Predators-Blues Preview

The St. Louis Blues have won eight of nine but still find themselves looking up at a team in the Central Division.

That’s because the Nashville Predators’ strong start is now more than a month in the making and includes a three-game winning streak of their own.

Two of the top defensive teams in hockey face off Thursday night in St. Louis as the Predators try to retain their lead and beat the Blues for the second time in six days.

Nashville (10-3-2), which has yet to drop consecutive games, extended its hot streak with Tuesday’s 3-2 home victory over Edmonton. All three Nashville goals came in the first period with Mike Ribeiro and Filip Forsberg each scoring and assisting on the other’s goal, while Matt Cullen also scored.

Forsberg has six goals while scoring in each of the last five games and 10 points on a six-game streak. He had a goal and an assist Saturday against the Blues (10-4-1), and the 20-year-old forward leads the team with 17 points in 15 games after totaling six in 18 games over the previous two seasons.

"There is an open-door policy to go to the offensive zone and create havoc," coach Peter Laviolette told the team’s official website. "(The Forsberg-Ribeiro-James Neal) line seems to have it going on right now."

Tuesday’s win followed a 2-1 victory in St. Louis, which stands as the Blues’ only defeat in the last three weeks. Neal scored the third-period winner and has four goals and two assists in his last six games against St. Louis.

The Blues recovered with Tuesday’s 6-1 home win over Buffalo behind Jori Lehtera’s three-goal effort. It was the rookie center’s first multigoal game, and he has eight points on a five-game streak, including a goal against the Predators.

Jaden Schwartz assisted on each goal in the hat trick and Vladimir Tarasenko had assists on the first two, giving the Blues’ top line 25 points over the last six games.

Lehtera and Tarasenko were teammates in the KHL and were reunited when Lehtera elected to make the move to the NHL this season. Coach Ken Hitchcock wanted him sooner.

"He should have come over a year before, quite frankly," said Hitchcock of the 26-year-old, who was a third-round pick in 2008.

Tarasenko has matched Forsberg’s 10 points on a six-game streak while also managing eight goals in his last eight games. Against Nashville, he has 10 points in 10 games.

"They’re playing unbelievable for us right now," forward Joakim Lindstrom told the Blues’ official website after scoring two power-play goals. "They’re leading us, they’re scoring timely goals. They’re competing hard. They’re great to watch."

St. Louis has given up 16 goals in nine games on its way to a league-best 1.87 goals allowed per game. Nashville ranks fifth at 1.93 as both teams have held opponents to three goals or fewer in all but one game.

Pekka Rinne will make his 14th start for Nashville after winning his last four with a 1.50 goals-against average, including a 28-save effort in St. Louis. Rinne is 9-6-0 with a 2.10 GAA in his career at St. Louis.

Brian Elliott was in goal against Nashville and Buffalo and posted a .953 save percentage, but Jake Allen is expected to face the Predators this time around. He’s 4-1-0 with a 1.40 GAA and two shutouts.

Prior to the loss over the weekend, St. Louis had won six straight in the series.

The Blues activated forward T.J. Oshie from injured reserve a few hours before the game and said he’ll be in the lineup after missing seven contests with a concussion.

The 27-year-old forward has one assist and seven penalty minutes in eight games.