|NHL Preview: St. Louis Blues Battle Nashville Predators|
|Wednesday, 10 October 2007 03:21|
St. Louis' struggles against Paul Kariya and Nashville helped put it in position to secure the rights to Erik Johnson. Now, the Blues are counting on those two players to help break the team's slump against the Predators.
Kariya will face the Predators for the first time since signing with the Blues this offseason as the Central Division foes meet at Scottrade Center on Wednesday night.
Kariya helped Nashville (2-0-0) to the playoffs in each of his two seasons there, and recorded six goals and 13 assists as the Predators went 15-1-0 against St. Louis (1-1-0) during that span.
St. Louis signed Kariya from Nashville in July, giving him a three-year, $18 million contract in an effort to help it reach the postseason for the first time since 2004.
Oddsmakers from SBG Global have made St. Louis -120 money line favorites (NHL Odds) for today's game, the over/under has been set at 5.5 goals (Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 77% of bets for this game have been placed on Nashville +105 (View NHL Bet Percentages).
The Blues had a league-worst 57 points in 2005-06, going 21-46-15 - including an 0-7-1 record against the Predators - to give them the opportunity to select Johnson with the first overall pick in the 2006 draft.
It took Johnson, 19, just two games to score his first NHL goal. He scored on a power play with 7:17 left in the third period to help St. Louis to a 5-3 win over Los Angeles on Saturday night.
Johnson went pro after totaling four goals and 20 assists in 41 games as a freshman at Minnesota.
"Erik does what he does - he shoots the puck," Blues coach Andy Murray said.
Kariya helped set up Johnson's game-winner by taking the puck away from Kings center Michal Handzus in the right corner. Kariya and Johnson should help a power-play unit that was the league's second-worst last season at 12.1 percent.
Kariya has 10 goals and 12 assists in 20 games against Nashville.
St. Louis, though, may be without veteran goaltender Manny Legace on Wednesday after he tweaked his right knee against the Kings. It was the same knee that kept the former Kings goalie sidelined for the final 21 games last season.
Hannu Toivonen would get the start if Legace can't play.
Whoever is in goal Wednesday will be facing a Nashville team that has scored nine goals in two games. The last time the Predators opened with two straight wins was 2005, when they won their first eight games.
"The season is a marathon, but we can sprint out to the lead," Nashville center David Legwand said. "It's a long season with another big week in front of us. I have to keep it going and the team has to keep it going."
Legwand, the second overall pick in the 1998 draft, had the second three-goal game of his career to help Nashville beat Dallas 5-1 on Saturday night.
Legwand, the first player ever drafted by the Predators, is coming off a breakout season in which he set career highs with 27 goals and 36 assists.
He has two goals and two assists in his last four games against St. Louis.
Nashville's offense has been complemented by outstanding goaltending from Chris Mason. He missed his bid for a second straight shutout at 13:14 of the third period Saturday, when Krys Barch scored on a breakaway.
Mason was named the NHL's third star of the week Monday, having stopped 63 of 64 shots against Colorado and Dallas to give him a 0.50 goals-against average. He is 10-1-0 with a 1.84 GAA in 13 games against the Blues.
by: Gary Roberts - theSpread.com - Email Us
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