When the puck drops to open the season on Saturday, January 19th in Nashville, the Predators will face their Central Division rival the Blue Jackets, but will hardly recognize the team they have played against so often. Yes, for many years the Columbus Blue Jackets are usually considered the running joke of the league and yes, they did trade their all-star and fan favorite Rick Nash to the New York Rangers, but the Predators will have to be careful in their opening game against the revamped Blue Jackets.
Scouting the Predators
Like every other team in the NHL, the Predators have not played an actual NHL game in too long and are likely to show some rust out of the gate. If that wasn’t enough, the Predators will have to quickly figure out their defensive scheme without the presence of Ryan Suter on a pairing with Shea Weber. Young guns Roman Josi will take most of the defensive ice-time, including shorthanded play, while Ryan Ellis will takeover Suter’s spot on the man-advantage.
The Predators best chance for a win tomorrow rests on two-thirds of the same formula they’ve used since their start. In case you forgot, the Predators still have Shea Weber and Pekka Rinne, which will make it tough for any team to get pucks to tickle the twine.
From an offensive standpoint, the Predators are looking relatively similar to past years, with forwards Martin Erat, David Legwand, and Patric Hornqvist leading the way. Up-and-comers Craig Smith and Colin Wilson will have a chance to take over the opportunities left open by the departures of Alexander Radulov and Andrei Kostitsyn. As always, the Predators will lack the fast-paced high scoring abilities similar to the Penguins or Rangers, but will still find ways to eek out enough goals to win games.
Scouting the Blue Jackets
There is no arguing that losing Rick Nash doesn’t hurt a team’s offensive production, but the Blue Jackets have spent the offseason working on creating a much more well-rounded team. Bringing in Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, and Nick Foligno up front, along with Jack Johnson on defense, and Sergei Bobrovsky in goal has made the Blue Jackets a more balanced team. The Predators will have to be extra careful watching for Brandon Dubinsky, as he has the ability to go coast-to-coast as well as anyone in the league.
The top-six of Brandon Dubinsky, Derrick Brassard, Vinny Prospal, Nick Foligno, RJ Umberger, and Cam Atkinson provide the Blue Jackets with quite possibly the most evenly talented lineup in ages. If this type of lineup appears familiar to Predators fans, it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise, as the Blue Jackets are attempting to build their team using the Predators model. Strong on defense, strong in goal, and talented, but defensive-minded forwards. A strong top-six, combined with a decent top-four on defense of James Wisniewski, Jack Johnson, Fedor Tyutin, and Nikita Nikitin, make the Blue Jackets a much more competitive team than any time in the past seven years.
Why the Predators Should Worry
With a 48-game season, the Predators will not be able to waste any points this year. The easiest way for any team to waste a game is to overlook an opponent that has been terrible in recent history. Although everyone will attempt to shake the rust off early in Saturday’s games, the Predators also risk of falling into a trap of not giving the new and improved Blue Jackets their fair due. As a result of the shortened training camp and no preseason games, the Predators, led by Head Coach Barry Trotz, will have their hands full trying to gel their new defense pairings while attempting to limit the Blue Jackets chances.
Every team in the league does it and the Predators are no exception. When the Predators and Blue Jackets faceoff Saturday night, the Predators will have to be prepared for both the season to start and geared up to face a legitimate challenger in the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Predators need to start their season off with a win, especially against a Central Division rival, and cannot afford to neglect the changes the Blue Jackets have made to their lineup to make them more dangerous this year.