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Central Division clash pits Blues against Predators

by Brian Hunter /
PREDATORS (19-14-4) at BLUES (21-11-4)


Last 10:
Nashville 7-3-0; St. Louis 7-2-1

Season Series: Third of six meetings between these Central Division Rivals. The Predators have taken the first two, getting a pair of third-period goals from David Legwand for a 4-2 win in St. Louis on Oct. 8, and the decisive shootout goal by Legwand for a 2-1 victory in Nashville on Dec. 17.

Big Story:
Division matchups always take on added importance, but it's particularly true when it comes to the Central at the moment. The top-four teams have all won seven of their last 10 games, so nothing much has changed in the standings. Chicago continues to lead the way with St. Louis and Detroit right behind. Nashville is by no means out of the discussion for first place, but the Predators currently have a bigger concern -- holding on to a top-eight spot in the Western Conference, where they sit in seventh with the five teams immediately below within three points of them.

Team Scope:

Predators: It can often be difficult to face a team on a major skid that is better than it's been playing -- and the difficulty only increases when your captain and top defenseman is out of the lineup. Without the services of Shea Weber, Nashville faced a Minnesota team entering on a seven-game losing streak Wednesday night, and the Wild took the Predators into a shootout. It was there that Colin Wilson scored the lone goal and Pekka Rinne denied all three Minnesota attempts to add to his 34-save performance.

"Everyone is playing really well, and that's what we need," defenseman Ryan Suter said. "It all starts with Pekka.

"It was pretty tight out there, I think that is fair to say. They defended well. I thought we played great defensively. We really stepped up our game and focused on playing defense."

Winners of six in a row at Scottrade Center and 11-2-1 on home ice since Ken Hitchcock took over as coach, St. Louis will look to build on that momentum before going back to Detroit for a rematch with the Red Wings on New Year's Eve. The Blues were defeated 3-2 at Joe Louis Arena on Tuesday night, allowing a third-period lead to slip away as Pavel Datsyuk and Niklas Kronwall scored 56 seconds apart. Wasted were power-play goals by Matt D'Agostini and Alex Steen.

"They dialed it up," Hitchcock said in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "We had a chance to really blow it open in the second, where we had all of our chances … they dialed it up in the third and forced us into mistakes. You had to expect it, but we didn't have enough answer in the third. So, we'll have to address it."

Who's Hot:
Jordin Tootoo scored the Predators' lone regulation goal Wednesday and continues his pace for a career season. His 6 goals put him more than halfway to the 11 he scored in 2007-08, while his 16 points are just two shy of his top single-season output, accomplished twice. … Jason Arnott and Kevin Shattenkirk assisted on both of the Blues' power-play goals Tuesday. Arnott has 2 goals and 2 assists during a three-game points streak.

Injury Report:
Weber has missed the last two games with a concussion, though Nashville held out some hope he could be cleared to return by Friday. Fellow defenseman Kevin Klein has also been out with flu-like symptoms. … St. Louis forwards Jamie Langenbrunner (flu-like symptoms), T.J. Oshie (wrist) and Vladimir Sobotka (ankle) will return to the lineup on Friday. Defenseman Kris Russell suffered a hip injury in the first period against Detroit and was placed on injured reserve Thursday, where he joins defenseman Kent Huskins (ankle) and forwards Andy McDonald (concussion) and Ryan Reaves (hip). Steen will also be out with concussion-like symptoms.

Stat Pack: With Weber out of the lineup, rookie Craig Smith leads the Predators with 25 points. … The Blues had been 16-0-1 when leading after two periods prior to Tuesday's loss in regulation.

Puck Drop:
Nashville prospect Miikka Salomaki opened some eyes at the World Junior Championship on Wednesday when he scored the first goal in Finland's 4-1 upset of the United States. Meanwhile, St. Louis prospect Jaden Schwartz is the captain for Team Canada, which has won its first three games of the tournament while outscoring its opposition by a 23-3 margin.
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