Given how tight and talented the Central Division is, the Nashville Predators know they are going to have to collect as many points as possible. That hasn't been a problem when the Columbus Blue Jackets come to town.
After knocking off one division rival this past weekend, the Predators shoot for a third straight victory overall and 15th in their last 19 meetings with the Blue Jackets.
With 60 points, Nashville sits sixth overall in the West but five points behind front-running Detroit in both the division and conference. The Predators have kept pace with 10 victories in their past 12 games and defeated one of the teams ahead of them in the standings on Saturday, besting the Blackhawks, 5-2.
Kevin Klein, Colin Wilson and Sergei Kostitsyn all scored during the second period to pull away and Pekka Rinne stood tall with 20 saves for his seventh straight victory. That run ties his career and franchise record, while Kostitsyn now has seven goals and 11 points in his last 10 games.
"We had some good play from all our guys tonight," said Klein. "Everyone was working as a unit and communicating real well out there tonight."
Craig Smith and Patric Hornqvist also scored for the Predators, who have won six of their past seven at home. They expect to get even stronger this evening seeing as All-Star defenseman Ryan Suter may return from a three-game absence caused by an upper-body issue.
Suter and fellow blueliner Shea Weber have torched the Blue Jackets this season, with each defender notching a goal and seven assists so far in the season series. Martin Erat had a pair of goals and four assists in the five meetings this year and Mike Fisher has logged four goals.
Nashville is 4-0-1 versus the Blue Jackets this year and 14-3-1 in the past 18. That overtime loss, though, came at home on Nov. 19, snapping the Blue Jackets' 17-game slide in Nashville (0-12-5). The Preds did avenge that defeat a month later with a 6-5 home win, then logged a 3-0 shutout in Columbus last Thursday. Rinne notched the shutout with 38 saves.
Jeff Carter (5 goals, 2 assists) and Rick Nash (1g, 6a) have both logged seven points versus the Predators this season, but Carter is currently out due to a shoulder injury. He is just one of the many key pieces out for the Jackets, including James Wisniewski (ankle) and Mark Letestu (hand).
R.J. Umberger has also missed the past five games because of an upper-body injury, but he was activated off injured reserve on Monday. The 29-year-old has seven goals and 11 assists in 42 games this year.
Even without those talents, the Blue Jackets were able to hang with the Red Wings on Saturday before dropping a 3-2 shootout decision. Curtis Sanford made 29 saves, but gave up the only goal of the shootout in the third round. Ryan Johansen then had his wrister stopped to end the game.
Columbus fell to 4-11-2 in its past 17 games and is last in the NHL with 32 points.
"It was a tough game out there tonight," said Sanford. "It's nice to get the point, but we're not going to get back in the hunt just getting a point."
Ryan Russell and Nikita Nikitin both scored in defeat, but Nikitin missed the game's conclusion after he was hit into the boards from behind. He has a left knee injury and isn't expected to play in Columbus' final two road games before the All-Star break.
Saturday's loss came in the opener of the six-game swing and was the club's seventh loss in its past nine as the guest.