By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- One of the last teams to make their season debut, the Blues will finally take the ice in their opener, hosting the Nashville Predators at 7 p.m. (FSN, KMOX 1120-AM).
The Blues, who finished 38-33-11 -- good for 87 points -- will face a divisional opponent they're pretty familiar with.
Prior to last season, the Predators had taken five straight, the Blues won four of the last five matchups between the teams, and generally speaking, the head-to-head matchups typically result in one- or two-goal games.
"They're similar teams. They play with a good pace, good structure," Blues coach Davis Payne said. "They're willing to play that way and stick with their game for long periods of time. You look at the matchups, both goaltenders play pretty well and it makes for close games. We anticipate another one tonight."
Predators coach Barry Trotz agreed.
"They're both teams that have the same DNA in a lot of ways," Trotz said. "They both try to play well with the puck, and there's a responsibility. They both play a forechecking game. Usually they have good, young penalty kills. They match up hard and play hard."
Added Blues defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo, "We're familiar with our opponent and the style of hockey they play. Nashville's going to bring a game tonight. They're going to play us hard, they're going to play us very structured. They're going to play a very patient game, especially it being their second game on a back-to-back. "
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One gets a sense that with all the work the Blues players put in over the summer, a flood of emotions will be unleashed tonight.
"You had a feeling when guys came to the rink this morning, you sense that feeling of excitement, that feeling of guys are ready to get going," Colaiacovo said. "It's about time. It's been a long summer for us. There's a lot to think about, a lot to get ready for.
"We've had a great camp so far and it's just a matter of getting it started tonight. We're going to be prepared for a pretty electric atmosphere out there and we want to give the best we can and come out with a win."
Payne said that the Blues can't get too amped up early in the game. hey have to channel the energy the right way.
"We have to be aware of the emotion and the energy that can put you in a spot where you burn off that energy in the first 10 minutes and you haven't accomplished anything and you haven't pushed your opponent out far enough of the game, " Payne said, "and all of the sudden they bend but don't break and come back at you. We've got to come with an approach where we manage the puck consistently early, we make sure it's a 200-foot game.
"If we just stick to the things we're asking of ourselves and the way we want to play, that's a blueprint for success. We're not going to ask for much more. We're going to channel the energy, we're going to control it and we're going to use it in the right way."
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The Blues are eager to see for the first time a lineup that features scoring depth. That depth includes a third line consisting of former Pred Jason Arnott centering Alex Steen and Matt D'Agostini.
"We can definitely put the puck in the net and that's the key to our team," said D'Agostini, who netted a career-high 21 goals a season ago. "We've got four lines that can put the puck in the net and be effective in our own little way. Steener's going to be flying around out there and Arnie's sound and smart and knows where to be. I'll just try to do my part and try to play in the offensive zone as much as possible."
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The Blues will honor the fallen victims of the Russian airplane crash that claimed the lives of former players Pavol Demitra and Igor Korolev, along with former Preds Josef Vasicek, Karlis Skrastins and Robert Dietrich. Also, former Pred Wade Belak, who died after committing suicide, will be honored.
At 7:12 p.m., a one-minute video tribute of the fallen players will take place, followed by a moment of silence.
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The Blues open the 2011-12 season with the following lineup:
Andy McDonald-David Backes-Jamie Langenbrunner
T.J. Oshie-Patrik Berglund-Chris Stewart
Alex Steen-Jason Arnott-Matt D'Agostini
Vladimir Sobotka-Scott Nichol-Ryan Reaves
Carlo Colaiacovo-Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk
Nikita Nikitin-Roman Polak
Jaroslav Halak, who was 4-1-1 with three shutouts, a 1.14 goals-against average and .956 save percentage against the Predators last season, will start in goal. Halak stopped 151 of 158 shots against Nashville last year and is 6-1-1 with a 1.71 GAA and .935 save percentage in his career against them, stopping 200 of 214 shots.
"Last year was last year," said Halak, downplaying his dominance of the Predators. "This is a new year and that's the way I am approaching it. That's the way we as a team approach it.
"I feel good. Conditioning is fine. My body is healthy. If I can stay healthy along with the rest of my teammates, it should be a great season."
Healthy scratches include forwards Chris Porter and Evgeny Grachev and defenseman Kent Huskins. Forwards David Perron (post-concussion syndrome) and B.J. Crombeen (fractured left shoulder) are on injured reserve.
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Nikitin in the starting lineup may come as a bit of a surprise, since it was thought that Huskins, brought in as a free agent from San Jose over the summer, would be the sixth defenseman.
But Payne, who indicated recently that Nikitin needed to pick his play up, has made the necessary strides.
"I think he's starting to skate," Payne said of Nikitin. "Early on in camp, he wasn't playing the kind of game he was playing at the end of last year. He had to get his feet moving, he had to get his body physically involved. ... We feel he's a weapon on the power play. He's showed that this past week in practice. I thought he had a very good preseason game the last game.
"We knew there were tough decisions out there. This is the first of many."
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The Predators (1-0-0) are coming off a 3-2 victory Friday in Columbus, using a lineup that Trotz said included five rookies.
Trotz wasn't forthcoming on if any lineup changes for tonight, but this is what Nashville used Friday night:
Martin Erat-Nick Spaling-Sergei Kostitsyn
Colin Wilson-David Legwand-Craig Smith
Jordin Tootoo-Cal O'Reilly-Matt Halischuk
Patric Hornqvist-Jerred Smithson-Blake Geoffrion
Ryan Suter-Shea Weber
Jonathon Blum-Kevin Klein
Teemu Laakso-Jack Hillen
Pekka Rinne, who stopped 32 shots Friday against the Blue Jackets, is expected to get the start again tonight despite battling the flu.
"I feel 100 percent. I don't want to even talk about it," Rinne said. "It's just the flu. Everybody goes through those things. It's nothing."
If Rinne for some reason doesn't go, it will be backup Anders Lindback.
Friday night's scratches for the Preds included Mike Fisher (shoulder), along with healthy scratches Niclas Bergfors, Zack Stortini and Mattias Ekholm.