunch Preds partisan - he observes with eyes wide open yet isn't afraid to throw a cross-check in a rivalry-driven way.
Chris volunteered to offer a little extra hype for tonight's Very Big Game, and I asked him to offer a Pred-centric perspective on the Columbus Blue Jackets for our readers. Here's what he had to say:
To this point in the 2010-11 NHL season, the Blue Jackets have been one of the league's biggest surprises. They sit at 12-6 with 24 points - just three ahead of Nashville, but in the playoffs were they to start today. As a Predators fan, I rarely (read: never) think Columbus is destined for anything beyond embarrassment, but credit should go where credit's due - the Jackets are getting it done not only with great goaltending from Steve Mason and Mathieu Garon, but a better work ethic under head coach Scott Arniel. From the outside, it looks like the whole team is buying in, at least early on, which has to be a welcome change from years past. Columbus is having success from up and down the lineup, whether it be the backup goaltender, Rick Nash, or NHL +/- leader Rotislav Klesla.All I can say to that is: BRING. IT. ON. (Umm...what else can I really say?)
That said, I'm going to have to rain on the parade.
If you take a closer look, things at Nationwide aren't really all rainbows and puppies - the power play sits just one spot ahead of the Preds' at an awful 11.4%, and they allow over 30 shots per game. Two things about almost all consistently successful NHL teams - they have above average power plays and good defenses. You might say that they'll be bailed out by Mason and Garon, but the obscenely good 'tending numbers are unsustainable when the team faces that many shots per game. When you consider that the penalty kill is just average, I'm expecting the wheels to come off the wagon right about...oh, tonight.
Hard work and luck can get you places, but true success is likely to be fleeting (ask the Preds). When you note that Columbus has less depth across their roster than Nashville, two less-proven goalies, and no Shea Weber, it begins to be apparent that the two teams may eventually head in opposite directions. Combine those factors with the statistic that the Predators are an absolutely staggering 40-12-1-4 against Columbus since the Jackets came into existence, I anticipate them to slink back to their natural habitat by the end of the year - last in the Central, behind the Predators, and out of the playoffs once again.
Thanks to Chris for taking the time to crush my hopes and dreams. It should be a great game. And, if the SeatGeek prices are correct, there are still very inexpensive tickets to be had. Get out and support your Columbus Blue Jackets!