Last season 20 points and eight spots in the standings separated the St. Louis Blues and Dallas Stars. The two clubs on opposite ends of the balance of Western Conference power took similarly diverging approaches to building their 2013 roster.
The Blues went with an infusion of youth. Dallas took the road more frequently traveled and added veterans to the mix.
Tonight at American Airlines Center the differing approaches collide head on.
Interestingly enough, either side doesn’t have to travel far to meet in the middle. St. Louis is 3-1-0 after four games and currently holds down the 4th highest position in the conference. Dallas at 2-1-1 is 5th and trails by only one point.
Though it’s early in this lockout shortened season every point still counts. Maybe even more so than in the normal 82 game marathon both teams endure. Who will come out on top as one time Norris rivals start jockeying for post season position?
Dallas fell to the Chicago 3-2 (OT) in their last contest and were outshot 41-23 by the hot Blackhawks. Stars bench boss Glen Gulutzan explained what went wrong to the media.
“If you lose one-on-one battles all night then you are going to be on the wrong end of things, and if you turn the puck over all night you are going to be on the wrong end of things. That’s what we did.”
Virtual unknown, Cristopher Nilstorp, will get the start in net for the home side. News that is very likely well received on the Blues side of the equation. Kari Lehtonen, the Stars top netminder, was dominant against the Note in 11-12. In two starts he allowed just 3 goals on 70 shots against. Must be something to do with be a Finnish goalie (shades of Pekka Rinne…).
Key (veteran) offseason acquisition, forward Jaromir Jagr, is listed as day to day with a back/hip injury. Fellow veteran winger Ray Whitney is not exactly 100% either, but the two still lead their club in points. Both have 2 goals and 2 assists. Dust off your old man jokes if you’ve got them.
Defenseman Aaron Rome, best (only) known for concussion Boston forward Nathan Horton, will make his debut with Dallas. Insert keep your head up jokes here.
Mike Heika reports former Buffalo centerman Derek Roy, acquired in a trade for
the truculent goon punk center Steve Ott, may also miss the game due to a hit he sustained from Johan Franzen of the Detroit Red Wings. The loss of Roy could be softened by the addition of Blues killer Jamie Benn to the lineup. His fresh legs would be welcomed in Big D, but there are work visa complications prohibiting his arrival after singing a 5 year, $26.25 million deal.
Look for the top pairing of Alex Goligoski and Stephane Robidas to see a lot of ice time and the Blues’ scoring lines. The two are both averaging more than 22 minutes ATOI and are a combined Plus-9.
Rebounding after their own loss to the Hawks, the Blues took down Nashville in convincing 3-0 fashion Thursday night. Netminder Jaroslav Halak rolled out the recliner and handled all 13 shots against for his second shutout of the season. Shots were 24-13 in the St. Louis’ favor. Once again hard work and tenacity provided the edge needed to insulate the Blues’ goalie.
Swedish center Patrik Berglund bagged a penalty shot goal exactly one year to the day he scored his first in the 3-0 win.
Halak will stay in net and make his fourth start of the season.
Thankfully, there are no injuries to report. *knock on wood*
The lineup will remain the same in front of the net as well.
Perron – Backes – Oshie
Schwartz – Berglund – Stewart
McDonald – Steen – Tarasenko
Sobotka – Nichol – Reaves
Redden – Pietrangelo
Jackman – Shattenkirk
Russell – Polak
Though the Blues have been on the winning side more than the losing its more in spite of the top two lines than because of them. The Steen line has combined for 6 goals and 8 assists. The Backes (3g, 5a) and Berglund (4g,2a) lines have a total of 7 goals and 7 assists. Captain David Backes is a notoriously slow starter and Stewart has grown quiet after the home opener. Aside from Oshie and Berglund, those two lines don’t have much going on in the offensive zone.
Tonight’s game should be a chance for those six forwards to really break out. Without Lehtonen in goal and a rather lackluster second and third pairing, Dallas will have a hard time containing all three scoring lines Hitchcock can roll out. Assuming Gulutzan pits the Goligoski/Robidas pair against Steen’s line that leaves Rome, Trevor Daley, Jordie Benn, and Brenden Dillon to tangle with two lines chomping at the bit to bury the biscuit in the basket. Add in a green goalie and it’s a situation conducive to scoring many goals. Keep in mind that Dallas is 30th overall in Shots Allowed per Game at 38.2.
Banged up Stars lineup + struggles with puck management + backup in goal = Blues profit
That said, no team can be taken too seriously. Case in point, the “meh” performance in Game 2 vs. Nashville.
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