Lighting the Lamp with Rick Ackerman
Yes, the scurrilous, snaggle-toothed Smilodons from Nashville return to the Tradestocks Center for yet another run-in with the Note, meeting for the third time in nine games in just 18 days. This strangely formulated, compressed NHL schedule has its other oddities, such as the Blues not playing for three or four days, then two nights in a row in different cities, and then off again for three days. Such is life in the NHL this shortened season. Get used to it.
The selection of Nashville as an expansion team in 1997 was quite surprising as more traditional hockey markets in Quebec and Seattle were bypassed. Professional hockey did not even begin in Tennessee until 1962 when the Eastern Hockey League's Dixie Flyers began play. After winning two league championships, the franchise folded in 1971. Several other minor league teams had short existences in Nashville, including the ECHL Knights, the most popular of these clubs. However, the Knights moved to Pensacola. Florida, in 1996, the same year the Nashville Arena (now the Bridgestone Arena) was completed. A $20 million relocation offer was made to the New Jersey Devils, but that never materialized, especially since the NHL was determined to expand rather than have existing teams move. Columbus, Atlanta and Minneapolis/St. Paul were also granted franchises in 1997, yet since Nashville's new arena was ready for immediate play, the Predators were the first to join the NHL.
The Predators began play in 1998 in the realigned NHL's Central Division, joining Chicago, Detroit and St. Louis. The Blues won four of six games that inaugural season, with Pavol Demitra, Pierre Turgeon, Scott Young, Al MacInnis and Chris Pronger leading the way. Blues fans will sadly remember this was the first season the club would play without Brett Hull, who left via free-agency for greener pastures in Dallas. The Note's dominance would continue for the next five seasons (until the lockout that wiped out the 1994-95 season) as they won 21 of 33 games with four ties. St. Louis outscored Nashville 99 to 58 during those six years.
The Blues found themselves the weaker team after the lockout, enduring the third worst season in franchise history with only 57 points, missing the playoffs for the first time in 25 years. Nashville took advantage, winning all eight meetings, one in a shootout. Without Turgeon, Demitra MacInnis and Pronger, the Blues could only muster 10 goals against the Predators that season, with journeyman center Mike (Who's your daddy?) Sillinger the leading goal scorer. Curtis Sanford and Patrick Lalime split net duties, occasionally joined by Jason Bacashihua and Reinhard Divis. The Blues managed to win one game against the Predators the following season, thanks in part to goaltender Manny Legace and forwards Doug Weight, Bill Guerin and Keith Tkachuk. In 2007-08, St. Louis split the season series with Nashville, 3-3-2 with the emergence of players such as David Backes, David Perron, and Erik Johnson joining established stars Legace, Tkachuk, Andy McDonald and Paul Kariya. An added bonus was 43 goals from Brad Boyes. Bryce Salvador, Barret Jackman and Eric Brewer anchored the Blues defense.
Nashville has the edge since the lockout, winning 21 games in regulation, four in overtime and eight in shootouts, outscoring St. Louis 126 to 107. In comparison, the Blues won 11 games in regulation, 1 in overtime and 5 in shootouts. In the 50 games since the lockout, a whopping 18 (36%) have gone past regulation to determine a winner. And, of course, bonus-play (and stingy defense) has become the hallmark of Blues/Preds games even into this season, with the Blues winning 4-3 in a shootout in Music City earlier this year. The Note won the previous meeting in St. Louis last week with Jaro Halak earning a 3-0 shutout.
Overall, St. Louis holds a lead in the regular season series with Nashville. In 83 games played between them, the Blues have won 38, lost 29 in regulation, 12 in overtime/shootouts and four ties (all before the lockout). Total goals show the Blues ahead with 206 (2.48 average) and the Predators with 184 (2.22), a testament to the superior defense and goaltending of both clubs throughout the years. The Blues have only scored more than five goals in a game against Nashville four times in 83 games, while the Predators have only scored more than five against St. Louis twice. Nashville has never scored more than six in a single game; St. Louis never more than seven.
In fourteen seasons, the two clubs have never met in the playoffs.
So far this year, the struggling Smildons cannot seem to find any goals, averaging less than two per game. Of course, they have only played two games at home (both going to shootouts), with tonight's contest being the seventh road game in a row. The well-rested Blues defense will look to continue that trend so the high-octane offense can provide two more points towards home-ice advantage in the playoffs.