Originally posted on Inside Smashville  |  Last updated 1/22/12

The Nashville Predators are 9-2-2 against Central Division opponents and will try to improve upon that impressive record when they host the Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday night at Bridgestone Arena.  It is the last time this season that the two clubs will meet.

Goaltender Pekka Rinne says the Central Division is tough but brings out the best in the team

 

Columbus and Nashville met just last Thursday night when Predators netminder Pekka Rinne picked up his fourth shutout of the season in a 3-0 win over the Blue Jackets.  Monday’s game is the first in back-to-back contests for Nashville. The Predators will travel to the United Center to face Chicago on Tuesday night before going into the All-Star break.

One of the hardest divisions in the League, only five points separate the division-leading Detroit Red Wings from the fourth place Predators. The Red Wings are also leading the entire Western Conference with the St. Louis Blues,  Blackhawks and Nashville, all contenders for the division title, sitting in fourth, fifth, and sixth place respectively in the Western Conference standings.

“I think the Central Division is such a tough division. We are battling with three or four teams for playoff positions. Every game you have to be up for it or they will take it to you,” rookie defenseman Ryan Ellis said about Nashville’s divisional rivals.

Rinne agrees that the Central Division is one of the best the League has to offer and says it seems to be that way, year in and year out.

“There are some tough teams in the Central Division. It is a great division and it is a great challenge too. That makes us better and it makes other teams better too. It seems like it is like that every single year,” Rinne said, adding that Nashville can use the momentum from playing divisional games to move up in the standings. “You really focus on those games and bring your best possible game. I think that makes those games the best time to make a little bit of separation between you and the teams below you.”

Going into Monday night’s game against the Blue Jackets, Nashville has four wins and an overtime loss against the Blue Jackets, a win and an overtime loss against Chicago, three wins against the Blues as well as one win against Detroit. The losses in regulation both come from 4-1 losses against Detroit.

After Monday night’s game, Nashville will still have four more games against Chicago, and three more contests against both Detroit and St. Louis, teams all ahead of the Predators in the standings, making Central Division contests more important than ever going down the stretch.

“We want to win the division, and it happens to be the toughest division in hockey,” Head Coach Barry Trotz said about the competitive nature of the division, adding, “It is good for us. We have a young team and it forces us to play well every night.”

On Saturday night, the Predators beat the Blackhawks by a 5-2 score, ending Chicago’s three-game winning streak. The win gave Rinne his seventh consecutive win, tying a career high reached between November 12-25, 2009. It is also a franchise record that has been achieved three times in the past.

The puck drops shortly after 7 pm CT. Tickets for the game are still available. Monday’s contest is also service night where individuals who have worked in the service industry can pick up tickets at half price. Go to www.nashvillepredators.com/service and enter code word “service” to take advantage of the special ticket sale.

 

Photo credit: Getty Images

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