Saturday, November 21, 2009

Blue Jackets to Face "Evil Empire" in Nashville

The Columbus Blue Jackets (12-6-2) visit the Sommet Center tonight for a match with the Nashville Predators (11-8-1) which always seems to stir up bad blood between the two Central Division rivals.

A couple of years back, Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock labeled the Nashville Predators "The Evil Empire" which led to further analogies of Barry Trotz being "Darth Vader".

The moniker came out of the Predators domination over the Blue Jackets when over the 2006-07 and 2007-08 seasons the Preds garnered 31 of 32 possible points in 16 games.

Overall, in the all-time series, the Preds are 25-11-5, including 21-3-2 at the Sommet Center. Last season when the Jackets first made the playoffs, the Predators were a less dominating 3-2-1 but have won 11 straight times at home.

Tonight, the Division rivalry starts a new chapter as this it the first of six regular season meetings this season between the Preds and the Blue Jackets. The teams met twice in the preseason with the Preds wining both the home and away game.

Both teams are playing their best hockey of the season, the Predators have won 9 of their last 12 and the Blue Jackets are 6-1-2 in their last nine.

A big part of the Preds-Jackets rivalry has been based on the physical nature of the games. Even when the Jackets weren't getting points in the standings they were getting plenty of penalty minutes sparring with the Preds including their favorite target, Jordin Tootoo.

Tootoo is six penalty minutes away from the all time Pred's record for PIMs currently held by Scott Hartnell at 544. Toots has amassed 88 minutes against Columbus which is one sixth of his total. This season, Jordin has shown great restraint as he has not received a fighting major and the Preds have the least in the league with two.

When asked about the lack of fights this season, Barry Trotz said, "As long as you play hard, you play an effective game. You don't have to always fight. It's not that we don't want to fight, there are times when you do and times that it is not necessary."

He further commented specifically on Jordin Tootoo saying, "He can get under people's skin and do it legally without having to drop the gloves and fight. He's been pretty effective."

I felt somewhat bad when I promoted the preseason game in Nashville in September as "Fight Night at the Sommet" with over/under projections on fights. The contest was later marred by the dangerous fall taken by Tom Sestito in a match with Jordin Tootoo. Luckily, Sestito recovered and is now back with the Jackets.

Tootoo - Sestito Fight

The Blue Jackets are led in scoring by Captain Rick Nash who has had 14 goals and 11 assists. By contrast, the Preds scoring leader is J. P. Dumont with 3 goals and 12 assists.

The Preds and Jackets feature the two best rookie goalies of last season including, the Calder Trophy winning Steve Mason and Preds star, Pekka Rinne. Mason has struggled at times going 8-5-2 (3.88 gaa, .884%) while Pekka has gone 8-4-0 (2.35 gaa, .916%) including 8-1 in his last nine games.

Steve Mason After Winning the Calder Trophy

The Blue Jackets have the most improved power play in the league this season at 25% (4th) after finising 30th in the league last season. The Predators have moved up to 14.7% (25th) having had 10 power play goals in their last 12 games for a 20.8% clip during that stretch. The Predators are undefeated (8-0) when getting a man-advantage goal.

The Predators penalty kill unit has also improved going 26 for 29 over the last 8 games (89.7%) raising their season total to 80.3% (16th). The Blue Jackets are at 79.1% (19th).

After tonight's game, the Preds will stay home to prepare for another rivalry game with the Detroit Red Wings on Monday night. Columbus will reach the mid-point of their five game road trip with a game in New York against the Rangers on Monday.

More Later...

Buddy Oakes for PredsOnTheGlass

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