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First-place Blues aren't taking rival Predators lightly

by Louie Korac

PREDATORS (8-3-2) at BLUES (9-3-1)


ST. LOUIS -- With all the preseason hype regarding Central Division teams including the St. Louis Blues, Chicago Blackhawks, Colorado Avalanche and Minnesota Wild, the Nashville Predators, with new coach Peter Laviolette, were left on the back-burner.

But after starting 8-3-2, the Predators have caught the attention of opponents, especially the one Saturday.

The Blues, winners of seven in a row, are aware that the Predators and their open-style game has been a different change from the years when Barry Trotz was coach.

"They're always a well-structured team," Blues center Paul Stastny said. "Doesn't really matter who their coach is. I'm sure they have a lot of elements from last year. They're kind of a force to be reckoned with. [Goaltender Pekka] Rinne is fully healthy, and when you have a solid No. 1 goaltender that's healthy you can be in every game."

Not only do the Blues, who are looking for their longest winning streak since a run of nine in a row in 2002, want to keep their game trending in the right direction, they look at games within the division with a different mindset.

"You've got to beat division rivals," Blues defenseman Barret Jackman said. "Every point is going to be crucial, especially down the road. You don't want to be clawing and scraping away at the end. You get the points now and make every matchup count."

Coach Ken Hitchcock said, "It's awfully early to be gauging first-place battles and all that stuff, but it's a divisional opponent. I look at it from anytime we're playing a divisional opponent, we're trying to keep everybody underneath us. That's as important as anything. To me it's the same thing. Division opponent, good team; seems like you say that about every team in the Central Division. Just doesn't seem to be much difference between any of the teams in the Central right now. Anybody can beat anybody and anybody has beat anybody. We're looking at it as any points we can get in these division games is really, really important."

The Predators, who practiced Friday at Scottrade Center, did not have a morning skate Saturday.

Rinne is expected to be the starting goalie. He will be opposed by Brian Elliott, who is 5-2-0 with a 1.71 goals-against average and .929 save percentage in seven games against Nashville.

Here are the projected lineups:


James Neal - Mike Ribeiro - Filip Forsberg

Matt Cullen - Derek Roy - Craig Smith

Olli Jokinen - Calle Jarnkrok - Colin Wilson

Eric Nystrom - Paul Gaustad - Taylor Beck

Roman Josi - Shea Weber

Mattias Ekholm - Ryan Ellis

Victor Bartley - Seth Jones

Pekka Rinne

Carter Hutton

Scratched: Gabriel Bourque

Suspended: Anton Volchenkov

Injured: Mike Fisher (Achilles), Viktor Stalberg (lower body)


Alexander Steen - Paul Stastny - David Backes

Jaden Schwartz - Jori Lehtera - Vladimir Tarasenko

Chris Porter - Patrik Berglund - Joakim Lindstrom

Steve Ott - Maxim Lapierre - Ryan Reaves

Jay Bouwmeester - Alex Pietrangelo

Carl Gunnarsson - Kevin Shattenkirk

Barret Jackman - Ian Cole

Brian Elliott

Jake Allen

Scratched: Magnus Paajarvi, Dmitrij Jaskin, Jordan Leopold

Injured: T.J. Oshie (concussion)

Status report: Hitchcock moved Backes to right wing on Stastny's line Friday at practice, but the coach said he just wanted to "take a look at it." Lindstrom moved to right wing on a line with Berglund after playing with Backes and Steen on Thursday. … Volchenkov will serve the final game of his four-game suspension Saturday. He'll be eligible to return to the lineup Tuesday when the Predators host the Edmonton Oilers. … Oshie was on the ice prior to the morning skate and did some individual drills, but Hitchcock said regarding his status, "It will be a while yet." … Porter will replace Jaskin in the Blues lineup.

Who's hot: Tarasenko has 11 points in six games, including eight goals. He has five goals during a four-game goal-scoring streak. The Tarasenko-Schwartz-Lehtera line has 14 points in the past four games. … Forsberg is on a four-game point streak, with four goals and two assists. ... Cullen has a point in four of five games since joining the lineup.

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