Predators-Blues Preview

The St. Louis Blues have won more games than any team that has

never lifted the Stanley Cup. They believe this could be the season

to end that distinction.

The Nashville Predators reacted to their first last-place finish

in four years by adding numerous pieces to bolster a virtually

non-existent offense.

The Blues look to get their 2013-14 season off to a fast start

with their first five games at home, beginning with Thursday night

against the new-look Predators.

St. Louis (29-17-2) finished with the Western Conference’s

third-highest point total a season ago with 60 before a first-round

postseason loss to Los Angeles in six games marked its second

straight exit at the hands of the Kings.

The Blues want to take the next step, and they also want the tag

of favorites in the West after an offseason that saw general

manager Doug Armstrong make few key changes. St. Louis has won

1,717 games including the postseason without winning the Cup.

“Are we the favorites? I don’t know. Do other people view us

that way? I don’t know,” Armstrong said. “That’s the way I view us

and that’s what I want to impress upon our players.”

St. Louis was one of the league’s most balanced teams a season

ago with 11 players tallying at least 19 points, led by Chris

Stewart’s 36.

That’s a figure Nashville (16-23-9) could only envy with five

such players. The Predators averaged 2.27 goals last season, tying

Florida for the worst average in the NHL.

Captain Shea Weber became the fifth defenseman since 1991-92 to

lead his team in points (28) and shots (124), highlighting the

scoring woes for a club that finished at the bottom of the Central

Division for the first time since 2008-09.

The Predators had reached the playoffs in seven of the previous

eight seasons. The 2012-13 season resulted in the additions of key

free agents in Viktor Stalberg, Eric Nystrom, Matt Hendricks and

Matt Cullen.

“It shows all the commitment,” Weber said. “They made those

moves, and they addressed the needs we have. They filled some

spots, and obviously everyone’s going to see what those guys are

capable of. And we’re going to see what they can do in the locker

room as well.”

The Predators were led in goals last season by 15-year veteran

David Legwand, who had 12 as he enters the final season of his

current contract.

“We feel like we’re back to having the depth and the pieces to

do what we need to do,” coach Barry Trotz said.

Weber is a two-time runner-up for the Norris Trophy and his

partners in defense will again likely be Roman Josi and Kevin

Klein.

Rookie Seth Jones, the No. 4 overall draft pick and son of

former NBA player Popeye Jones, will also see time among Trotz’s

defensemen. Jones turns 19 on Thursday.

The Nashville defense will protect two-time Vezina Trophy

finalist Pekka Rinne, who posted a 2.43 goals-against average a

season ago and had surgery May 9 to repair his hip. He was in net

for all four games against St. Louis last season, going 1-2-1 with

a 1.97 GAA.

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock will likely start Jaroslav Halak, who

played in only 16 games last season due to a groin injury.

Veteran St. Louis newcomer Brenden Morrow’s status is unclear

due to an issue with a work visa. That means it is likely that

Thursday will mark the Blues debut of fourth-year winger Magnus

Paajarvi, acquired July 10 from Edmonton in a deal that sent David

Perron to the Oilers.