Top-notch penalty kill key for Jackets
Ten days ago, Nashville bailed out Pekka Rinne with six goals in the last two periods after he allowed five in the opening 40 minutes.
Since, the Predators goaltender has returned any favors and then some in his best stretch of the season heading into Friday night's visit to Columbus.
That 7-5 home win over Ottawa back on Nov. 10 began a 3-0-1 span for Nashville (11-3-3), and Tuesday's 3-2 win over Anaheim concluded a five-game homestand. Rinne gave up five goals on 26 shots against the Senators, but has since gone 2-0-1 with a 0.97 goals-against average and .964 save percentage after making a season-high 38 stops against the Ducks.
"(Rinne) gave us an opportunity to win the game," said coach Peter Laviolette, whose team now begins a five-game road trip. "He was sharp, he saw a lot of pucks, and he got down in the crease tied up a lot of rebounds. He was really good."
James Neal has scored in consecutive games and has all of his 17 points in his last 14, while Shea Weber's third goal in four games came on the power play as the Predators improved to 5 for 18 in the last four.
Roughly a fifth of the way into the season, the Predators are a point ahead of last season's 17-game pace (11-4-2), though they've done it with a significant increase in scoring, averaging 3.00 goals after a 2.47 mark last season.
The trip might begin against the worst team in the Eastern Conference, but they don't expect anything to come easily.
"They're playing well right now, and they're playing with confidence," Laviolette told the team's official website. "When we played them in the exhibition season, they were really a tough team. They just maybe lost their way a little bit at the beginning and sometimes that happens; I think every team goes through it through the course of the year, they just hit their rough patch right at the beginning. It's going to be a good test for us."
Rinne beat the Blue Jackets twice last season while allowing two goals with a .962 save percentage, and the Predators have won the last two meetings in Columbus by a 9-1 total.
The Blue Jackets (7-13-0) weren't much of a scoring threat in Thursday's 3-0 loss in Ottawa, but the defeat ended a three-game winning streak during which they'd scored a very respectable 10 goals. That's a number they'd have given plenty for during a 0-8-0 start in which they averaged 1.88 goals per game.
"We just couldn't find a way to score a goal, we had lots of chances," Ryan Johansen told the team's official website. "It's our job to find ways to get that part of the game down and capitalize on that."
Columbus has climbed back toward respectability in part because of a penalty kill that's gone 20 for 21 over the last five.
Curtis McElhinney faced the Senators, so starter Sergei Bobrovsky figures to be back in net against the Predators. He too has been a part of the turnaround, earning each of Columbus' seven wins and posting a 2.01 GAA and .934 save percentage over a 5-1-0 span. Bobrovsky is 6-3-0 lifetime against the Predators, though that comes with a 2.62 GAA.
The shutout at the hands of Ottawa slowed down Brandon Saad, who had four goals in his previous three games, but the former Central Division foe has five points in his last five regular-season games against Nashville and scored twice as Chicago eliminated the Predators in the playoffs.