In the latter portion of a back-to-back, the St. Louis Blues will face their division rivals, the slumping Nashville Predators, for the first time this season.
After suffering a 2-1 overtime loss to the Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday night–extending the run during which they’ve scored one or fewer goals to seven of their past 11 games–the St. Louis Blues will have a quick turnaround, heading to Nashville to face the Predators for the first time this season on Thursday night.
The Predators, who many viewed as favorites in the Central Division this season, have very much underwhelmed over the early part of the schedule, though they’ve heated up a bit recently. With a 3-1 win over the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday night, the Preds have now earned points in four straight games, though two of them have been shootout losses.
The Preds have seen contrasting results from the players who they’ve selected as their anchors over the past two seasons. Defenseman P.K. Subban, who was acquired in a blockbuster deal for longtime captain Shea Weber this past offseason, has been their most productive player, collecting three goals and five assists over 12 games. Veteran winger James Neal has also started off solidly, tallying three goals and four assists through his first 12.
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But while winger Filip Forsberg–who earned a six-year, $36 million-dollar extension this summer–has been solid as a setup man, collecting a team-high eight assists thus far, he still has yet to score a goal. Simply put, if the Preds don’t get goals from Forsberg, who has 59 goals over his first two full NHL seasons, they won’t be a good team. Defenseman Roman Josi, who has collected double-digit goals over the past three seasons, has also come out of the gates a bit slow and has just two goals though 12 games while posting a team-worst minus-7 rating.
The night after an overtime loss where the Blues didn’t get a ton accomplished offensively, there could be some changes in store for the lineup. We saw Jori Lehtera and Paul Stastny switch spots during the loss to the Blackhawks, and it’s possible that that change could stick on Thursday. In addition, this would seem to be an opportunity for winger Nail Yakupov to break back into the lineup once again. Whether that’s in place of Dmitrij Jaskin, who has been solid but unspectacular during his recent run in the lineup, or Ryan Reaves, who has been on a very strong run as of late but had a giveaway on Monday, remains to be seen.
Thursday also could be an opportunity for Ken Hitchcock to give backup goalie Carter Hutton some action; it’d be a fitting time to insert the backup, considering that he spent nearly all of his NHL career in Nashville before signing with the Blues this offseason.
Here’s a guess at what Thursday’s lineup might look like:
Robby Fabbri–Jori Lehtera–Nail Yakupov
UPDATE, 12:35 PM: Rather than replacing Jaskin on Thursday night, Yakupov will step in for Robby Fabbri, who will be a healthy scratch for the first time in his NHL career. Fabbri has just one goal, three assists, and a minus-3 rating through 14 games this season.