Predators visit Columbus riding hot streak
Columbus left Florida after a tough loss against a first-place club on Tuesday, and another division leader is next on the schedule when the Blue Jackets return home to Ohio.
The Blue Jackets open a home-heavy stretch when they host the first-place Nashville Predators on Thursday, but they'll do so without starting goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, benched by the team Thursday morning over an "internal matter."
Joonas Korpisalo, who replaced Bobrovsky midway through the third period Tuesday night, is expected to get the start in goal for Columbus.
"There are certain expectations and values that we have established for our players that define our culture," Columbus general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said in a statement. "An incident occurred in which Sergei failed to meet those expectations and values, so we made the decision that he would not be with the team for tonight's game."
Columbus plays five of its next seven at home, including contests against two Metropolitan Division foes, the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers.
Columbus dropped a 4-0 decision in Tampa Bay to the Atlantic Division-leading Lightning on Tuesday. Tampa Bay goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 31 shots as the Lightning bettered the NHL's top record to 33-8-2.
The Blue Jackets may have ended their three-game road trip (1-2-0) on a downer, but they have been playing some of their best hockey since Dec. 13, producing an 8-3-1 mark. Columbus will need that level of play against the Predators.
Nashville leads the Central Division with 57 points despite enduring a six-game losing streak (0-5-1) in December.
Even though Columbus had a productive December (8-5-1), the Blue Jackets' power play has been anemic. Since December, only Artemi Panarin and Josh Anderson have struck for single goals on the man advantage -- a feckless 2-for-43 stretch.
Columbus coach John Tortorella said his group simply couldn't solve Vasilevskiy despite putting 17 shots on him in the middle period.
"You know, 15, 16, 17 minutes, I think they outplayed us," Tortorella said after the shutout defeat. "I think we put the other minutes in. They needed 15, 16, 17 minutes to score four goals. ... I thought we had some really good minutes.
"When we were on top of them in the second period, I thought their goalie was outstanding. The second period was key for us. I thought we were outstanding, but we came away empty."
Nashville has enjoyed a fantastic week so far, whitewashing one of the Eastern Conference's top clubs and beating a Central Division rival.
The Predators parlayed an 18-save performance by Pekka Rinne and four goals over the final two periods into a 4-0 win over the Maple Leafs in Toronto on Monday.
Then Nashville received two goals from Filip Forsberg, including the overtime game-winner, and tallies from Viktor Arvidsson and Colton Sissons -- all recent returnees to the lineup -- in a 4-3 victory against the Blackhawks in Chicago on Wednesday.
The Predators are 3-0-1 during their six-game road trip, and the Toronto shutout was their fifth this season. Forsberg, who leads the club with 16 goals, returned to face the Maple Leafs after a 17-game absence caused by an upper-body injury.
Forsberg joined Sissons, Arvidsson and P.K. Subban as players who are back in Nashville's lineup, but Kyle Turris, Yannick Weber, Miikka Salomaki and Zac Rinaldo remain sidelined with ailments.
The recent spate of good defense -- the Predators have outscored the opposition 12-4 in the past three games -- has drawn the praise of Nashville coach Peter Laviolette.
"I think it's just attention to detail and commitment from the players. They've committed to defending hard and tight," said Laviolette, whose defense allowed a season-low 18 shots against the Maple Leafs.
--Field Level Media
Updated January 10, 2019