NASHVILLE TN - OCTOBER 28: Defenseman Kevin Klein #8 and goalie Pekka Rinne #35 of the Nashville Predators watch a puck bounce in front of left wing David Perron #57 and defenseman Alex Pietrangelo #27 of the St. Louis Blues on October 28 2010 at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville Tennessee. (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
The Predators aren't what a lot of Blues fans would consider Central Division rivals, but playing them's always a well-matched contest, especially when Jaroslav Hakak and Pekka Rinne are between the pipes.
The St. Louis Blues don't exactly have the long standing history with the Nashville Predators like they might with other divisional foes - Chicago and Detroit, specifically. What the match-up usually brings isn't the hatred that the Blues exhibit against the Blackhawks and Wings. It can get a bit more "friendly rivalry" feeling sometimes - partially because the Blues and the Preds share a common enemy in the Red Wings, and partially this year because the two coaches have one going. Blues coach Ken Hitchcock and Predators coach Barry Trotz have both worked in the league a long time, and both squared off against each other frequently when Hitchcock was the coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The no-nonsense coaches that both teams currently employ aren't where the similarities end. Both teams are on four game winning streaks; both teams are in the playoff race right now with the Preds just three points behind the Blues; both teams will be putting out goaltenders who have been brick walls as of late; and both teams can defensively smother you. Don't expect a super high scoring game tonight, fans. Between Pekka Rinne in the Nashville net and Jaroslav Halak in the Blues', you have two goaltenders whose numbers don't accurately reflect how well they're playing. Rinne's GAA (2.54) and Halak's GAA (2.37) might not be league leading like Halak's teammate, Brian Elliott -- but they're solid and they've both been dropping recently like a stone. Halak especially has flourished under Hitchcock, not allowing more than three goals since the Blues' 4-1 loss to the Edmonton Oilers on October 30th - the most he's allowed under Hitchcock has been three in a loss to the LA Kings on November 22nd. Factor in the fact that the Blues have allowed just sixteen goals over the past ten games, and you have momentum on Halak's side. Also on Halak's side is his record against the Predators. He's 4-1-1 with a teeny .980 goals against average and two shut-outs.
The Predators always have a valuable weapon in star defenseman Shea Weber - just ask the Detroit Red Wings. They fell 4-3 to the Preds on Thursday night thanks to two Weber tallies in the third period. His slapshot is nearly un-clockable and is practically unblockable. Thankfully for the Blues, he has one goal and eight assists in his last 21 games against St. Louis.
I will be at tonight's game thanks to a St. Louis Game Time road trip, so follow along at @hildymac for updates as I won't have my computer with me to post any. Expect some photos, possible profanity if the Blues aren't playing well, and the occasional tweet of "oh my God how much longer do I have to drive?" going to and from the game.