Blues Look to Begin Season on High Note
Saturday, 10.08.2011 / 12:54 AM
NHL.comTRAFFIC ADVISORY: I-70 will be closed in both directions downtown this weekend between 10th Street and the Poplar Street bridge. Fans traveling to Saturday's home opener vs. Nashville are encouraged to allow additional time for travel and use I-64 and I-170 as alternate routes. If you are traveling from Illinois, there are multiple lane closures coming downtown via the Poplar Street Bridge. Expect delays and consider alternate routes.
PREDATORS (1-0-0) at BLUES (0-0-0)
TV: FS-Tennesse, FS-Midwest (HD)
First of six meetings between these Central Division rivals. St. Louis got the best of Nashville last season, winning two of three in both cities, including a 2-0 shutout by Jaroslav Halak
in the final game of the regular season for both teams. David Backes
had 3 goals and 5 points to lead the Blues, while Cal O'Reilly finished with 1 goal and 4 points to pace the Predators.
Every season there seems to be doubt about whether Nashville has what it takes to finish in the top eight of the Western Conference, but come mid-April the Predators have perennially been there. They wrap up a two-games-in-two-nights road trip within the Central to start off the season, facing a St. Louis squad that wants to make noise in a division that only seems to get tougher with Detroit and Chicago still top contenders and Columbus having made offseason improvements.
It isn't true that Nashville beats Columbus every time those teams meet, it only seems that way. The Predators improved to 44-14-5 against the Blue Jackets all-time by hanging on for a 3-2 win Friday night. They're also 11-5-2 at Nationwide Arena since the start of the 2006-07 season. Ryan Suter helped silence the crowd early with a power-play goal, Craig Smith and Matt Halischuk also scored and Pekka Rinne began his run at another Vezina Trophy nomination by turning in a 29-save performance.
"It was a good game for us," Rinne said. "It's a big start for the season. It didn't come easy but we played strong. We battled hard. We played with desperation. It was nice to see the young guys stepping up and playing big roles; that's what we need this year."
Getting off to a fast start wasn't the problem last season -- St. Louis began a franchise-best 9-1-2, only to fade as injuries and inconsistency plagued the team. The Blues went out and added a couple forwards with Stanley Cup experience in Jason Arnott
and Jamie Langenbrunner
, while naming power forward David Backes
their new captain. They also expect more out of Halak, who showed flashes of the brilliance he displayed for Montreal in the 2010 playoffs that led St. Louis to trade for him, but alternated with average to below-average performances as well.
"We feel very strongly about Jaro and the work he's put in this summer," coach Davis Payne said. "There's a sense of comfort that is going to come from being able to go through the conference and our division for the second time, so we expect big things out of him."
Suter showed why he is one of the more underrated defensemen in the game Friday by producing a goal and an assist while logging 26 minutes, 28 seconds of ice time for the Predators. ... Berglund, who posted career highs of 22 goals and 52 points last season and was rewarded with a new contract, scored in two of the Blues' final three preseason games.
Nashville forward Mike Fisher (shoulder) and defenseman Francis Bouillon (concussion) are on injured reserve. ... St. Louis forwards David Perron
(post-concussion symptoms) and B.J. Crombeen
(broken scapula) are on injured reserve.
Predators captain Shea Weber picked up an assist, took five shots and was second to Suter with 25:54 of ice time against the Blue Jackets. ... Halak's seven shutouts last season were a career-high and tied him for third in the League with Ilya Bryzgalov.
Nashville's victory Friday was especially memorable for Smith, a fourth-round pick in 2009 who was making his NHL debut. His goal with 4:04 left in the second period snapped a 1-1 tie and put his team in front to stay.
"I know it's pretty special for some guys to get it on the first night," Smith said. "I was fortunate enough that I got that puck to squeeze through there for me."