It's finally here.
For one night, all the past successes or failures of a team are forgotten. As the skates slice into the ice for the first time, worries and expectations give way to the excitement that hockey is back. For one night, nothing matters but seeing our favorite players once again playing the game we love. Most importantly there is still hope (for everyone except, let's say Flames and Panthers fans) that this season could be spectacular.
Tonight, the Predators open their season against current (and former) division rival, St. Louis. There are still plenty of questions facing the team right now, but none of them are going to be answered by the final buzzer. So instead, let's bask in the first of (hopefully) many games from a burgeoning young defenseman. Let's hold our breath every time Weber winds up for a slap shot. And let's marvel in the Dyson-esque quality of Rinne's glove. It's game time, suckas.
Last Season's Stats
|Nashville Predators||St. Louis Blues|
|5-on-5 Save %||.915||17th||.911||21st|
|# of PP's/Gm||2.92||27th||3.10||24th|
|# of PK's/Gm||2.90||3rd||3.13||9th|
St. Louis Blues
Over the last few seasons, the Blues have evolved from a playoff surprise to a possible Cup contender. However, after being eliminated by the Kings two years in a row, they are out to prove they're a team that can make some noise this year.
They were seventh in goals against last year, and should again be one of the stingiest teams in the league. A blue line already consisting of Alex Pietrangelo, Kevin Shattenkirk and Barret Jackman, gets to have Jay Bouwmeester and Jordan Leopold for an entire year. If the opposing team can get through them, they'll have to try their luck at either Jaroslav Halak or Brian Elliott in goal. Pick your poison.
The forward corps may have a few question marks, but that doesn't mean they should be taken lightly. Though captain David Backes had a bit of a rough year in 2013, he was still second on the team in points and has a vote of confidence from his coach. Stewart, Steen and Berglund were the top scorers last year, as well as David Perron who was shipped to the Oilers for Magnus Pajaarvi.
The Blues also brought in Maxime Lappiere, Derek Roy, and former Stars captain Brendan Morrow.
Not many people have a whole lot of faith in the Predators this year. The lack of offense has already been talked to death, as has the free agents brought in this summer. Unfortunately, Viktor Stalberg, the biggest scoring threat of the group is going to be out for 3-4 weeks to start the season.
The hope is that Colin Wilson and Gabriel Bourque can pick up where they left off before they lost their seasons to injuries. Same song and dance with the new alternate captain, Patric Hornqvist. No one expects him to score 30 goals again, (not that we'd be mad if he did) but having him camped in front of nets for a full season will definitely help the team. Rookie Filip Forsberg is also going to have eyes burning into the back of his jersey, with expectations that he can eventually turn into the offensive dynamo the team has been missing. Remember, he's only 19.
Defense is less of an issue - at least we should hope so. Shea Weber is one of the best defenseman in the NHL, and Roman Josi has done a superb job filling the shoes of a deserter. After the top three though, Ellis is the elder statesman when it comes to him Bartley, Ekholm and Jones. While Jones seems like he's going to be an elite star, there are still going to be some growing pains along the way. Don't be surprised to see some struggles early, before everyone settles into their roles.
It was announced yesterday that Filip Forsberg would miss the first two games of the season. Hang on to those expectations just a little bit longer, Preds fans. As mentioned above, Viktor Stalberg will be out for some time.
The Blues should be able to ice their full lineup tonight.
7:30 p.m. Central, FS-TN
Finally, as a season opening special, we talked to Laura from St. Louis Game Time to get some thoughts from the perspective of the Blue Notes:
How will David Backes rebound this season after a disappointing 2013?
[Ken Hitchcock] admitted that Backes was spread out a bit much last year. He played on the power play, the penalty kill, took faceoffs against high quality opponents - he was the jack of all trades, and apparently the master of not scoring goals like he's capable of. Now that the problem's been identified, it should be better this year. He's a slow starter, so Blues fans should be reasonable and expect a wait for him to get going, but he's aware that the pressure's on him. He puts most of that pressure upon himself, so he realizes that this season is an important one for him as captain."
What does Magnus Pajaarvi bring to the team?
A seat in the press box, apparently. He's played himself off the team for right now because he's not using his size and speed effectively, so somehow or another Brendan Morrow is on the second line, Jaden Schwartz is in Pajaarvi's spot on the third, and Umlaut is eating pretzels and press box hot dogs. Hitch didn't seem unimpressed by him, but I think that he wants to see if Pajaarvi can play the system before putting him into a regular season game.
Which goaltender emerges as the number one this year, if any?
I think it should be Halak, just based on the dedication he showed this summer. The already svelte goalie dropped 14 more pounds, and his workouts focused on injury prevention. If he's healthy, he's our guy. Truth be told, though, I can't think of anyone who would be tremendously upset if it wound up another 1A and 1B situation.
Despite the Blues being predicted as a playoff lock (and in some circles, division champs) what is your biggest concern for the team entering the season?
The fact that in the playoffs they couldn't hit the broad side of the barn. The Blues don't have a finisher, but they do have many players who are capable of scoring at least 20 goals. The problem is, with this kind of scoring by committee, once one guy goes down the rest of the team sees this as a sign they need to go cold too. Defense wins you games, unless that game is a 1-0 shootout loss or a 2-1 overtime loss. A few insurance goals to make the fans feel better once in a while would be nice.