The St. Louis Blues come to town tonight, fresh on the heels of a SO loss against Detroit, 4 - 3. Get used to the Blues, as this is the first of 5 meetings between now and the end of the season, with 3 of them being at home.
The Blues have been bitten hard by the injury bug this year, somethingt CBJ fans can relate to. Despite their position at the bottom of the Western Conference standings, they handed the Jackets a 5-2 loss at the Scottrade Center in the middle of our extended road trip. They are 5-3-2 in their last 10 games, and backup Chris Mason has pitched 2 shutouts in that stretch, including a recent 4 - 0 blanking of the Philadelphia Flyers.
The Jackets, 6-3-1 over their last 10, are busy erasing the memory of a 7 - 3 home loss to the Stars, a game where everything that could go wrong did go wrong. These are going to happen, and it probably came at a good time, as St. Louis will come in with an edgy, up tempo approach to try to catch us off guard. After the Dallas fiasco, Hitch will make sure that doesn't happen.
St. Louis is 18th in NHL in Goals per Game, while the CBJ are close behind in 21st. The differences come in defense and special teams. The Jackets are 10th in the league in Goals Against, while the Blues are near the bottom, in 26th.
The Blues rely on special teams to a large extent. Over 1/3 of their goals (50/141) have come on the PP, which ranks 8th in the league. The two squads have comparable penalty killing units, with St. Louis ranking 15th in the league and the Jackets 18th.
Boyes has carried the bulk of the offensive load this year, with 20 goals and 21 assists for 41 points. Tkachuk boasts 32 points, as does Berglund. Backes chips in and serves as the prime agitator. Chris Mason has been hot in goal of late, and has a GAA of 2.72 and .912 save percentage for the year. He was called in to replace Manny Legace in last night's game, after Legace gave up 3 goals on 8 shots in the 2nd period, and after the game called himself "the worst player in the NHL."
Mason is likely to go for them tonight, and Hitch has confirmed that our own Mason will be in the net as well. Klesla also likely to be back on the ice for us, paired with Russell. Both Tollefson and Backman will sit. Fortunately, the Chimera experiment at center is over. He returns to the wing opposite Voracek tonight, centered by Jason Williams. That line could really light it up! Alexandre Picard also cleared waivers and was assigned to Syracuse.
Keys For The Game:
Two Way Intensity - We need to get back to complete Hitch-Hockey, with the forwards getting back and closing the gaps in our own zone. Hit hard, pass precisely, and move the puck decisively out of the zone. In our end, put lots of pucks on net and cash in on our chances. No missed one timers!
Patience & Composure -- St. Louis will come out hard, despite it being the back end of a back-to-back, trying to disrupt us the way Dallas did. Backes will agitate and they will try to leverage the revenge factor for the Huselius hit in St. Louis to get us to lose our cool and take unnecessary penalties. We can't fall into that trap. There will be plenty of opportunities to deliver some good, clean, vicious hits to Backes tonight -- but keep the eye on the prize. Staying out of the box will deprive them of one of their key weapons.
Traffic In Front -- The last couple of games, our forwards have been staying away from the blue paint. The lone exception was Voracek, who got the only goal against Ottawa. We can get some pucks past the St. Louis goaltenders, but need more traffic in front, and the ability to get the stick on the rebounds.
Pick Up Mason -- Stevie has carried the team a lot this year, so let's return the favor tonight. Keep Tkachuk, Boyes & Co. on the perimeter, open up lanes for vision, and clear the puck from in front. Don't wait for the puck to come to you in our own zone!!!
Should be a chippy game, and I expect the boys will be loaded for bear, proving that the Dallas debacle was just a fluke. Big win ahead! Go Jackets!