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Blues take first step forward in season tagged with Stanley Cup expectations

The Blues started the regular season off on the right foot, but there's still plenty work left to do

ST. LOUIS -- There were explosions in the rafters that rivaled cannon blasts, circling spotlights and a standing ovation for St. Louis hockey's hero, Brett Hull.


Then the game started and the party sparked by the St. Louis Cardinals' playoff win against Pittsburgh took a short ride on the MetroLink and entered the Scottrade Center.


"The Cards scored nine today," Blues captain David Backes said after it was over. "We were trying to keep up, but couldn't do it."


No matter.


The Blues beat the Nashville Predators 4-2 to kick off the 2013-14 regular season Thursday night, thanks to goals by Backes, Vladimir Sobotka, T.J. Oshie and Alexander Steen.


For a home opener, this was sweet.


But for a club confident enough to remind a crowd of 18,851 it is Hockey News' pick to win this year's Stanley Cup -- the announcement scrolled over the ice during the pregame hoopla  -- Thursday was a baby step in a grueling marathon no Blues team has finished before.


Perspective is necessary, and Blues coach Ken Hitchcock knows it.


"You leave here and you are happy that you won," he said. "Then you have a list of things to work on. You pick a few tomorrow and get working on them."


Here are a few of the boxes the Blues checked Thursday:


BACKES FINDS OFFENSIVE SPARK


The Blues captain who found the net just six times last season -- he has twice finished seasons with 31 -- took an important step toward getting back on the offensive.


Backes scored a goal and assisted on another in the first period, sparking the 3-0 St. Louis lead Nashville chipped away at but never recovered from.


"As a line, we feel like we've got some responsibility to set the tone, set the bar for work ethic," Backes said of the group that includes Oshie and Steen. "With the skill those two guys have, and me getting in the other team's way, it seems to work out to some offensive prowess as well."


HALAK HANDLED BUSINESS


Blues starting goaltender Jaroslav Halak entered the game as a bit of a question mark.


He then stopped 28 of 30 shots and earned his first regular-season win since a March 23 shutout at Edmonton. Reviews of Halak, who sat much of last year with groin injuries he spent the off-season rehabbing, were strong.


"I thought Jaro was excellent," Hitchcock said.


"He was good the whole game," added Alex Pietrangelo.


SPECIAL TEAMS SUCCESS


In the practices and preseason games that led to Thursday's debut, Hitchcock stressed special teams. The result showed Thursday. St. Louis scored twice on power plays and killed all four of Nashville's.


"That's something that's seemed to be a deficiency for us early in seasons," Backes said. "To get two, 50 percent of the power play, and kill all of theirs, that's a recipe for winning games. It's the difference in the game tonight."


MORROW ARRIVES, GETS PHYSICAL


Blues forward Brenden Morrow made his presence felt after a late arrival.


Morrow -- who is originally from Carlyle, Saskatchewan -- had encountered trouble acquiring a green card that would allow the veteran to join the Blues after he signed a one-year contract in late September. But the paperwork came through Thursday, and the 34-year-old walked off a plane at 4:30 p.m. and joined a second line that included Derek Roy and Chris Stewart.


"Look, when a guy puts in that type of effort to play, especially a veteran player, you've gotta pay him that due," Hitchcock said. "He's due that."


Morrow's biggest highlight didn't show up in the stats. When Nashville's Mike Fisher responded to Morrow knocking him off his feet, Fisher was tagged with a roughing penalty that led to one of the Blues' power play goals. That's the kind of physicality Hitchcock loves to praise.


Follow Ben Frederickson on Twitter (@Ben_Fred), or contact him at frederickson.ben@gmail.com.