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Blues, Preds kick off seasons in St. Louis

11:04 AM, Oct 3, 2013   |    comments
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( - The St. Louis Blues and Nashville Predators will get their 2013-14 seasons underway on Thursday, as the Blues host the Central Division battle at Scottrade Center.

Although the Blues and Nashville are still members of the Central Division, the group is a bit different this season due to the NHL's realignment plan.

The only other team left from the previous iteration of the Central Division are the Chicago Blackhawks, the defending division and Stanley Cup champions. Meanwhile, Colorado, Dallas, Minnesota and Winnipeg will join the Blackhawks, Blues and Preds in the division this season.

The Blues won three of four meeting against the Predators in 2013, but Nashville has taken three of the past five encounters in St. Louis. The last time the Preds visited the Gateway City on Feb. 5 they recorded a 6-1 blowout win over the Blues.

St. Louis is coming off a pair of excellent regular seasons, but the club failed to impress in the postseason, getting swept out in the second round by the Los Angeles Kings in the spring of 2012 before losing in the opening round to L.A. last season.

Playoff disappoints aside, Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock has shaped his club into an impressive defensive unit since joining the franchise during the 2011-12 campaign.

The club's best assets are it's deep blue line and the goaltending tandem of Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak, but St. Louis hopes the offseason additions of forwards Brenden Morrow and Magnus Paajarvi can give the offense a boost after the Blues finished 17th in the league with just 2.58 goals per game in 2013.

The Blues will go with Halak in net in Thursday's season opener. He went 6-5-1 with a 2.14 GAA for St. Louis during the regular season, but Hitchcock went with Elliott over Halak for all six playoff games against the Kings.

While St. Louis considers Halak and Elliott as its Nos. 1 and 1-A netminders, Nashville's goaltending duties sit firmly on the shoulders of Pekka Rinne, who started 42 of his team's 48 games in 2013.

Rinne went 15-16-8 with a 2.43 GAA and .910 save percentage last season and tied for the league lead with five shutouts.

Rinne and the Predators are aiming to get back in the playoffs in 2013-14 after missing the postseason tournament last spring for the first time since 2009. The 30-year-old Rinne underwent left hip surgery during the offseason, but is ready to start the season opener.

Nashville lost defenseman Ryan Suter to free agency in the summer of 2012 and the club struggled without Shea Weber's former skating partner. Meanwhile, Suter went on to a terrific debut season with the Minnesota Wild, finishing the year as one of three finalists for the Norris Trophy.

Although Weber appeared lost without Suter at the start of last season, Nashville's captain was in All-Star form by the end of the campaign.

Weber had no goals and only two assists through the first 14 games of last season, but he still wound up finishing in the top-10 of NHL defensemen in scoring.

Thursday's season opener will mark the debut of Seth Jones, the defenseman Nashville hopes will eventually help them recover from the loss of Suter. Jones was expected by many to be taken No. 1 overall in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft before falling to Nashville at No. 4.

Scoring expects to be an issue for the Predators again this season after Nashville's offense finished 29th in the NHL in scoring in 2013, averaging a paltry 2.27 goals per game. Signing Viktor Stalberg and Matt Cullen to free- agent deals over the summer could help improve things somewhat, although Stalberg will miss the first few weeks of the season due to a shoulder injury.

Thursday's game marks the start of a five-game homestand for the Blues, who won't play on the road until they visit Chicago on Oct. 17. Nashville, meanwhile, will play Friday evening in Colorado before beginning a five-game homestand of its own with Tuesday's tilt against Minnesota.

The Sports Network

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