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Predators vs. Blue Jackets, the (barely) live blog

Santa decided to bring me my 4th case of strep throat this year, so I've been out of commission for the better part of a week now. How better to boost one's spirits than by catching tonight's Predators/Blue Jackets battle and passing along my observations, since the game won't be carried on local TV?

The Preds come into this one after having laid an egg in Chicago the night before, losing 5-2 in a game that saw them dominate the shooting totals (32-22), but fall due to inferior goaltending. On the opposite end, Nikolai Khabibulin shut most everything down, while the Nashville power play continued its stunningly ineffective run, going 0-for-6 and giving up a shorthanded goal to Patrick Sharp to boot.

Will the Predators be able to keep their successful streak against Columbus alive, having won 11 in a row against their Central Division rival? For Nashville, no Shea Weber or Ryan Suter tonight, while Columbus goes without Rick Nash.

1st Period
Chris Mason gets the start in goal for Nashville as does Fredrik Norrena for Columbus. Mason's last start was a 30-save victory in Columbus last Sunday, and boasts a stunning 7-1 career record against the Blue Jackets.

The festivities get started just a minute into the game, as Jordin Tootoo steps up and drives a shoulder into Columbus' Jiri Novotny, who had his head down as he approached the Nashville blue line. Adam Foote came to his teammate's defense and threw the gloves with Toots in a spirited but basically even battle. Foote got the instigator and earned an extra two minutes in the box for starting the fracas, so Nashville got the first power play opportunity but failed to convert despite a couple decent shots. About seven minutes later, Novotny gets a measure of revenge by drilling Preds defenseman Greg Zanon into the boards after he chipped the puck down the ice. Both these teams are ready to scrape & claw for any advantage in this one.

That temper gets the best of Columbus around enar the 12:00 mark, as both Adam Foote and take minor penalties at the same time, giving Nashville a full 2:00 5-on-3 advantage. Surely even the dormant Predators PP could make the Blue Jackets pay, right? Well, Columbus came within seven seconds of killing it off when Jason Arnott teed up a one-timer from the faceoff dot to Norrena's right and put Nashville up 1-0.

Kris Beech put the Blue Jackets down a man yet again just moments later, resulting in yet another Nashville power play and stifling any chance Columbus had to get some lines rolling and establish momentum. While killing off that penalty David Legwand draws a holding call for Nashville, and Nikolai Zherdev does one of the best jobs I've seen in a long time ragging the puck, waiting for the Blue Jackets power play to expire before putting Legwand in the box, thus maximizing Columbus' upcoming PP time.

That man advantage gets turned into a 5-on-3 almost immediately as Greg Zanon hauled down a streaking Sergei Fedorov. By and large Nashville does a good job killing of the penalty, and it seems by now that the whole period has been nothing but a special teams war, with very little continuous 5-on-5 action.

That trend continued at the end on an icing call as Jason Chimera took both a slashing and unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, giving Nashville 4:00 of 5-on-4 time. For Columbus that's not much to fear, however, as the Predators remain among the NHL's least dangerous teams with a 5-on-4 advantage (from Behindthenet.ca). What the numbers there say is that given 60 minutes of 5-on-4 action, Nashville would only score 3.4 more goals than they'd give up, tied for 4th-worst behind the Islanders, Devils, and Thrashers. Top PP teams like Philadelphia and Montreal, for example, outscore their opposition by 8.1 and 7.9 goals per 60 minutes, respectively.

Anyways, the period ends without a serious threat by the Predators and the teams head into the locker room for the first intermission.

2nd Period
Nashville starts with 39 seconds of PP time left over from the first, but never sets up shop or establishes a scoring opportunity. The penalty box parade continues as Alex Radulov heads in for hooking, after a mad scramble in front of the Predators net as Columbus had multiple whacks at a loose rebound.

The Blue Jackets capitalize on that chance in just the manner that many fans are dying to see the Predators do; Chimera sends a wrister in on net as Kris Beech charges in, and has the rebound go in off his skate. There's a brief review to determine whether Beech kicked the puck (he didn't), so the goal stands and the game is tied 1-1. When you have a combination of putting quick shots on net and having supporting players drive to the crease, good things tend to happen.

After allowing the teams to skate 5-on-5 for just over a minute, the refs crave yet more face time so they whistle Radek Bonk for tripping, put the Blue Jackets a man up as the game approaches the halfway mark. The Predators gamely kill off that penalty, although along the way a rather mysterious offsetting call was made. Preds defenseman Dan Hamhuis knocked Jared Boll's skate from behind, and Boll threw his arm out as he went down, so the ref called him for embellishing the foul; fortunate for Nashville, really.

Once back to even strength, the Predators get some good pressure in the Columbus zone with a line of Legwand with Radulov and Martin Erat. Ultimately Radulov took a long wrist shot with Legwand screening in front and it slipped by Norrena for a 2-1 Predators lead. The Bonk/Smithson/Fiddler line follows right up with a good backdoor chance that just fails to connect, and Nashville appears to finally have some extra skip in their step.

While the Blue Jackets have Nashville scrambling a bit in their own end, Marek Zidlicky high-sticks Jared Boll, and a minute later, Greg Zanon sends a puck directly over the glass, giving Columbus a minute of 5-on-3 time. The Predators kill off that 5-on-3, but with Zanon still in the box Ron Hainsey takes a point shot that just barely gets through Mason, dribbling slowly over the line to tie the game at 2-2. David Vyborny is later credited with goal, presumably for a tip in front of Mason.

3rd Period
Early on coach Trotz digs into his bench and gives the Gelinas/Nichol/Hordichuk line a lengthy shift, and they reward him with a solid effort, including a nice turnover generated by a Nichol hit down by the Blue Jackets net.

Jordin Tootoo gets the crowd buzzing (and the Columbus announcers complaining) after he levels Columbus defenseman Jan Hejda with a shoulder to the chest. Hejda had played the puck stood there watching his pass for 2 seconds as Tootoo came right at him. A cheap shot? I don't think so, Toots came right from the front of Hejda, and you see guys follow through on checks all the time under such circumstances.

Both teams step up the hitting in the minutes that follow, as Zherdev lays a hit on Tootoo. Neither side wants to risk another penalty however, with both teams desperate for points in the standings.

For what seems like the first time, we're finally treated to an lengthy period of 5-on-5 hockey, and the Blue Jackets get a couple dangerous shots which Chris Mason turns aside, including a one-timer by Kris Beech from maybe 15 feet as he crossed in front of the net.

Columbus takes a 3-2 advantage on a very similar play to their 2nd goal; Zherdev sends a pedestrian shot on net but Jiri Novotny charges the net and knocks in the rebound for a quick score, giving the Blue Jackets a lead with just over five minutes left in the game...

After less than a minute, however, Tootoo ties it up at 3-3 as Marek Zidlicky feeds him pass that Toots blisters past Norrena for the goal. I'm telling ya, putting Tootoo up on the top line with Arnott and Dumont is a fine way to stretch out the talent. #22's taken a major step forward in becoming a complete NHL player this year.

The action really starts to pick up, as Curtis Glencross sends a dangerous pass to Jared Boll who finds himself in all along on Chris Mason, who stands tall to make the save.

Then, with 1:45 left in the third, Nashville takes the lead on Ville Koistinen's first NHL goal; he came in from the point to take a feed in the slot from David Legwand, and hung around to follow up with a rebound shot after his initial shot was stopped by Norrena.

Conclusion
All the penalties early on made this a very uneven game to watch, it just seemed like there was very little natural flow and instead merely of a contest of special teams. The Nashville power play remains a gaping flaw on this team, and leaves them with a preciously slim margin for error given the lack of consistent goaltending and sporadic offense at even strength.

All the same, this represents a huge victory for the Predators, not just for the two points they earned, but also by avoiding overtime and letting Columbus steal away with a point as well.

My Three Stars:

1. Marek Zidlicky, 3A, +3
2. Ville Koistinen, GW G, 2 A
3. Jordin Tootoo, 1G

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