Over the previous two seasons, Paul Kariya was a key behind the Nashville Predators' dominance over St. Louis. Now, Barry Trotz's club must figure out a way to stop the speedy left wing as he returns to the Sommet Center for the first time as a member of the Blues.
Kariya will try to help the Blues (9-7-0) snap an eight-game losing streak in Nashville when they meet the Predators (10-7-1) on Saturday night in the start of a home-and-home series.
Shortly after the lockout ended in 2005, the Predators made perhaps the most noteworthy transaction in franchise history when they inked Kariya to a two-year contract and he posted the club's two best single-season scoring efforts. In 2005-06, he tallied 31 goals and 54 assists, and despite slipping a little last season, he still put up 24 goals and 52 assists.
In 16 games against St. Louis while with Nashville, Kariya had six goals and 13 assists to lead the Predators to a 15-1-0 record.
Nashville's perfect run at home against St. Louis with Kariya on the roster coincided with his arrival. In the eight straight wins, the Predators outscored the Blues 22-13 with 11 goals coming on the power play. They have won three times in shootouts and two other times by one goal.
St. Louis, which has missed the playoffs each of the last two seasons, signed Kariya to a three-year deal in July and he's paid immediate dividends as he leads the Blues with 14 assists and 18 points. He scored and set up Brad Boyes' go-ahead goal on Friday in a 3-2 win over Columbus.
"He's got such a terrific release and he had some big-time chances. He was due," Kariya said of Boyes, who had nine goals in his first 10 games, but managed one assist in his previous five.
Kariya had two assists in his first matchup against his former team, a 4-1 win in St. Louis in Oct. 10.
The Predators have been one of the league's hottest clubs recently, going 8-1-1 following a season-high six-game losing streak. Nashville scored three goals in the third period and gave up the tying tally in the final minute of regulation before Martin Erat scored 19 seconds into overtime in a 5-4 win over Chicago on Thursday.
"We were down two goals going into the third period, so it is huge to get two points out of this game," Predators defenseman Vernon Fiddler said.
Alexander Radulov scored his fourth goal of the year and finished with a season-high three points, and Erat, Fiddler and Radek Bonk each had a goal and assist.
David Legwand also drew two assists in the win. He has three goals and six assists in his last seven games, and is on the verge of passing Kimmo Timonen to become the franchise's all-time leading scorer.
Legwand, the Predators' first draft pick in 1998, has 300 points, including a franchise-best 112 goals. Timonen, now with Philadelphia, tallied 301 from 1998-2007.
The Blues and Predators will meet again on Monday in St. Louis.