By LOU KORAC
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- It was the same player, same scraggly beard and same number.
The only difference: wrong colors.
After 13 seasons wearing the Blues uniform, Barret Jackman will face the Blues for the first time after signing as a free agent when the Blues (9-3-1) face the Nashville Predators (8-2-2) at Bridgestone Arena at 7 p.m. today (FS-MW, KMO 1120-AM).
Instead of wearing the customary Bluenote that he's been revered in for years, Jackman, who signed a two-year, $4 million contract in the off-season with the Predators, will face many of his closest friends tonight.
"I think it was probably the first thing I did when I signed was look at the schedule and see when I'm going to face the Bluenote," Jackman said Saturday morning. "Today's finally the day.
"Seeing the whole training staff and coaches over there, it's still pretty fresh (with) the time I spent in St. Louis, But I'm having a lot of fun playing the game right now in Nashville."
Jackman hosted several former teammates at his residence Friday night for dinner; he even quipped that he tried to food-poison them so they are out of the lineup tonight. But all was well, including visiting with former coaches, teammates and training staff.
"Just coming into camp, I text him the first day and it's different not having him around or seeing him around," left wing Alexander Steen said of Jackman, one of his close friends. "He'll be around in the summers, but said thing with 'Osh,' when you've been around guys for so many years, it's different not seeing them every day. You get accustomed to it over time, but it'll be odd seeing him in a Nashville jersey, especially that yellow helmet they have.
"He said there was a little adjusting. When you play for the same team 13 years, it's going to be an adjustment if you're young or a veteran. That's a big change, but he seems to have made it pretty good. The team's obviously done a good job bringing him in and helping him get situation, him and the family. It'll be good to see him tonight."
Captain David Backes added, "Great friend of mine, longtime teammate. Seeing him in a different jersey's going to be weird. I don't think I've seen a clip or tape of him in a Predators jersey, but it's going to be different. Once that puck drops, he's not wearing the Blues sweater anymore and we're looking to steal the two points that they're looking to steal as well. It's going to be a heck of a battle."
Jackman, who is close to Blues legend Bobby Plager, wore the No. 5 in St. Louis largely because of Plager. He was involved in community and charitable work throughout the area and was the longest-tenured professional athlete in St. Louis until his departure.
That distinction now belongs to Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina.
"It's very strange," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of facing Jackman. "Very strange because he's wearing the same number, skates the same way. It's a very strange feeling to watch them play. I was saying that to the coaches, you watch Nashville and Nashville's playing ... I would say in the West, they're playing really well right now, as good as anybody in the West for sure. But then you see 'Jax' and you watch the way he plays and you see his mannerisms on the ice and you're thinking, 'He's on the wrong team.' It's a really strange feeling. It's probably going to take a couple of games to get used to it."
Jackman has settled in with playing with Seth Jones and has helped the Predators off to another rousing start.
"It's been different being in one spot for so long," Jackman said of his time in Nashville, which he loves. "I was kind of being the guy that everybody asked where things were and what routines were. And then getting here, being the helpless one asking so many questions. It's a different feeling, but it's kind of rejuvenated me and made me feel like a rookie again.
"We've got a great team and great organization. Those were one of the things looking in free agency where I had the best chance to win. Thankfully, it worked out here."
- - -
Hitchcock mentioned after Wednesday's comeback win in Chicago that his veterans, notably Scott Gomez and Troy Brouwer, were the catalysts in helping keep the bench together during that chaotic first period, when the Blues allowed five goals.
Veteran leaders and voices held the fort together and the Blues, as everyone knows, made that improbable comeback and started the phenomenon now known as "Roar Bacon."
"It can be tough, especially when you let in five in one period," Brouwer said. "We didn't help 'Moose' (Brian Elliott) out whatsoever. I thought Jake did a very good job coming into a tough situation, but on the bench, you've just got to have that positivity and sometimes, it is tough to see the good in certain things like that, but we did some good things in that first period. Going into the second period, Hitch did his thing between periods to get us going, but it's on the players to make sure we're not getting down on each other because as soon as you start piling on each other, nothing good's going to come out of it.
"A lot of the guys did have a say. It wasn't just me and 'Gomer.' We might be the ones that Hitch heard, but I thought all through the lineup, guys were good at staying positive and staying together. That shows a lot about the character in our team and how much we want to fight for each other and how much we want to battle for each other. It was good to see the positivity was there."
Colton Parayko was one of the younger players that felt overwhelmed at times but hearing the calming influences of the veterans helped him settle in.
"We had 40 minutes, which was plenty of time if you think about it," Parayko said. "I think we just kind of stuck with it. That first intermission, we just kind of came in and the older guys just said, 'Hey, calm down. There's plenty of game left.' We just had to go to our game plan and stick with it to be successful and that's what we did."
- - -
The Blues' probable lineup:
Alexander Steen-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko
Scottie Upshall-David Backes-Troy Brouwer
Magnus Paajarvi-Scott Gomez-Robby Fabbri
Dmitrij Jaskin-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Reaves
Joel Edmundson-Alex Pietrangelo
Jay Bouwmeester-Colton Parayko
Carl Gunnarsson-Kevin Shattenkirk
Jake Allen will start in goal. Brian Elliott will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Martin Havlat and Robert Bortuzzo. Paul Stastny (foot), Jaden Schwartz, Steve Ott (upper body) and Patrik Berglund (shoulder) are out with injuries.
- - -
The Predators' probable lineup:
Filip Forsberg-Mike Fisher-James Neal
Miikka Salomaki-Mike Ribeiro-Craig Smith
Colin Wilson-Cody Hodgson-Calle Jarnkrok
Gabriel Bourque-Paul Gaustad-Austin Watson
Roman Josi-Shea Weber
Barret Jackman-Seth Jones
Mattias Ekholm-Ryan Ellis
Pekka Rinne will start in goal. Carter Hutton will be the backup.
Victor Bartley and Anthony Bitetto are healthy scratches. Eric Nystrom (upper body) is out.