Although it is still early in the season, tonight's match-up between the Nashville Predators (7-8-1) and the St. Louis Blues (6-6-4) could already be considered a key game for both teams.
This is the first meeting of the year between both teams who expect to be competing for a playoff spot at the end of the season. Every match-up in the competitive Central Division could be considered a rivalry game.
Another aspect to watch will be how each team reacts after their respective games on Tuesday night.
The Predators lost a heart-breaker to the San Jose Sharks after leading late in the third period and giving up the losing goal with a minute left in the game on an incredible blunder by goalie Dan Ellis.
The Blues had lost five games in a row going into Tuesday's game with Vancouver and exploded for four goals in the first 7:36 of the first period in route to a 6-1 shellacking of the Canucks.
Tonight's game is the last for the Predators on a four game road trip where .500 would probably be considered a success. A win would achieve that goal while a loss would drop the Predators two games under the .500 mark for the season.
The Predators will be bolstered by the return of Pred point leader (11) J. P. Dumont bringing together this first line of Arnott, Dumont and Sullivan for the first time since October 17. After having lost 43 man games to injury this season, only Colin Wilson (groin) remains out due to injury.
Dave Scatchard was returned to Milwaukee this morning to make room for the returning Dumont.
The Predators will go with Pekka Rinne (4-4, 2.81 gaa, .904 Save %) in net while it is expected that ex-Pred fan favorite Chris Mason (4-4-3, 2.32, .923) will go for the Blues.
St Louis has not played well at home this season going 3-5-1 while going 3-1-3 on the road. The Preds are 4-5-1 on the road and 3-3 at home.
On paper, the Predators look to be at a big disadvantage one again on special teams. The Preds remain in 30th place (11.9%) in the league on the power play in spite of going 7 for 30 (23.3%) recently. The Blues are 23rd at 15.9%. On the penalty kill, the Preds are 24th (77.2%) while the Blues are 7th (84.9%).
Hopefully, the Predators will defy the statistics and continue their improved play as they have gone 5-3 since their early season six game losing streak. This is the healthiest the team has been since early in training camp so the Preds have reached the point where they need to start accumulating points in order to make a playoff run.
After tonight's contest, the Preds will return home for a game against Montreal on Saturday night that will start a run of 12 of the next 15 games at the friendly confines of the Sommet Center.
Buddy Oakes for PredsOnTheGlass