December 17 – Day 71 – Welcome back, Jack!

Ottawa tried to level the game, but it was too little too late, as the Caps held on to win 2-1 in last night’s Game of the Day.

Each period had its own goal, with the first and second belonging to Washington.  Second Star of the Game Michael Latta scored the first tally of the game at the 14:06 mark, assisted by Dmitry Orvlov and Taylor Chorney.  The second period witnessed the game-winner compliments of Third Star John Carlsson, assisted by Justin Williams and Latta at the 5:43 mark.

Ottawa got their lone tally of the evening with 4:14 remaining in the game when Kyle Turris and Erik Karlsson assisted Bobby Ryan to a power play goal, but was not able to put another past First Star Braden Holtby.

Holtby saved 26 of 27 (96.3%) to improve his record to 20-4-1, while last year’s phenom Andrew Hammond (2-1-2) took the loss after saving 23 of 25 (92%).

The DtFR Game of the Day series now stands at 24-10-5, still favoring the home squad by 21 points.

Tonight’s schedule is in stark contrast to yesterday’s two-gamer, as we have a total of 11 matchups taking place this evening.  Per the usual, the action gets started at 7 p.m. eastern when three games drop the opening puck (Anaheim at Buffalo [Bell TV], Florida at New Jersey and Vancouver at Philadelphia [SN360]), followed half an hour by two more (San Jose at Toronto and Los Angeles at Montréal [RDS]).  8 p.m. eastern brings the beginning another couple games (Nashville at St. Louis and the New York Rangers at Minnesota), followed 30 minutes later by another pair (Edmonton at Chicago and Calgary at Dallas).  Finally, the last two games get started at 9 p.m. eastern (the New York Islanders at Colorado and Columbus at Arizona).

Nashville at St. Louis represents the only game between divisional rivals, while two other games (Los Angeles at Montréal and New York at Minnesota) join that one as games between two squads currently qualifying for the playoffs.  In addition to qualifying for both sets, the NashvilleSt. Louis game is also special because it is Barret Jackman’s first game at the Scottrade Center as a member of a squad not wearing the Note.

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Jackman was drafted by the St. Louis Blues in the 1999 Entry Draft, 17th overall.  He saw his first action during the 2001-’02 season, and was promoted to a full-time position the following season when he won the Calder Trophy.  During his time with the Blues, he played 16,364 minutes over 803 games (an average of over 20 minutes per game), scoring 28 goals and notching 153 assists for a total of 181 points.  Pair that effort with his strong defensive game (787 hits and 987 blocks during his St. Louis career), and you get a good understanding of why so many Blues fans wore Jackman sweaters.

I try acknowledge my biases as often as possible, especially in instances like this, so I must admit that as a Blues fan I am still partial to Jackman.  One reason for this was actually not related to what he did for the Blues, but his commitment to play in St. Louis.  During the 2004-’05 lockout season, instead of playing in Europe like many displaced players in the league, he instead chose to play with the now-defunct Missouri River Otters in St. Charles, a suburb of St. Louis.

Jackman signed with the Nashville Predators this offseason after not being offered a contract from the Notes.  In his first year with the Preds, Jackman has played all but one game, scoring a goal and an assist in his enforcer role (leads the team with 48 penalty minutes).  He is also responsible for the third-most blocks (48) and the seventh-most hits (44).

It has been defense like this that has propelled the 15-10-6 Predators to fifth in the Central Division and sixth in the Western Conference, qualifying them for the second wild card spot.  Nashville is currently riding a two-game win-less skid, with their most recent game being a 2-1 OT loss to the Flames at Bridgestone Arena on Tuesday.

That defense, headed by 12-8-6 Pekka Rinne and Captain Shea Weber, has given up only 818 shots so far this season (Roman Josi has a team-leading 84 blocks).  Those fewer shots have not necessarily yielded fewer goals though, as opponents have scored 80 tallies against the Preds, a total that trails the league average by only two scores.

One of the main reasons for Nashville‘s higher than expected goal totals is their poor penalty kill.  The Preds have given up 23 goals on 98 opportunities, meaning that they’re only killing 76.53% of opposing power plays.  If Nashville wants to be a real threat for the Cup, they will need to improve this rate.

Offensively, the Predators have put a good 973 shots on goal so far this season (led by James Neal’s 100), scoring 79 of those attempts (led by Neal’s dozen).  To make up for their poor penalty kill, Nashville plays an excellent power play, scoring on 21 of their 104 opportunities (led by Weber’s eight) – that 20.19% success rate leads the league average by 1.28%.

Their opposition this evening is the 18-10-4 St. Louis Blues, who currently sit second in the Central Division and third in the Western Conference.  In their last game played, the Blues beat the Jets in Winnipeg 4-3 on Tuesday.  Similar to the Predators, the Blues also play an defensive game.

That defense, headed by 14-7-2 Jake Allen and alternate captain Alex Pietrangelo, have given up only 891 shots (Carl Gunnarsson has 55 blocks) and 77 goals.  Even when a man-down, the Blues have been a force to be reckoned with, as they’ve only given up 19 scores on 94 opportunities for a 87.96 kill rate that exceeds the league average by 6.87%.

Offensively, the Blues have been only average.  Although they’ve managed 973 shots this season (led by Vladimir Tarasenko’s 115), only 81 have found the back of the net (led by Tarasenko’s 19).  Luckily for the Blues, they have found success on the power play, scoring on 19 of 94 opportunities (led by Tarasenko’s six goals), giving them a 20.21% success rate that exceeds the league average by 1.3%.

Some players to watch in tonight’s game include Nashville‘s Josi (84 blocks, 22 points and 15 assists [all lead team]), Neal (100 shots and 12 goals [both lead team]) and Weber (74 hits and eight power play goals [both lead team]) & St. Louis‘ Allen (four shutouts [tied for league lead], 14 wins [tied for fifth in the league], 2.11 GAA [eighth in the league] and .925 save percentage [tied for ninth in the league]) and Tarasenko (19 goals [tied for second in the league] and 32 points [tied for seventh in the league]).

While Barret Jackman should expect a warm welcome from St. Louis fans, I think those same fans will go home happy, as the Notes should be able to win this game.

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