The Nashville Predators return to action tonight after an extended layoff, this time to face the St. Louis Blues. Nashville has beaten St. Louis once already this year, but I'd expect somewhat of a stiffer test tonight. The Blues admitted after that game that they weren't prepared for how hard the Predators play, and it put them in a hole from which they couldn't recover.
It's not on your television and its also the last game in Music City for over two weeks, so take advantage of some discounted tickets and get down to the rink to enjoy the Predators against the Blues. Until then, follow after the jump for more.
It's been a fun 8 games, hasn't it? The Predators have sustained crucial injuries, and still come out as one of the NHL's best teams. We now know, at least in part, what Nashville is capable of. This, folks, is a good hockey team. Not elite, but very much above-average. The watching world may not realize it, but that's okay. And hey, who knows what can be accomplished when Matt Lombardi, Marcel Goc, and Ryan Suter return?
Nashville's worst enemy is themselves. Not being an overly skilled team, they can't afford to make the simplest of mistakes and expect to come out on the winning end. The penalty kill has improved with the recall of Nick Spaling, but in exchange, the power play has taken a turn for the worse. Consistency, as always, is the name of the game.
Finally, I've been pleased with the way new acquisitions Shane O`Brien and Sergei Kostitsyn have acclimated themselves. O'Brien's physical presence is more than welcome, and Kostitsyn, though he may remain slightly injured, has started to bring a better effort. SOB has his spot firmly locked down, but Kostitsyn could be the odd man out when Lombardi and Goc return, and as such needs to play like his life depends on it.
While it is still early, Rinne has been everything Nashville needs him to be. It has to be a relief to him and the coaching staff to know that Anders Lindback is a more than capable backup in the event of catastrophe.
|2010 - Pekka Rinne||4||228||2||2||6||1.58||133||127||.955||1|
Nashville is the NHL's only unbeaten team in regulation, so I can't see why Barry Trotz would change what's working. Matthew Lombardi, Ryan Suter, and Marcel Goc remain out of the lineup (though Goc did skate yesterday).
For a more informed opinion on the Blues, here's St. Louis Post-Dispatch beat writer Jeremy Rutherford, sharing some of how the Blues are a different team than last year:
One of the biggest complaints of the Blues' coaching staff the past few seasons has been the club's philosophy in overtime. Andy Murray appeared to employ a defensive-minded approach in OT. So far, it seems Payne is trying to bring more of an offensive game plan.
Well, let's go to the evidence:
Under Murray last season, the Blues played 11 games that went to overtime. In those 11 games, the team was outshot 31-15 in the 5-minute regulation and its record was 1-3. (Seven of the games went to a shootout and the Blues were 4-3 in SO).
Since Payne has taken over, the Blues have played 13 games that went to overtime. In those 13 games, the team has outshot its opponent 43-33 and its record is 5-2. (Six of the games went to a shootout and the Blues are 3-3 in SO).
|2010 - Jaroslav Halak||6||365||4||1||11||1.81||155||144||.929||1|
The Blues will be without defenseman Roman Polak, who recently injured his wrist and will require surgery. Nathan Oystrick was called up from Peoria, and enforcer Cam Janssen activated from injured reserve.
Pekka Rinne and Jaroslav Halak have gotten off to two of the best starts in the NHL by a goaltender. As teams that don't boast an elite scoring talent, the Predators' and Blues' success will in large part depend on their netminders. A microcosm of that, then, is tonight's game. Rinne and Halak could end up challenging for the Vezina Trophy at the end of the year, and I expect a great duel this evening. As dominant as Halak can be, Rinne has the better statistics in 2010-11 and throughout their respective careers.
As much as I want to predict another victory, I'm not sure how long this ride can last (sound familiar?). Nashville's certainly playing well, but so are the Blues, and St. Louis is not going to enter tonight's game as flat-footed as they did two Thursdays ago. Additionally, I doubt the Blues have forgotten the Jordin Tootoo/Ryan Reaves/Brad Winchester kerfluffle.
Anyway, it should certainly be an entertaining tilt. Inter-divisional games always are, but lets go with Blues 2, Predators 1.