The Nashville Predators (23-14-3) will close out 2009 playing the Blue Jackets (15-18-8) in Columbus at the Nationwide Center in what is guaranteed to be a party atmosphere.
Just for the record, the Predators are 46-32-8 with tonight's game remaining during calendar year 2009. They were 23-18-5 during the post New Years portion of last year's schedule.
The Predators will be without Kevin Klein and Marty Erat due to injuries suffered in Tuesday's game with the Blues. The latest word is that Klein may return on Saturday and Erat should return within a week or so from a strained knee. There has been no recent word on the return of Jordin Tootoo or Jerred Smithson.
Columbus will have a new look with the trade earlier this week that sent Jason Chimera to Washington in exchange for the Cap's captain, Chris Clark and Milan Jurcina. While losing a scorer the Jackets picked up some needed defensive help and veteran leadership.
Dan Ellis (8-7-1, 2.91, .904) will start for the Predators while Mathieu Garon (4-5-2, 2.89, .902) will be in goal for the Blue Jackets. Career-wise, Dan Ellis is 4-1-1 against Columbus while Garon is 2-6-1 against the Preds.
This will be the fourth meeting between the two clubs this season and the second in Columbus. In the Predators last visit to Columbus on December 14, Steve Sullivan had his seventh career hat trick leading the Preds to a 5-3 win.
The first two meetings of the year were in Nashville where the Preds won both games 4-3, in shootouts. David Legwand had the game winning shot on November 21. On December 10, Mathieu Garon's shoot out win streak was ended by Steve Sullivan's game winning shot.
Pred's Keys to the Game
Time for the Kids to Step In...
With injuries to four key players, the youngsters that will step in to the line-up need to play with hunger like they don't want to return to Milwaukee. Nick Spalling and Andreas Thuresson who have been with the Preds for several games, are now joined by Alexander Sulzer and Mike Santorelli, putting rookies in key positions in the Predators line-up.
These players need to assume the positions that they have been given and elevate their game to the next level. Expect to see several combinations as Barry Trotz will juggle his lines based on who he feels is best able to contribute.
Forget About the Olympics...
Yesterday was a red-letter day for four current Predators (Marty Erat, Shea Weber, Marcel Goc and Alexander Sulzer) who were named to the respective national Olympic teams. This is in addition to Patric Hornqvist being named to Sweden's team previously.
The Olympics are still six weeks into the future so all the focus needs to return to the game at hand. Being named to a national team does nothing to minimize the importance of tonight's game. All the Olympic talk needs to be left to the media and fans.
The Jackets had six players named so it may be a contest of which group can refocus on the present most effectively.
On the flip side, Pekka Rinne suffered a major disappointment for not being added to Finland's roster. From what I was told last night, he was aware of this before the last game and is committed to proving the selection committee wrong by being the best he can be for the rest of the season.
Get Control of the Game Early...
There will be a festive atmosphere at the game tonight and the crowd will be ready to get rowdy in support of the Blue Jackets. The Preds need to come out and set the stage for the evening by controlling the tempo early and trying to score first to take the crowd out of game as much as possible.
As always when the Preds and Jackets meet, it will be a chippy game. The Predators need to play with discipline and not get drawn into needless penalties as the Blue Jackets have the seventh best power play in the league (21.2%) and the Pred's PK has been horrible (29th, 75.7) and have given up man advantage goals in twelve straight games.
The Preds return home immediately after the game and should be back in Nashville before the new year begins. The Preds open a four game home stand against Anaheim on Saturday when they will play the Ducks on consecutive Saturdays with Calgary and Carolina squeezed in between.
Buddy Oakes for PredsOnTheGlass