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Saturday's win was an impressive won for St. Louis. (PHOTO: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports)

Gameday: St. Louis Blues at Nashville Predators, 1/21/13

ST. LOUIS BLUES

at NASHVILLE PREDATORS

January 21st, 2013
Bridgestone Arena
Nashville, Tennessee
5:00 p.m. CST
TV: FOX Sports Tennessee
Game available in Atlanta market – check listings

The Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues both opened their seasons at home on Saturday, but they couldn’t have looked more different. St. Louis destroyed Detroit 6-0 on the strength of two goals apiece from Vladimir Tarasenko and Chris Stewart, while Nashville twice pulled ahead of Columbus but ended up losing 3-2 in a shootout. This will be the first of four meetings between the Blues and Preds this season. Nashville won last season’s series, 4-1-1.

NASHVILLE PREDATORS

(0-0-1, 4th in Central)

Nashville was fortunate to escape with a point in the standings on Saturday. The offense played sloppy hockey against a new-look Columbus Blue Jackets team that, while not overwhelming, was never out of the game and held on long enough to win in a shootout. Thankfully the questions about the defense from before the season began were non-issues. Both Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis played well, the latter bagging a goal and the former logging a whopping 27:30 of ice time. And Scott Hannan fit in with Nashville from the first play, including when he dropped the gloves to stick up for his blue line partner Kevin Klein.

Nashville Predators goalie Pekka Rinne

Pekka Rinne is always a key player for the Nashville Predators. (PHOTO: Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports)

Key players

Pekka Rinne is going to need to be on top of his game against the Blues. I thought he was shaky in the Columbus game, not so much in terms of stopping pucks as much as covering the goalmouth laterally and keeping those pucks under control once he’d made the initial stop. Pekka said after the shootout loss that he takes those more personally. I’m looking for him to use that as motivation against one of the top teams in the Central.

Shea Weber logged 25:07 of ice time, six shots on goal, and seven penalty minutes after taking exception to Jared Boll’s hit on Craig Smith in the second period. Along with Rinne, he’s going to be key to stopping a St. Louis attack that appears to be running on higher-octane fuel than last year. (And a goal from him certainly wouldn’t hurt.)

Others to watch

The team needs offensive production from its young forwards. Colin Wilson looked better than Craig Smith in the opener, but he wasn’t particularly impressive. Coach Barry Trotz mixed up their line assignments during yesterday’s skate, moving Wilson up to the second line with David Legwand and Patric Hornqvist, and dropping Smith to play with Paul Gaustad and Matt Halischuk. The Nashville Scene’s J.R. Lind had the best take on the situation:

Everyone one the team was talking about how great the crowd was on Opening Night. No big surprise there, as Bridgestone Arena always has a great atmosphere. But Columbus took the Preds’ 7th Man out of the game for long stretches in the latter half of the game. Bridgestone is a difficult place to play when all 17,113 fans are on their feet and screaming. If the Preds can play with some intensity and keep them fired up for extended stretches, they can make things a lot harder on the Blues.

ST. LOUIS BLUES

(1-0-0, 1st in Central)

St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock told Andy Strickland yesterday that he wasn’t planning to make any changes to the lineup that crushed Detroit’s defense on Saturday. After such a convincing effort against the Wings, a win in this game by St. Louis would confirm them as the early division frontrunners. A loss would bring them back down to earth, and it would also set the stage for a very interesting rematch in St. Louis this Thursday.

Key players

Jaroslav Halak, half of last season’s toughest goalie tandem in the league, shut out the Red Wings on Saturday. He’ll get the nod again in Nashville. But he only had to face 14 shots from Detroit. Nashville outshot Columbus 34-28. If the Preds can keep putting shots on net, and maybe even accompany them with some traffic in front of the St. Louis crease, Halak will face his first real test of the season.

Others to watch

Alex Pietrangelo had two assists and finished +2 in the Detroit game. He’s a strong young defenseman who can expose sloppy play by Nashville Predators forwards all day long.

I can’t really think of him as a key player, since he’s a new addition to a team that won last year’s Central Division title, but after that debut I’ll have my eyes on Vladimir Tarasenko throughout the game. Two goals on five shots in under 14 minutes of ice time – that’s dangerous.

Bottom line

The Nashville Predators were fortunate to pick up a point against Columbus in a sloppy first game back. Now comes their first big test of the season against a team that looked sharp on Saturday. If Nashville’s defense doesn’t change a thing, Pekka Rinne settles in, and the offense tightens up to give a full 60-minute effort, the Preds should be in good shape. But if blind passes and neutral-zone turnovers continue like they did against Columbus, it could be a long night.

Tags: Nashville Predators St. Louis Blues

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