ST. LOUIS MO - JANUARY 18: T.J. Oshie #74 of the St. Louis Blues looks to pass the puck against the Los Angeles Kings at the Scottrade Center on January 18 2011 in St. Louis Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
The Nashville Predators and Detroit Red Wings have been given the opportunity to gain some ground in the Central Division race. Tonight the Blues get a chance to catch up.
For everyone but Brian Elliott, it's been an inexcusably long stretch without hockey. The Blues last played all the way back on January 24th, with a 3-2 shootout loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins to lead them into the break. Before that it was a 3-1 loss to the Detroit Red Wings. There's no shame in losing to those two teams, but if the Blues want to keep pace with the Wings and Predators in the divisional race, they need to turn it around quickly.
We're going to really have to amp it up here when we get back," Hitchcock said. "That's what we told the players: Take a good break but, man, when we come back we're going to really have the temperature turned up to get better.
Excellent advice. It'd certainly be easier for the Blues to do so with pesky Andy McDonald and Alex Steen back in the line-up, but unfortunately they won't be returning tonight. Both have been practicing -- McDonald sans red no-contact jersey -- but the team is being cautious as to when the two scorers will return. Scoring has been an issue of late (or for this entire season, if you prefer) thanks to slower than slow starts by Matt D'Agostini, Chris Stewart, and Patrik berglund. Berglund netted both goals against Pittsburgh --one was a penalty shot -- but that only brought his goal total up to 12. The Blues have very much been a win by committee kind of team, but without any scoring support, they're going to have to rely on a "win by goaltending" kind of game. Thankfully, the team has the fewest goals allowed per game in the league at a tiny 1.96.
The Blues have lost their last two match-ups against the Kings, but if they start Jaroslav Halak in net their winning chances shoot up. Halak has an amazingly low 1.31 GAA in his last nine starts. He has just a slightly higher GAA against the Kings in his career: a 1.94. The Kings more than likely will start Jonathan Quick, their All-Star goaltender. Quick has a bit of a case of the yips in St. Louis, however. He's allowed ten goals at Scottrade in his last three starts in net.
The Kings might need a little more than some scoreboard magic to defeat the Blues tonight. The Blues need to win while they're on home ice -- their next three games are on the road and they have eight road games this month. Couple those with six home games and four back-to-back games this month, and the Blues have a nightmare of a schedule coming up.