February 2 – Day 110 – If Punxsutawney Phil sees his shadow, we get two more months of hockey

Let’s start the second half of the season with a bang!  A whopping 12 games are being played tonight, with five starting at 7 p.m. eastern (Toronto at Boston [TVAS], the New York Rangers at New Jersey, Minnesota at the New York Islanders, Montréal at Philadelphia [RDS] and Ottawa at Pittsburgh [RDS2]), with Florida at Washington (NBCSN) starting half an hour later.  8 p.m. eastern brings with it two games (St. Louis at Nashville [SN1] and Dallas at Winnipeg), and 9 p.m. eastern has three more (Chicago at Colorado, Columbus at Edmonton and Los Angeles at Arizona).  Finally, San Jose at Anaheim, this evening’s nightcap, drops the puck at 10 p.m. eastern.

Over half of tonight’s games are between divisional rivals (Toronto at Boston, New York at New Jersey, St. Louis at Nashville, Dallas at Winnipeg, Chicago at Colorado, Los Angeles at Arizona and San Jose at Anaheim), and four are between teams currently qualifying for the playoffs (Florida at Washington, St. Louis at Nashville, Chicago at Colorado and Los Angeles at Arizona).

I have three reasons for choosing today’s Game of the Day.  You choose which one you most agree with.

  1. It’ll be my little way of honoring the All-Star Game.
  2. Judging by the standings, it should be the most competitive game of those listed in both groups above.
  3. It’s my birthday, so I can do whatever game I want.

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(.Gif posted by D I O S)

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Tonight’s game is St. Louis‘ 11th in the Game of the Day series, where they own a 5-4-1 record.  Their most recent appearance was a two-goal shutout loss in Chicago on January 24.  Nashville has been featured four times before tonight’s game, with their most recent also being a loss in Chicago, but they played a more respectable 3-2 game.  They own a 2-2-0 record in the series overall.

The 28-16-8 St. Louis Blues are currently third-best in both the Central Division and the Western Conference.  So far this season, their defense ranks 13th best in goals against, while the offense has the 15th most goals scored.

Even with Alex Pietrangelo’s team-leading 98 blocks, the Blues have allowed 1540 shots to reach 18-10-3 Jake Allen and co.  Fortunately for St. Louis, they’ve had some solid goaltending, as the group has collectively saved 92.5% for only 125 goals against.  The penalty kill has also been exceptionally strong (third-best in the league), as they’ve killed 85.21% for only 25 goals against.

Led by Vladimir Tarasenko’s 184 attempts, the Notes have fired the puck 1551 time, 8.1% of which have found the back of the net for 126 tallies (led by Tarasenko’s 25 goals).  The Blues also have the 11th-best power play in the league, successful on 19.58% of attempts for 28 extra-man tallies (led by Tarasenko’s eight).

Before the All-Star Break, the Blues were riding a two-game losing skid that they intend to end after nine days of rest.  A win tonight has the potential to pull St. Louis within a point of the Stars, pending Dallas‘ result in Winnipeg.

The 24-18-8 Nashville Predators currently sit in fifth place in the Central Division and seventh in the Western Conference, good enough for the second wildcard spot.  The Predators host the 15th best offense in the league, paired with the 15th-worst defense, as measured by goals scored and against, respectively.

Led by James Neal’s 158 attempts, Nashville has fired 1538 shots so far this season, 8.3% of which have found the back of the net for 127 goals (led by Neal’s 18).  The offense also hosts the eighth-best power play, successful on 20.37% of attempts for 33 goals (led by Shea Weber’s nine extra-man tallies).  This special team has also done well to prevent opposing short-handed goals, allowing only one so far this season.

Led by Roman Josi’s 121 blocks, the Predators have allowed only 1326 shots to reach 19-15-7 Pekka Rinne and co., but Nashville‘s struggles haven’t lied in the defenders.  Collectively, the goaltenders have saved only 90.7% of shots for 130 goals against.  The penalty kill has also struggled, killing only 79.08% (sixth-worst in the league) for 32 power play goals against.  The effects of the special teams have been slightly improved though, with four short-handed goals to their credit.

The Preds entered the break strong, winning their last four games, all on the road.  A solid start to the last two months of the season is exactly what Nashville needs, as they are in the midst of a tough wildcard battle between themselves, Colorado and Minnesota.  A win tonight has the potential to propel the Predators past the Avalanche into the first wildcard spot, but they’ll need Colorado to lose, either in regulation or overtime, for that to happen.

With a  3-0-0 record in the season series, St. Louis has already won the best of five against the Predators this year.  Their last meeting was December 29 in the Gateway to the West, by far the best showing for Nashville against the Blues this season, as they managed to get the game to overtime before ceding the 4-3 OT victory.

Some players to watch in tonight’s game include Nashville‘s Josi (35 points, 25 of which have been assists, and 121 blocks [all lead the team]), Neal (18 goals on 158 shots, 15 of which have been at even-strength, and a +15 [all lead the team]), Mike Ribeiro (17 even-strength assists [leads the team]) and Weber (nine power play goals and 106 hits [both lead the team]) & St. Louis‘ Allen (five shutouts [second-most in the league]) or Brian Elliott (.927 save percentage [tied for eighth-best in the league]), Colton Parayko (+18 [tied for seventh-best in the league]) and Tarasenko (25 goals [tied for fourth-most in the league]).

After the break, it is tough to get a gauge on how these teams are going to perform, but I’ll get a slight edge to Nashville for playing with their streak on home ice.

*Disclaimer: Blues-bias is now on, because, you know, birthday privileges and stuff.*

Screw that.  Go Blues.  Basically, at the end of the day, what we’re looking for is me singing this (video uploaded by patokaman)…

Instead of this (video uploaded by ZoSO282).

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