Blues At Predators: Division Rivals In A Playoff Race Square Off

NASHVILLE, TN - DECEMBER 17: Patrik Berglund #21 of the St Louis Blues takes a shot past Matt Halischuk #24 of the Nashville Predators at the Bridgestone Arena on December 17, 2011 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

Don't expect this to be a high scoring affair. The Predators have won the first three meetings, but all of those are one-goal wins. The last two games ended in a 2-1 Predators shootout victory. If the Blues want to stay in second place, they'll need to reverse that trend.

If there's a storyline between the St. Louis Blues and Nashville Predators, it's the teams' propensities to play shut-down defensive hockey. These aren't goal-fests, folks. When you have teams with defenses like the Blues' and Preds', not very many pucks make it through to the goaltender. When you have goaltenders like Jaroslav Halak and Pekka Rinne between the pipes, not many of those pucks will make it into the back of the net. As Inside Smashville noted, Preds coach Barry Trotz chalks this up to the two teams' similar style of play:

“I think we have similar philosophies. I understand what St. Louis does. They understand what we do. We have been able to end up on the right side. The two games that we won in their building, the first one we had no business winning, it was all Pekka Rinne’s doing. The second one we got a couple of timely goals with a power play goal and we won in a shootout. They have all been close games. It is going to be a playoff-style game [Saturday],” Trotz said.

It also helps surely that the two coaches, Trotz and Ken Hitchcock, are old friends and old rivals who can probably read the other's strategy fairly well. Whatever the cause for the lock up in the games, Inside Smashville brings up the reason why the Preds seem to have the Blues' number in close games. This was fairly disconcerting to read:

Close match-ups are nothing new between the Predators and Blues with 16 of their last 24 meetings being decided by one goal. In 78 games played against the Blues, 22 overtime periods have been required to decide a winner. The Predators have 12 wins and 10 overtime/shootout losses in those games. Of the 22 games to need extra time to decide a winner, 11 have gone to the shootout where Nashville has excelled with an 8-3 record in shootouts against St. Louis.

So, basically, the Blues' seeming inability to understand how to ice the game when they need to have cost them points against the Predators. Makes sense, especially when you consider how many shots on goal they had against Rinne the last two games (40 and 36 respectively). Each of those games the Blues lost 2-1 in a shootout, and each of those were frustrating losses for Jaroslav Halak. Despite the high shot totals and multiple chances against Rinne in each of those games, only one goal was able to make it past the Predators' goaltender during regulation. Fans and press alike have been crowing for most of the season that the Blues' absolutely must convert on solid chances: no more posts, no more missed nets, no more whiffs. Insurance goals are important. Not every game will be like last night's 1-0 win against the Kings. Halak has five shutouts this season, and three in his last five games, but the Blues need to stop relying on half of their Jennings Trophy contending tandem. They have to score.

It's tougher to do so, especially on the power play, without Andy McDonald and Alex Steen; neither traveled with the Blues to Nasvhille for tonight's game (Jason Arnott, who was injured in last night's game, did make the trip and is considered day-to-day). Concussions make a solid timetable for return impossible to judge, and it's pretty much impossible to say when either one of them will return. That, of course, places the onus on David Backes and the other top guys on the ice to convert, and convert more often. Backes has been the object of many glowing editorials this season, most recently this one by Nicholas J. Cotsonika of Yahoo Sports. He's a leader on and off the ice, and unarguably one of the best all-around forwards in the game. It, as usual, falls on his top line to produce and lead by example tonight.

It's a brief three game road-trip for the Blues, but their road record isn't nearly as good as their NHL best home record of 22-3-4. A record of 8-10-3 absolutely needs to be built upon if the Blues want to keep up in this wild Central Division race.

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