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Predators host Blues, seek fourth win in a row

by Mike Battaglino

BLUES (45-14-7) at PREDATORS (29-28-10)


Last 10: St. Louis 7-2-1; Nashville 4-5-1

Season series: The St. Louis Blues have won the previous four games against the Nashville Predators. After losing the first two and being outscored 10-3, the Predators have lost 4-3 in a shootout and 2-1.

Big story: One night after defeating the third-place team in the Central Division, the Chicago Blackhawks, to end a perfect three-game road trip, Nashville comes home to play the dominant first-place club.

"We had a tough home stretch there for a while. We were playing really well; we just weren't getting goals," Predators defenseman Ryan Ellis said after the 3-2 win. "I think going on the road was good for our team, for the chemistry, and just for the bonding experience. And we've rattled off three wins here and we're getting back in the race."

St. Louis leads the Presidents' Trophy standings in large part due to its 18-0-2 record against its division, which includes that 4-0-0 mark against Nashville. The Blues have nine divisional games remaining after this one, including five of the last six.

Team Scope:

Blues: Two young wings, Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko, each reached their first 20-goal season Thursday in a 6-2 win against the Edmonton Oilers.

Schwartz, who turns 22 in June, scored twice to get to 21 goals, and Tarasenko, who turned 22 in December, scored his 20th. They fill bigger roles in their second full season after the Blues traded David Perron to the Oilers this summer.

"I think we expected this to happen," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "... The risk we took was that the two kids could take David's minutes, and they've been able to do that."

Schwartz was not as sure.

"I didn't really expect it coming into this season," he said. "But I wanted to chip in and do my part, and [I'd like] to keep going."

Forward Vladimir Sobotka returned after missing 12 games because of a knee injury and had a goal and two assists, including one on Tarasenko's goal.

Hitchcock told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Friday that the line of Sobotka, Tarasenko and T.J. Oshie, which combined for three goals and eight points, would stay together. Forward Brenden Morrow was a healthy scratch but will be back in the lineup after Magnus Paajarvi sustained an upper-body injury.

"I think we're going to invest in a few more changes, though, in the next 48 hours, to be honest with you," Hitchcock told the newspaper. "There are some things we want to look at here in the next few games. We want to make some changes, and a couple of them might be pretty interesting."

Predators: Nashville got six points from defensemen against Chicago. Shea Weber (two assists) had his 12th multipoint game of the season and second in a row. Ellis' breakaway was his fourth goal to tie his career-high, and Roman Josi had three assists.

Excluding 28-year-old Weber, none of the other five defensemen who skated Friday is older than 23.

"That's the strength of really our group, is our D-men," coach Barry Trotz said. "They're all young and talented. We're the youngest team in the League by three years, on the blue line, with our seven guys. The future's really bright for us there."

Trotz said it was "too early to tell" if goalie Pekka Rinne would start back-to-back games. He's won two in a row after losing his first three after returning from a hip infection.

Who's hot: Blues goalie Ryan Miller is 5-0-1 since arriving via trade from the Buffalo Sabres and has allowed more than two goals once. Forward Alexander Steen had two assists Thursday to reach a career-high 52 points. Oshie had three points and at 53 is one short of his career-high. Defenseman Alex Pietrangelo has a goal in two straight games after going 20 without one. Tarasenko has five points in a four-game streak. … Josi has 15 points in his past 19 games.

Injury report: Blues forward Partick Berglund (leg) left the game Thursday midway through the third period. Defenseman Barret Jackman (head) left but finished the game. … The Predators report no injuries.

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