Well, folks, I'm back with another fearless pre-game prediction—OK, I'm really back to save what little dignity I have left after that "epic" prediction that the CBJ would win against Detroit. My guess that eve? Jackets victory, 5-2. The actual outcome? To quote Drew Rosenhaus, "Next question."
As I said in the comments section afterwards, "Well, you've all just witnessed EVERYTHING I know about hockey."
That being said, let's have at it. There's only one direction I can go...
On the surface, this is an easy one to call: The edge goes to Columbus by a country mile.
Currently, Nashville ranks dead last in both goals scored/total and goals scored/game, at a "prolific" clip of 2.17 goals/game—AKA GFA. Add to that where their few goals are scored from—their leading goal scorer is Shea Weber—need I say more? (Weber is tied in most Preds' goals with five tallies).
Columbus is in ninth place in GFA, and their firepower is primarily forward-based. While, yes, their leading goal scorer is Rick Nash—14 goals, 25 total points—they also have something not seen ever in these parts: that critical asset of secondary scoring, with Raffi Torres scoring nine goals so far this season, and having Kristian Huselius scored eight goals.
As it relates to SOG percent—goal scoring, in relation to shots on goal—no match. Columbus ranks eighth in the league with a SOG percent of 10.4 percent, while the Preds are tied for last at a 7.2 percent clip. If there is one area for improvement, it is that of blueline scoring, with five total goals scored from their blueline corps. Nashville trumps Columbus with 11 blueline tallies.
However, that being said...
Edge: Jackets (Huge)
From the standpoint of shots allowed, Goals Against Average—GAA, save percent, shots blocked, defense, and offensive production from the blueline, the edge definitely goes to Nashville.
Again, Shea Weber leads the way, with defensive pairing partner Ryan Suter contributing to their blueline scoring. However, there is a big drop off in both scoring and the +/- ratings of their remaining defensive pairs.
In assessing the CBJ's defensive prowess statistically outside of Jan Hejda's +five, +/- rating—granted, Marc Methot has been stout and Mike Commodore are both 0 +/-, the later only playing eight games so far, with limited minutes—the remaining defensive corps' +/- ratings are, well, not good. Rusty Klesla, however, has been playing solid defense lately, stats aside.
Having said all that...
Steve Mason starts in goal tonight for the Blue Jackets. Once again, shows what I know about hockey, having recently written how the CBJ should stick with Mathieu Garon until he falters. I was wondering why Hitch hadn't recently sent me a text for my insight...
OK, if this analysis was based on last season, this matchup would have been too close to call. However, this is a new season, and while Steve Mason is struggling so far, Pekka Rinne keeps on rolling, as it relates to continuing the solid net minding from his (also stellar) rookie campaign. Again, it helps having continuity/health on the defensive corps, something the Blue Jackets haven't been so lucky with this season.
While the jury's still out for me on Mason's performance of allowing one goal on 26 shots, to be honest, the Stars didn't exactly produce many scoring chances. What also remains to be seen is how Mason reacts should the Preds score early. For those of you who are observant, watch Mason's body language when he lets in an early goal. That should be a harbinger of what to expect.
The Jackets PP remains highly ranked at fourth in the league, cranking away at a 25 percent conversion rate—wait, is that a typo? No, it's true. What a difference a season, and better PP personnel, make.
Their PK? Not as stellar, ranked 19th in penalty killing, at just a 79 percent rate. However on the PK side, expect this to improve with both the return of Hejda, as well as the continued return to form, and hopefully improved health and minutes/TOI of Mike Commodore.
As for Nashville, they look much like Columbus' PP, last season—wait, no one is, or was that bad. Nashville's PP is ranked 26th, at a 14.7 percent conversion rate—imagine if they didn't have their first defensive pairing—Ouch! On the PK side of things, Nashville is ranked in the middle of the NHL pack at 16th in the league, with a 80.3 percent kill rate.
This battle should be interesting—a now stellar PP unit with Columbus, against a solid PK unit in Nashville, versus a putrid PP unit with the Preds, against a mediocre PK group for the CBJ.
Before you await—if you are awaiting, you need a hobby—who I give the edge to, keep this in mind: note the history of penalties called against Columbus vs. the penalties called against the Preds at the Preds' home, the Sommet Center.
Something to the tune of about 7-9 penalties against the CBJ, and approximately 1-2 penalties against the Preds. I wonder what part of Nashville the stripes will be from? Oops, did I say that? Just keep that in mind, that's all I'm saying.
Well, for once, I'll keep this short—the last time the CBJ won at the Sommet Center, Ken Hitchcock was not the CBJ coach, and Doug MacLean was the Prez/GM/Coach Emeritus. Wow, hasn't MacLean been gone longer than that? If only...
Now, I know this is a new darn, this is a new day. However, as most of you know, athletes are a different bunch/lot—until you break the streak, skein, or paradigm, it (a lack of success, either against an opponent or in their building) gets in your head.
Then there's the matter of the penalty disparities at the Sommet Center.
So, as much as I'd like to make this closer...
Edge: Preds (Huge)
Prediction: Preds 3, Jackets 2 (OT or SO)
However, if history, my intrinsic knowledge of the NHL, and this team holds true then Columbus, pop open the cork!