PREDATORS (0-0-0) at BLUES (0-0-0)
TV: FS-TN, FS-MW
Season series: This is the first of five meetings this season between the Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues. The Blues won three of four games against the Predators in 2012-13, though they were actually outscored by Nashville in the series by a 9-8 margin.
Big story: As a result of the NHL's realignment for the 2013-14 season, the Central Division looks completely different than it did a year ago, but the Predators and Blues will be seeing some familiar faces when they open their respective campaigns Thursday night. For the Blues, the ultimate goal of winning the franchise's first Stanley Cup starts against Nashville, while the Predators will look to get a strong start to a season they hope will see them return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Predators: For the first time in four years, the Predators got to work on their golf game last spring. That isn't the situation coach Barry Trotz's team wants to be in this season. While Nashville has been one of the most consistently competitive teams in the League during the past decade, last season's abbreviated season was one of transition, as the Predators tried to adapt to life without All-Star defenseman Ryan Suter, who signed with the Minnesota Wild as a free agent.
Suter's absence paved the way for Roman Josi to show himself as one of the best young defensemen in the League en route to earning a seven-year, $28 million extension. In addition, Nashville selected potential franchise cornerstone defenseman Seth Jones No. 4 in the 2013 NHL Draft. With Jones, Josi, Shea Weber and goalie Pekka Rinne, the Predators could be solid at the back end for the next decade.
Blues: The Blues start the season with a luxury few teams are afforded, a five-game homestand. That doesn't mean those games will be easy. After starting the season against Nashville, a team that has missed the postseason just twice in the last nine seasons and hosting the Calgary Flames on Saturday, the Blues will play three of their next four games against teams on the short list of Stanley Cup contenders -- the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks, the New York Rangers and the San Jose Sharks.
Still, the Blues have the look of a team that can withstand the rigors of a heavyweight-laden opening schedule. Last season their 24.2 shots against per game was the second-lowest figure in the League. St. Louis has a deep group of forwards, but there is hope Magnus Paajarvi, acquired from the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for David Perron, could help improve an offense that was in middle of the pack last season. Paajarvi, the 10th pick in the 2009 NHL Draft, has dynamic offensive skills, but after honing his all-around game to crack into a crowded lineup of forwards with the Oilers, he could bring benefits to St. Louis in several areas.
Injury report: Rinne (offseason hip surgery) is expected to start Thursday. Forwards Filip Forsberg (lower body) and Patric Hornqvist (lower body) are questionable while forward Viktor Stalberg (shoulder sprain) is out until late October. ... The Blues should be fully healthy for opening night, though recently signed forward Brenden Morrow is still awaiting his work visa.
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