Predators-Blue Jackets Preview
While the Nashville Predators have been unable to get the job done at home on a regular basis, the same can't be said of their play on the road.
When facing the Columbus Blue Jackets, Nashville has been solid in any venue - though a rare home defeat to Columbus last month has triggered a slump.
The Predators look to avoid a third straight loss Thursday night when they face a Blue Jackets team trying to build momentum following a .500 trip.
The Predators are returning to the road following back-to-back 3-2 losses to Buffalo and Phoenix that dropped their home mark to 4-5-3. They have been considerably better away from Nashville, going 8-6-1 and winning two of three on the road since a two-game skid there.
"Right now, teams look at our record and see we're not playing very well at home and maybe they're licking their chops to come in,'' captain Shea Weber said following Tuesday's defeat to the Coyotes.
The Predators haven't been playing well in general since Nov. 19, when they went for their 18th consecutive home win over the Blue Jackets (8-16-3). Columbus, however, snapped its 13-game road skid as James Wisniewski beat Pekka Rinne 2:43 into overtime for a 4-3 victory.
While that defeat gave Nashville points in five straight games and a 7-1-3 mark in its previous 11, the club has gone 2-6-0 since.
"Nobody feels good about this right now," defenseman Jack Hillen said after the Phoenix game. "It's a tough stretch and it doesn't matter if you're playing well or not, we have to get points and we have to get wins."
Columbus' fortunes have also changed since the last matchup with Nashville, as the Blue Jackets' win started a 5-3-1 stretch. The turnaround can largely be attributed to Curtis Sanford's play in net.
Sanford has gone 5-3-2 with a 2.14 goals-against average while starting 10 consecutive games. He stopped all three shots in the tiebreaker and finished with 18 saves in a 3-2 shootout victory over Montreal on Tuesday.
Columbus has won two of three and went 2-2 on its swing through Canada.
"(Curtis is) a veteran player, a professional that has an opportunity sitting right in front of him here to take the ball and run with it. He's doing just that,'' coach Scott Arniel said.
If Sanford gets the nod Thursday, it will be his first home start versus Nashville this season after making 27 saves Nov. 19. Steve Mason turned aside 28 shots in the Blue Jackets' 3-2 home loss to the Predators on Oct. 7.
Rinne made 32 saves in that opening night matchup to improve to 10-4-0 with a 2.40 GAA against Columbus, but last season's Vezina Trophy runner-up gave up four goals against the Blue Jackets in November and has continued to struggle.
He came into that game with a 2.12 GAA, but the loss started an 0-5-1 stretch in which he has posted a 3.93 GAA.
The Predators have managed to improve their penalty killing of late, denying 11 of 13 chances over the last five games after killing off just 12 of 19 in their previous five.
Columbus has gone 3 for 35 on the power play since Vinny Prospal and R.J. Umberger scored with the man advantage Nov. 19.
Prospal, who scored Tuesday for his first goal since that matchup, has recorded one goal in each of his last five games versus Nashville and in six of his last seven.
Weber has a goal and five assists in the last four games against Columbus, while Ryan Suter leads the Predators with four points in the two matchups this season.