The Predators last game of 2011 has them facing a familiar divisional foe in the St. Louis Blues. The Predators in the most recent game against the Minnesota Wild, kept the game scoreless and finally tallied in the third period only to let the other team do the same and force overtime and a shootout. Nashville would go on to win in the shootout…does this sound like coincidence?
Nashville bested St. Louis earlier in December in the same fashion and hold a 2-0 record over the Blues on the year. But playing at ScottTrade Center has not been friendly to the Predators and expect the St. Louis Blues are itching to start putting L’s where Nashville would prefer W’s.
This Year’s Series: 2-0-0 (1-0-0 Home, 1-0-0 Away)
Looking at the Blues: With Ken Hitchcock at the helm, St. Louis has been in a word: impressive. In the month of December, the Blues have a 7-3-2 record and these numbers since acquiring Hitchcock have elevated the Blues to 6th in the Western Conference; two points ahead of Nashville. This is a statement game tonight for both teams as a 2 point sway could either further the Blues from Nashville or the Predators could catch the Blues and add some insurance to stay in the playoff hunt.
Alexander Steen is on fire right now leading the Blues in Goals and Plus/Minus (13G, +20). The top five of the Blues is rounded out by Backes, Oshii, Shattenkirk and a familiar face and former captain of the Nashville Predators Jason Arnott. Arnott has been on a tear scoring 8 points in his last seven games.
Looking at the Predators: It was a good win against the Minnesota Wild, a team that always seems to play Nashville hard and to a one point affair. With a depleted defensive line-up, Nashville has once again found a way to plug and play with improving results. Having Weber and Klein back would be a plus, but many watching Josi, Blum and Ellis step up to fill those roles have enjoyed watching the development of Nashville’s future on the blue-line.
Craig Smith still doesn’t have a goal in forever and the man of the hour is Jordin Tootoo who is two points shy of tying his all-time career season best and there are still plenty of games to go. Having Gabriel Bourque in the line-up also provides some much needed speed and drive to the net. Pairing him with Wilson and Smith could be an opponents nightmare since every one of them has a nose for the net and speed to burn.
For the Blues to win: Use the wisdom of Ken Hitchcock, the firepower of their offense and the home crowds support to overwhelm the Predators. Having a gritty player like David Backes in the lineup who can stand up for his teammates and score is a huge bonus for the Blues. Coupled with the play of Steen, Arnott and Oshii, the Blues will open up a shooting gallery on Rinne.
There are currently six players on the Blues with a negative plus/minus. This attention to defensive hockey and the mindset of Ken Hitchcock is not only frustrating to play against but controls the flow of the game and scoring chances. The Blues system is working perfectly and it would be fool-hearty of them to change anything right now.
For the Predators to win: It’s a broken record chant but shooting the puck more will surely help the Nashville Predators. Legwand is the team leader in goals but the line combinations have been jostled around so that new line-mates have had to start building chemistry with each other. Trotz needs to figure out which line combos worked such as the Hornqvist/Wilson/Smith line or the Erat/Fisher/SK74 line that did so good early on in the season.
Rinne has been a savior on numerous occasions for the Predators, but Nashville has to find a way of not leaving him out to dry. Pekka can only do so much and steal so many games, the offense needs to give him some goal support and start firing pucks into the back of the net. A little cleaning around the goal crease from the defense would also help. Until then, watching the rookies step up and play out of their minds to stay with the big club has been pure entertainment.
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Stay HardCore, friends