Game of the Night
St. Louis Blues (30-13-7) at Nashville Predators (31-17-4)
Two of the hottest teams in the NHL are set to square off for the fourth time this season, in what is quickly becoming a very competitive Central Division rivalry.
St. Louis arrives at the Bridgestone Arena looking to build some momentum on the road. The Blues have picked up at least one point in 11 of 12 contests, but have won only two of seven in opposing venues and are 8-10-3 overall.
Most recently, on January 23rd, Jimmy Howard and the Red Wings defended their home ice valiantly in a 3-1 beating of the blue and white. Ironically, each of the Blues last three road defeats have come at Joe Louis Arena — with the other two losses in the streak coming at Colorado and Nashville.
A noticeable issue for St. Louis when playing away is offensive production. It is well-documented that overall the Blues are 22nd in goals scored per game, but this is intensified on the road. In fact, they have failed to reach three goals in every loss in opposing arena’s this year.
Fortunately, St. Louis has the arguably unmatched duo of Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak to keep opponents off the board. Each man has recorded 15 wins and is giving up less than two scores per outing. Halak picked up the shutout in the Blues most recent tussle with Los Angeles.
On the opposing benches this evening is the suddenly dangerous Nashville Predators. Now, in all fairness, they were expected to be a playoff contender; but, lately they have appeared as a legitimate club vying for the Stanley Cup.
Despite losing in Philadelphia on Thursday, the Predators have won 10 of 12 and have a league-leading 19 wins since December 6th. This stretch of strong play has catapulted Nashville to fifth in the Western Conference (a regulation win tonight would push them to fourth).
These winning ways have come from balance on the offensive and defensive ends of the ice. The Predators have scored at least three goals in all of their last 10 wins, and have given up one or fewer in seven of 15.
Leading the charge in this stint of balanced success has been the pair of all-star defenders — Ryan Suter and Shea Weber — and outstanding netminder Pekka Rinne. Even though they are defenseman, Suter and Weber are two of the top six scorers for Nashville with a combined 64 points this season. Rinne, as always, is playing solid hockey with a goals against average well below 2.50.
The Predators have won all three matchups between these two clubs this season. However, they have won by a total of only four goals, with two of the games coming down to a shootout.
I expect another close one tonight, but will take Nashville for a fourth straight victory simply because of Rinne. His lifetime numbers against the Blues are 11-5-2 with a 1.89 GAA and a save percentage of nearly 94 percent. This season, he has saved 105 of 109 St. Louis shots in the three victories. There are few better than Halak and Elliot; but, I think this is clearly one of the few.
Prediction: Blues 2, Predators 3