NHL: Matching trajectories lead to Blues, Predators matchup
The St. Louis Blues host the Nashville Predators on Thursday in a battle of two Central Division clubs trying to get into the playoff picture.
The Predators are a point ahead of the Blues in the standings, though the teams are both still outside of the top three places in the division, as well as the Western Conference wild-card positions. The first two meetings of the season were split on home ice — the Predators won 6-2 in Nashville on Oct. 27, while the Blues collected a 1-0 overtime victory in St. Louis on Dec. 12.
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Continuing the parallels between the two rivals, St. Louis and Nashville have even been posting similar results. The Blues recorded a 2-1 win over the Ottawa Senators on Monday despite being outshot 33-20.
Nashville, meanwhile, has posted 2-1 victories in each of its last two games. The Predators were outshot 39-29 by the Calgary Flames on Monday and 40-28 by the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday, but in both cases left with two points.
Predators coach John Hynes considered Monday’s game to be the “much more complete” one of the two outings. Against Columbus, it was a different story.
“I thought we let our foot off the gas in the second and third (periods) in our intensity level, our execution, our stiffness defensively and our puck battles,” Hynes said.
Fortunately for Nashville, goaltender Kevin Lankinen was up to the challenge, stopping 39 of 40 shots. It was another solid outing for the backup goalie, and regular starter Juuse Saros should be back in net to face St. Louis after he made 28 saves against the Flames.
The Blues’ win over Ottawa followed a similar script, as St. Louis scored two first-period goals and then relied on goalie Jordan Binnington to hold the Senators at bay.
“We kind of weathered the storm there and made some great plays. (We had) great breakouts, good penalty kill and just kind of a team effort,” said Binnington, who stopped 32 of 33 shots and is expected to start again Thursday.
The 20 shots on goal was the Blues’ second-lowest total of the season, though the team has still been successful without much offensive pressure. Over the games with the Blues’ 10 lowest shot totals, St. Louis has a 7-3-0 record.
Thursday’s game will pit one of the NHL’s weakest power plays against one of its worst penalty-kill units. Nashville is 1-for-21 on the power play over its last seven games, continuing the Predators’ season-long issues with the extra attacker.
St. Louis has also struggled to halt power-play chances overall, though the team has been sharper lately, killing eight of nine penalties over its last five games. The Blues have also limited the penalty-kill damage by staying out of penalty trouble; no team has spent less time short-handed than the Blues’ 179:49 this season.
Nashville captain Roman Josi has four points (two goals, two assists) during his ongoing four-game point streak.
St. Louis forward Jake Neighbours has four points (two goals, two assists) in his last five games, a hint that the rookie is adjusting to NHL play. Neighbours had only two points over his first 16 career games.
Nikita Alexandrov is day-to-day with an upper-body injury and was a late scratch from the Blues’ lineup on Monday.
–Field Level Media
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