Only three days for the Predators to once again match up with the St. Louis Blues. After dropping the second home game of the season against the Blues in a shootout 4-3, the Predators were able to go to Minnesota on Tuesday and win in regulation 3-1. The Blues took their 2-0 start to the season and lost their first game of the year to Chicago 3-2 on Tuesday.
Tonight’s game can be found on 102.5 the Game with Tom Callahan and Stu Grimson warming up the pipes and viewed on FS Tennessee with hosts Pete Weber and Terry Crisp. Puck drop is at 7 PM Central.
The Predators and Blues are heated Central division rivals and have a very close game plan. Hitchcock and Trotz both employ the defensive first mentality, which is why most every game played between the Blues and Predators either is won by one goal or goes to overtime/shootout. 3 of 6 games last season went to a shootout.
St. Louis is stacked with talent from last season where they won the Central Division with the likes of Backes, Perron, McDonald, Oshie, Shattenkirk and Pietrangelo to name a few. But the new kid stepping up this season has been Vladimir Tarasenko who already has 5 points in 3 games. The back end of St. Louis, as proven Monday night with a goalie change being the deciding factor for the Blues gaining the extra point, puts that much more pressure on Central Division opponents and the Western Conference as a whole.
The Predators found that their back-up goaltender and third time Predator, Chris Mason, was prepared and able to withstand the offensive onslaught from Minnesota. Heatley, Setoguchi, Bouchard and especially Parise tested Mason’s resolve, especially in the closing four minutes of the game, but Chris Mason stood tall and only allowed the one goal in the first period (a deflection by teammate Kevin Klein).
Looking at the Blues: After first hand evidence Monday night, this Tarasenko kid is no joke. His speed burst coupled with velvet hands are a nightmare to defend against. That kind of confidence, especially from a rookie, is what makes St. Louis such a dangerous team. While defenses are fumbling around with ways to stop what Tarasenko can do, it leaves other deadly snipers open to fire lasers at the corners.
Oshie, McDonald and Stewart have been the beneficiary of what Tarasenko does to the opposing defense with 2 goals each. The true strength of St. Louis lies on the back end with two interchangeable goalies who led the league last year in SV% and GAA. The defensive front is not lacking either with two young guns in Shattenkirk and Pietrangelo patrolling the blueline. These two have combined for 9 points in three games and are a +3 total.
Looking at the Predators: The Predators are starting to take the shape of the fourth place Western Conference team from last season. The rust is slowly flaking away and what is left is a defensive machination that can clamp down in the final minutes of the game and add insurance with PP scoring.
Hornqvist and Wilson are really hitting their stride and showing Predators fans what the new guard of homegrown talent is all about. Hornqvist is tied with Martin Erat with 4 points leading the Predators, and although Wilson only has the one goal and one point, his play as a proper power forward on the ice has him penciled into the second line opposite Hornqvist. The other great addition in Tuesday’s game was Gabriel Bourque who finished with a +1 and showed why his energy helped boost the third line and cause the mismatches that helped Yip and Spaling earn their first points of the year.
The expected lineup for the Predators (based on Tuesday’s lineup):
For the Blues to win: Press the Predators from puck drop. The Predators are known for coming out slow in the first period and many teams have almost stifled Nashville with a flurry of shots and goals in the first period. The key to winning would be to put the Predators behind the eight ball early and clamp down on defense to hold out for the win.
Staying out of the penalty box will be key. Nashville is currently converting power plays at a 40% rate good for 6th best in the NHL. It’ll be a perfect balance of grit, tenacity and discipline for St. Louis to ply their system into trapping and slowing down the Predators. The top two lines for the Blues are dangerous and the bottom two lines are punishing. Hitchcock will need to use all these weapons to his advantage. Look for Elliott to start against the Predators given his success in Monday night’s game from halfway through the second period to the shootout shutdown.
For the Predators to win: Take the style of game they played with in Minnesota, add some more pucks on net and have Rinne stand on his head. The recipe for success for Nashville is to use speed and a stout forecheck to goad some penalty minutes from the Blues. Nashville went 2 for 8 on the PP against St. Louis (2-4 on Halak, 0-4 on Elliott).
Rinne will be rested and tested often in this game. It’ll be key for the defensive pairings to get out of his line of sight to track pucks. They need to especially clear the front of the crease and not allow players like Tarasenko to blast down and set up shop in the slot. Speaking of defenseman stepping up, Shea Weber is due for a point this game. He leads the team in SOG but has yet to register a single point (Ryan Ellis has 1 goal, 1 assist with only 2 SOG). The Captain can literally take the team on his shoulders and win games if needed. It is sorely needed for him to blast a shot from the point and light the lamp.