The Nashville Predators are atop the Central Division thanks to their world-class goaltender and overwhelming home-ice advantage.
Though the absence of the former hasn’t cost them the latter, they’ll face a significant challenge as they try to solve their road woes.
Persisting without Pekka Rinne, the Predators kick off a three-game trip with their final meeting with the St. Louis Blues this season Thursday night.
Nashville (31-10-5) extended its home winning streak to eight with a 4-3 overtime win over Colorado on Tuesday. Carter Hutton made 21 saves for his second victory in four starts since taking over for Rinne, who’s expected to miss another two to four weeks with a sprained knee.
Hutton relieved Rinne when he was hurt against Vancouver on Jan. 13 and has posted a 3.05 goals-against average in his five appearances since the injury, a far cry from Rinne’s 1.96 GAA in 37 starts. Hutton allowed the tying goal with 36 seconds remaining in regulation Tuesday, but the Predators won on Craig Smith’s 14th goal.
"It just goes back to the confidence we have in each other and the way we keep finding ways to win," center Colin Wilson told the team’s official site. "Obviously we don’t want to give up that late goal, we’d rather win it in regulation, but the fact we keep responding after moments like that is big … We’re finding ways to get it done in OT, and it shows how much our team wants to win."
Even with Rinne, however, the Predators weren’t nearly as imposing away from home, as they’re 12-8-4 on the road compared to a league-best 19-2-1 at Nashville. The Predators have gone 2-2-3 in their last seven road games, with Hutton starting four of them and going 0-2-2 with a 3.58 GAA.
Nashville has given up 3.71 goals over those seven contests. The Predators rank in the top 10 in the league with 2.98 goals scored per game but have managed 2.25 in their last four away from home.
The Blues’ only win in four meetings with Nashville this season came at home Nov. 13 by a 4-3 score. St. Louis (29-13-4) lost both of the following matchups in December on the road.
"The games have been close but they’ve beat us," coach Ken Hitchcock told the Blues’ website. "Quite frankly, we’ve pushed them hard but they’ve responded. This is a good test for us."
Brian Elliott, tops in the league with a 1.86 GAA, faced 47 shots in the most recent meeting, a 3-2 loss Dec. 30. He’s given up one goal over his last two starts.
St. Louis returns to action after posting a 7-0-1 mark going into the All-Star break.
"We’ve been rolling and we wanted to keep it going," forward Alexander Steen said following a 3-1 victory over the Avalanche on Jan. 19. "(That) I think was probably our best game this year, from goalie out."
Steen has set his own torrid pace with seven goals and 11 assists during a 10-game point streak. David Backes has totaled seven goals and 10 assists in those contests, while T.J. Oshie has eight goals and six assists in that span.
St. Louis acquired Marcel Goc from Pittsburgh on Tuesday for Maxim Lapierre in a swap of centers. Goc had six points in 43 games for the Penguins.