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HOCKEY

Blues and Preds meet in St. Louis

The St. Louis Blues will begin their 2011-12 schedule on home ice tonight, as they host the Nashville Predators in a Central Division battle at Scottrade Center.

Last spring, the Blues missed out on the playoffs for the fifth time in six years, but there are reasons to be hopeful for 2011-12.

St. Louis made 25 straight postseason appearances from 1979-2004, but the club has been in rebuild mode since the lockout wiped out the 2004-05 campaign. At the start of last year, when the Blues opened with a 9-1-2 record, it seemed like the franchise's patience was finally going to pay off.

However, the fast start was quickly negated when the club was bit hard by the injury bug. St. Louis placed ninth in the NHL in man-games lost and finished the year 10 points out of a postseason berth in the West. Head coach Davis Payne hopes he has more healthy players to work with in his second full season as the Blues' bench boss.

The Blues are still a young team, but the addition of veteran forwards Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner this summer could help the organization turn the corner and get back to being a perennial playoff participant. Arnott recently underwent surgery to remove a cataract in his eye and he is questionable for tonight.

St. Louis hopes Arnott and Langenbrunner can bring experience to a team that is loaded with youthful talent.

The Blues are also hoping for a more consistent year from goaltender Jaroslav Halak this season. The 26-year-old Czech netminder received mixed reviews during his first season in St. Louis, finishing with a 27-21-7 record and a solid 2.48 goals-against average while appearing in a career-high 57 games.

Halak, who is in the second year of a four-year, $15 million contract, should be able to improve greatly on last year's performance with a healthy team in front of him in 2011-12.

David Perron's concussion is an injury that hurt the Blues last year and is one that the club and Perron are still dealing with. Perron had 20 goals and 27 assists in 2009-10, but played in just 10 games last year before his season was ended in early November. It's uncertain how much of this season Perron will miss before getting back into game action.

Meanwhile, Nashville, which made the playoffs for the sixth time in seven seasons last year, began the 2011-12 season with a road victory in Columbus on Friday night. Ryan Suter, Craig Smith and Matt Halischuk tallied for the Predators as they hung on for a 3-2 win at Nationwide Arena.

"It's the first game of the year and everyone is ramped up. In the first period we had to weather the storm. We have some young guys with some jets on them," Suter said.

Pekka Rinne stopped 32-of-34 shots in net for the Predators, who were eliminated by the Vancouver Canucks in six games in the conference semifinals last season.

The Predators are opening the season with two straight road games, but won't have forward Mike Fisher (shoulder surgery) or defenseman Francis Bouillon (concussion) on the mini-swing due to injury.

Nashville's home opener is scheduled for Thursday night against Phoenix.

St. Louis posted four wins over six meetings with the Predators in 2010-11. Nashville has still taken six of 10 overall in the series and seven of 11 at Scottrade Center.