Smith is still looking for his first point, but he got a shootout winner last game. (PHOTO: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)

Gameday: Nashville Predators at St. Louis Blues, 2/5/13

NASHVILLE PREDATORS

at ST. LOUIS BLUES

February 5th, 2013
Scottrade Center
St. Louis, Missouri
7:00 p.m. CST
TV: FOX Sports Tennessee
St. Louis leads season series, 2-0

In some ways the Nashville Predators have been a different team since they last met the St. Louis Blues two weeks ago, having found their identity on the road in California. They still have trouble scoring goals, though, and their best chances of winning still rely on near-flawless performances from Pekka Rinne. The Blues, meanwhile, have had a few bumps in the road but remain one of the strongest teams in the Western Conference.

Brian Elliott will face the Nashville Predators

Nashville has yet to solve the riddle of Brian Elliott this season, but others have. (PHOTO: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports)

ST. LOUIS BLUES

(6-2-0, in Central)

A penalty-marred loss to Detroit notwithstanding, the Blues have continued their winning ways since they last met Nashville. Some of those wins, like the 6-5 overtime game with Minnesota, have been fairly shaky compared to what they’ve shown this season. A win is a win so far as points are concerned, but with goalie Jaroslav Halak on injured reserve the Blues look more vulnerable right now than they were two weeks ago.

Key players

Brian Elliott (3-2-0, 2.34 GAA, .900 SV%) was half of the strongest goalie tandem in the league last season, but he’s the number one man in net right now for St. Louis with Halak on IR. He’s come back to earth compared to last year’s 1.56 GAA and .940 save percentage, but he’s also performed very well against the Predators (3-1-0, 1.14, .959).

The Nashville Predators have yet to stop Vladimir Tarasenko

The Rookie of the Month for January, Vladimir Tarasenko. (PHOTO: Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports)

Vladimir Tarasenko (5G-5A) was named the NHL Rookie of the Month for January, partly thanks to the two goals and two assists he’s collected against the Predators. He’s one of the top scorers in the Central Division and Nashville will have to find some way to contain him that doesn’t involve having Rich Clune take a run at him.

Others to watch

It’s hard to single out just one or two players here. Like the Predators, St. Louis gets contributions from up and down the lineup; unlike the Preds, the Blues get them in bulk. Aside from Tarasenko, the Blues have eight players with more points than the Preds’ top scorers.

NASHVILLE PREDATORS

(3-2-3, 4th in Central)

Last week was quite the emotional roller coaster for the Nashville Predators and their fans as the team picked up two consecutive shootout wins to avoid falling into the Central Division cellar. Still, they’re averaging just 1.5 goals per game, dead last among the league’s 30 teams, so every game is like walking a tightrope for fans at this point.

Nashville Predators goalie Pekka Rinne

Pekka Rinne was perfect in the shootout against San Jose. (PHOTO: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports)

Key players

Without top-notch performances from Pekka Rinne (2-2-3, 2.16, .915) last week, the Preds would likely be have one of the worst records in the league. Instead they’re still within sight of the leaders. He’s been perfect at even strength since the third period of last Monday’s loss to Phoenix, stopping 56 straight shots. Another night like that could give the Preds to steal one from the Blues.

Others to watch

Sergei Kostitsyn (1G-2A) only took three shots in his first six games this season and has looked invisible at times. He finally woke up last week, scoring the shootout winner against Los Angeles and then his first goal of the season against the Sharks. It came on his only shot on goal. If Sergei would just pull the trigger a little more often he could be one of the team’s most valuable players.

Craig Smith (0G-0A) scored the shootout winner against San Jose and made it look easy. Colin Wilson (1G-1A) has been looking stronger with each passing game, and he fed SK74 the puck on that goal in San Jose. A couple of points from these two would make a big difference against St. Louis.

Consider this your obligatory “Shea Weber (0G-0A) hasn’t gone this long without a point in his professional career” note for the day.

Bottom line

St. Louis scores more goals than anybody but Tampa Bay and San Jose. Nashville gives up fewer goals than anybody but San Jose, Ottawa, and Chicago. Expect a tighter contest than the last time these two teams met.

Tags: Nashville Predators St. Louis Blues