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Game Day: Division rivals square off as Blues welcome Nashville

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St. Louis Blues play Washington Captials

Blues defenseman Torey Krug looks over at teammate Vladimir Tarasenko after Krug scored a goal against the Capitals on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2022, at Enterprise Center.

Edmonton Oilers vs St. Louis Blues

Blues defenseman Torey Krug shoots the puck in the second period during a game against the Oilers at Enterprise Center on Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2022.

Five of the seven injured Blues’ players were on the ice for an optional skate Thursday morning before the team’s Central Division showdown with the Nashville Predators at Enterprise Center.

Back on the ice for the first time at practice since being injured were defenseman Torey Krug (lower body) and Robert Bortuzzo (lower body). Also on the ice were forwards Vladimir Tarasenko (hand) and Logan Brown (upper body) and defenseman Marco Scandella (hip surgery).

Missing from Thursday’s skate were defenseman Scott Perunovich (shoulder), who’s been a regular at practice recently, and forward and captain Ryan O’Reilly, who’s not expected back for some time due to a broken foot.

“Good to get some guys back into the group a little bit,’’ Blues coach Craig Berube said. “Certain guys can do more than others, but they’re all coming, making progress. Some of them are getting close.”

The coach said he have to talk to Tarasenko about his progress, but said, “I think he’s probably close to telling me when he’ll play, what game.’’

Berube said that forward Nikita Alexandrov, a late scratch before sitting out Tuesday’s 2-1 win over Ottawa with an upper-body injury, will be given another day to recover. That means Nathan Walker will get a start on the fourth line.

Division showdown

The Predators (21-17-6, 48 points) and the Blues (22-20-3, 47) entered Thursday’s play outside of the Western Conference playoff picture. Edmonton (25-18-3, 53) and Calgary (21-16-9, 50) currently hold the wild-card spots. Colorado (23-17-3, 49) is also ahead of both Nashville and the Blues.

“The standings are tight and it looks like it’s going to be a battle down the stretch,’’ Nashville coach John Hynes said after his team’s morning skate Thursday. “We’ve played some good, consistent hockey the last 15, 20 games, but we’re still trying to build our game, to be consistent and give ourselves the best chance to win.”

Nashville is 10-10-3 on the road this season and has gone 6-3-1 over their last 10 games. The Preds beat the visiting Blues 6-2 on Oct. 27 and dropped a 1-0 overtime decision here on Dec. 12. The teams’ final meeting of the season is slated for April 1 in Nashville.

Top scorers for the Preds are Filip Forsberg (18 goals, 21 assists), defenseman Roman Josi (12G, 24A), Matt Duchene (11G, 23A) and Mikael Granlund (4G, 21A). Juuse Saros (16-12-5, 2.68 goals-against, .921 save percentage) is expected to make the start in goal.

“The Blues have obviously had some injuries, but they’ve played some good hockey,’’ Hynes said. “They’ve come together, played hard and they’ve found a way to fight hard and get some wins. And we expect nothing different tonight.”

Berube said that Nashville is “playing good hockey, coming off a couple of 2-1 wins, so we know they’re playing tight, low-scoring games. I’m expecting another heavy game.

“As the season progresses, things get tighter and tighter. You’ve got teams fighting for playoffs. Games are going to be hard.”

Thursday’s projected lineups:

St. Louis Blues

Pavel Buchnevich-Robert Thomas-Jordan Kyrou

Brandon Saad-Brayden Schenn-Ivan Barbashev

Jake Neighbours-Noel Acciari-Josh Leivo

Alexey Toropchenko-Nathan Walker-Tyler Pitlick

Nick Leddy-Colton Parayko

Niko Mikkola-Justin Faulk

Tyler Tucker-Calle Rosen

Jordan Binnington

Nashville Predators

Filip Forsberg-Cody Glass-Matt Duchene

Nino Niederreiter-Ryan Johansen-Mikael Granlund

Cole Smith-Juuso Parssinen-Colton Sissons

Yakov Trenin-Tommy Novak-Tanner Jeannot

Ryan McDonagh-Roman Josi

Mattias Ekholm-Alexandre Carrier

Jeremy Lauzon-Dante Fabbro

Juuse Saros

St. Louis Blues coach Craig Berube discusses the win over the Ottawa Senators on Monday, Jan. 16, 2023. Video courtesy of the Blues

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