Ottawa Senators at Nashville Predators on Dec. 23, 2010

One of the hottest teams in the NHL runs into one of the coldest.

Ottawa Senators at Nashville Predators on Dec. 23, 2010
PITTSBURGH, PA - APRIL 13: Jason Spezza #19 of the Ottawa Senators handles the puck against the Pittsburgh Penguins during the game at Consol Energy Center on April 13, 2014 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Senators defeated the Penguins 3-2 in a shootout. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

THE STORY: One of the hottest teams in the NHL runs into one of the coldest. The Nashville Predators have won eight of their last 11 games on the strength of a stifling defensive game, while the Senators’ loose play in their own end has all but cost them a playoff spot. Ottawa can enter the two-day Christmas break on a high note, but it still has plenty of work to do to become relevant in the standings again.

THE SUBPLOTS: The Senators just can’t stop blowing leads. The latest collapse was Sunday night, when they gave up a 2-0 lead against the struggling Washington Capitals en route to a 3-2 loss. The game before that, they blew four leads against the Colorado Avalanche. Their performance has led to criticism that they lack the killer instinct that good teams possess.

THE WILDCARD: Sergei Gonchar, Senators. After another blue line giveaway kicked off the Caps’ comeback, the focus shifted to Gonchar’s struggles this season. The splashy off-season signing has a team-worst minus-19 rating and hasn’t been able to crack the NHL Top-25 in defenceman scoring. Any Ottawa turnaround will likely coincide with his improvement.

THE OPPONENT: The Predators have been playing well of late, but the Senators are catching them at the right time. Nashville played the night before in Chicago and lost 4-1 to the defending Cup champs. They’ve also been decimated by injury, and you have to think that’ll catch up with them at some point. Will it be tonight?

THE QUOTE: “We need to continue to go to the net, shoot the puck. Our attacks, we have to have a middle lane drive, we have to have layers on our attack, which at times we have, at times we don’t. When we do, we’re much more effective. What I mean by that, I mean that defencemen join the rush and become the second wave. Just be strong at the net.” — Senators coach Cory Clouston on what his team has to do to win.

THE SICK BAY: Senators — G Pascal Leclaire (lower body). Predators — D Matthew Lombardi (concussion, indefinite), G Pekka Rinne (knee surgery, 2-4 weeks), C Steve Sullivan (lower body, questionable), C David Legwand (lower body, questionable), W Patric Hornqvist (probable, upper body).

THE PREDICTION: This season is shaping up a lot like the one that resulted in Cory Clouston’s hiring. At this point in 2009, the Senators were a disappointing 12-15-5 and headed into the Christmas break with a 6-4 loss. I don’t see them coming away with a Dec. 23 win this time out either. The Preds have allowed the third-fewest goals in the NHL and are particularly tough at home. Hard to pick against them here. Preds 4, Sens 1.

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