Detroit Red Wings At St. Louis Blues: Blues Need Strong Play To Break Wings' Streak

ST. LOUIS, MO - MARCH 12: Jimmy Howard #35 of the Detroit Red Wings looks to make a save against Matt D'Agostini #36 of the St. Louis Blues at the Scottrade Center on March 12, 2011 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

The Detroit Red Wings either wax hot or wane cold, and the Blues're hoping that their hot phase of four wins in a row is over. Strong play from Brian Elliott and more hard work could be what the Blues need to continue a win streak of their own.

The Detroit Red Wings are always a challenge for the Blues, as they are for any team. Unfortunately for the Wings this year, they seem to be a challenge to themselves. They've been consistently either very good, or very not good, going on a five game win streak, then a six game losing streak. They're currently in the midst of a four game winning streak, where they've scored five goals in three of them. When they correct a problem, they over-correct it to their advantage. Luckily for the Blues, they haven't allowed an even strength goal in the three games that they've played under Hitchcock, and have outscored opponents 8-2.

The last time these two teams met in March, the Blues shellacked the Wings in Detroit 10-3, which was a fun way to end the season series, but ultimately meaningless as the Wings were going to the playoffs and the Blues were going to the golf course for the second straight season. This year, after an average start and terrible special teams led to the firing of coach Davis Payne, the Blues have turned it around on all cylinders. Their goaltending has improved, with both Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott pitching shutouts in the homestand. The improved goaltending that Halak is showing has dropped his GAA from 3.58 to 2.78, and his save percentage has crept upwards to .882. These aren't exactly stellar numbers by any means - he's 56th in the league in save percentage, which is shockingly better than Martin Brodeur's - but it's a sign of improvement.

Brian Elliott, who gets the start tonight, has been more than outstanding. He's 6-1, with a 1.49 GAA and a .946 save percentage. He's currently leading the league in goals against average. Don't read too much into his starting tonight, however. Coach Ken Hitchcock believes in rewarding goalies who have a shutout by letting them start the next game:

"For me, a shutout, you've got to reward," Hitchcock said. "That's just the way I feel. ... So I would expect Brian to play the next game. But for us, the goaltending is also a product of ... not giving up odd-man rushes. We're not giving up easy scoring opportunities. We're not giving up breakaways."


So, tighter defense leads to improved goaltending. Surprisingly, that's something that it took the coach getting fired for the Blues to understand, but they've gotten the message loud and clear. Be smart, be responsible, and apply pressure with the forecheck, and you win games - and so far it seems to be working.

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