ST. LOUIS, MO - MARCH 29: Members of the St. Louis Blues wacth the pentalty shootout against the Minnesota Wild at the Scottrade Center on March 29, 2011 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
The Minnesota Wild are playing some of their worst hockey of the season, while the St. Louis Blues are still knocking at the door of the top of the league. Can the Blues' exploit the Wild's weaknesses and keep a league-best home record humming along?
If the Colorado Avalanche are a problem for the Blues, the Wild're just as big of a dilemma. The Blues can take care of the Avalanche at home, as evidenced by their 4-0 shutout last weekend, but the best home record in hockey might not be enough to beat the Minnesota Wild. It doesn't matter if the Wild are on a hot streak, cold streak, or anything in between -- the Blues have issues with their stifling defense and goaltending (either Josh Harding or Niklas Backstrom is a problem). The Blues' defense and goaltending are just as good and recently much better than Minnesota's, which of course more than often leads to the predictable shootout loss. At home, on the road, it doesn't matter. The last two times the Wild came to St. Louis, they won in a shootout, and one point for the Blues isn't enough if they still want to hang around the top of the Western Conference. A win this afternoon by the Red Wings and just a point by the Blues knocks them to third in the Central. It's too early for actual hard-core standings watching, but it's never too early to enjoy seeing your team near the top.
The Blues had a chance against the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday night to be at the top, but couldn't hold on to a 2-1 lead and lost 3-2 in overtime thanks to a David Backes penalty and a broken stick of T.J. Oshie's. That's no excuse, though. The Blues again outshot their opponent and couldn't convert. That can't happen tonight. Roberto Luongo, while an excellent goaltender, left rebounds out left and right and the only Bluenote able to capitalize -- twice -- was Jason Arnott. Plunking yourself down near the crease is a sure-fire way to get a tap in, and that is how you'll have to beat the Wild, if their goalies give up rebounds at all. Shooting through a screen would also be nice, and this is where the big bodies of Patrik Berglund and Chris Stewart come in handy.
Both of those guys, along with Matt D'Agostini, can be factored in amongst the "playing well but can't buy a goal" club. Stewart looks like he's gradually coming out of his funk, but the Blues need balanced scoring. Those three -- who were all factored to be 25 goal scorers at least -- sure would come in handy. If they get going, and Andy McDonald and Alexander Steen come back soon, the Blues won't be threatening to join the NHL's elite, as the Associated Press said. They'll be there. A full line-up of defensemen would be nice, and Kent Huskins and Kris Russel are close to returning. Barret Jackman should be back tonight. He would have come in handy Thursday night against Vancouver, but a P.K. Subban check gave him a bit of a bruised hip.
The Wild're 2-9-3 in their last 14 games, and most recently lost 5-2 to the Blackhawks. If the Blues come at them with full confidence, they might be able to exploit a chink in the former top of the league team's armor.