For the past couple of seasons the Nashville Predators have chased the Detroit Red Wings in the Central Division of the National Hockey League.
Meanwhile, Columbus, Chicago and St. Louis have chased both the Predators and Red Wings. In a busy summer of free agency every team in the Central Division made improvements. The Blues were no exception as they re-signed and added forward Paul Kariya, who had starred for the Predators the past two seasons.
The Predators will get their first regular season test in the Central tonight at 7:30 when they face the Blues at the Scotttrade Center in their home opener.
“St, Louis has made a lot of improvements,” Predators coach Barry Trotz said. “Going out and re-signing Doug Weight and Keith Tkachuk and the signing of Kariya were all big deals for them.
“They are a very well-balanced team. The improvement in our division has been quiet substantial. The whole Central Division is going to be a dog fight.”
Trotz was not surprised to see Kariya sign with the Blues instead of opting to stay in Nashville.
“We were in a different place and we couldn’t make any commitments,” Trotz said. “St. Louis is trying to forge a new identity in their marketplace. Paul will be great there.
“He will bring a lot of notoriety to the Blues just like he did when he was with us. He will continue to be the good solider that he is. I am sure that will rub off on some of the veteran players as well as the young guys.”
Also on the roster for the Blues is Erik Johnson, the top pick in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft.
The Predators may get a break in the goaltending area. Manny Legace injured his right knee against the Los Angeles Kings and is uncertain for tonight.
Predators goaltender Chris Mason is 10-1-0 against the Blues, winning all six times he was in goal against them last season.
“Chris is continuing along a path that he began last season,” Trotz said. “That’s great because there is probably not a better guy than Chris. Everyone is cheering for him and he is doing a great job.”
The Predators have scored nine goals in their first two games, a surprising number based on the amount of offense that was lost last season.
“There haven’t been any issues on any of our lines,” Trotz said. “They are doing what they can do. We have to continue to work on our details but we have a well-balanced group on lines one through four.
“All 12 forwards and our defensemen are really complementing each other. I think they work well as a group. One of the things is to have the lines work well together, but you want to work as a group of five.”
Trotz expects to have a balanced scoring attack each game with different players stepping up on different lines.
“Different lines are going to have to step up and everyone is going to have to contribute,” Trotz said. “So far we have been very well-prepared. Our players are very committed to this season.
“Our defensemen are smart and our forwards are very aware. I can’t really look at anybody and tell them they aren’t doing a good job. “
BACK AT HOME: The Predators are back in the Sommet Center Thursday night against the Phoenix Coyotes and Saturday night against the Calgary Flames. There are still approximately 6,500 tickets available for each game.