VANCOUVER - A win tonight would move the Blues to within three points of the division-leading Nashville Predators. A win would also put the Blues seven points ahead of the Chicago Blackhawks, who sit third in the division.
Both Nashville and Chicago are idle tonight and have played 63 games. Tonight will be game No. 63 for St. Louis (8:30 p.m., FSMW, KMOX).
“I think the players recognize what’s at stake,” Blues Head Coach Ken Hitchcock said before Saturday’s game in Edmonton. “We’re preparing for Edmonton (now), but less than 24 hours later we’ve got to get ready for Vancouver. I think you just prepare to play your game and play it as well as you can.”
After traveling from Edmonton last night, the Blues did not have a morning skate today in Vancouver.
The Canucks are injury-riddled group that is without defensemen Kevin Bieksa, Christopher Tanev and Alex Edler. They’re also without right wing Alexandre Burrows and goalie Ryan Miller. Despite the injuries, Vancouver is 4-2-0 in their last six games and sits in second place in the Pacific Division.
The Blues can’t afford another slow start tonight at Rogers Arena.
“I'm concerned about our slow starts,” Hitchcock said last night’s 2-1 win in Edmonton. “I'm concerned about the way we play in our starts. We don't look like we get to our game near soon enough … and we're going to have to find a way to get into our game a little bit earlier.”
EDMONTON - Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester will reach 900 games played tonight when the Blues meet the Oilers at 9 p.m. at Rexall Place (FSMW, KMOX).
Bouwmeester, an Edmonton native, will become the 15th active defenseman to have played in 900 games. Montreal’s Sergei Gonchar (1,294) is the active leader in a Top 10 that includes Ottawa’s Chris Phillips (1,179), Boston’s Zdeno Chara (1,174) and former Blue Chris Pronger (1,167).
“It’s one of those things where your career kind of goes in stages,” Bouwmeester said after the morning skate. “At first you want to just get playing and establish yourself and stay healthy over time. I’ve been lucky I haven’t missed a lot of big stretches in the year or anything, so it got here relatively quick. It goes by quick, it’s kind of scary.”
The 900 games number seemed to surprise people around the Blues locker room. Bouwmeester, who joined the Blues after a trade in 2013, is only 31 years old.
“He’s 31 and he’s already at 900 games? I mean, that’s incredible,” Blues Head Coach Ken Hitchcock said. “It shows you he’s been healthy and he came in the League early. It’s incredible. A lot of those guys, when you get to 900 or 1,000, guys are 35, 36 years of age.”
Earlier this season, Bouwmeester’s 737-game iron man streak ended as the fifth longest in NHL history. This season, the Blues defenseman has played in 53 games, recording two goals, eight assists and a plus-6 rating.
“He’s only missed seven games or so the last however many years,” said defenseman Alex Pietrangelo. “It speaks to him as a professional, the way he takes care of himself off the ice and the way he trains. It goes a long way as to why he’s been able to play as long as he has.”
Bouwmeester met friends and family last night, and they’ll be in attendance tonight to share No. 900 with him. That’s something Bouwmeester’s teammates are excited to be part of.
“As a player with him over the last few years, you know what he’s going to bring every night: his consistency,” Pietrangelo said. “That’s what makes him such a professional. You know what you get with Bo every game.
“It’s a special game for him and a special moment for all of us to share that with him.”
WINNIPEG - If tonight’s game at MTS Centre is even half as memorable as the last one, Ryan Reaves is going to have a pretty good story to tell.
Back on Nov. 23, the 28-year-old Winnipeg native broke a 2-2 tie early in the third period to help the Blues to a 4-2 win against the Jets. A large contingent of friends and family watched from the stands and were pleased to see the goal stand as the game winner.
“I did a little spin-o-rama, tried to get it on net, I don’t think the goalie was ready for it,” Reaves said after the game. “I’ve never gotten a point playing here in front of my family. I’ve had one or two fights, but never a goal. It’s always fun.”
That game on Nov. 23 was the first one Reaves’ father, Willard, attended this season. After the Fathers’ Trip in January, Willard has now attended four games. Ryan has scored in three of them.
And yes, Willard will be watching at MTS Centre tonight.
“It’s always special coming back and playing in front of friends and family,” Reaves said after the morning skate. “The family is coming. It might be a little smaller (group) than last time, but I hope I put on a show for everybody.”
Reaves knows that putting on that show won’t be easy. The Blues are facing a Jets team that has points in four of their last five games, most recently a 4-2 win Tuesday at home against the Dallas Stars. Winnipeg holds the first Wild Card spot in the Western Conference with 73 points, and the Jets have done some lineup tinkering of late, acquiring Drew Stafford and Tyler Myers from Buffalo and yesterday, Jiri Tlusty from Carolina.
“They look a little different. We’ll get ready for them but one thing we know is this is an emotional building,” said Blues forward Alexander Steen, who also grew up in Winnipeg. “They like to come out fast. This is a great test for us. Tonight will be a fast paced and usually pretty physical hockey game.”
“We’re going to need 60 minutes if we expect to win. There’s lots at stake,” said Blues Head Coach Ken Hitchcock. “We’ve all got 20, 22 games (or so) left. We’re in a good position, but we’ve got to build on the position now. They’re in a good position now, they’ve got to build on it, too.
“This is what you hope for. A chance to get in the playoffs, a chance to do some damage, but now you’ve got to go out and earn it with your good play.”
ST. LOUIS - Jake Allen’s first game against the Montreal Canadiens didn’t go as well as he’d hoped.
With his friends and family making the eight-hour drive from Fredericton, NB, Allen made 26 saves but lost 4-1 to the Canadiens at Bell Centre on Nov. 20.
It was an important game for Allen, who grew up a Canadiens fan in part because his dad, Kurt, was one. Then, Jake played two seasons in Montreal in the QMJHL, where he recorded 39 wins. While there, he saw plenty of Canadiens games, which made him a bigger fan than he was previously.
Tonight, he starts in goal for the Blues and gets another chance to beat his childhood team. This time, he won’t be so nervous.
“He was really nervous when we were in Montreal there,” Head Coach Ken Hitchcock said today after the morning skate. “I don’t want to say it’s old hat, but he’s certainly more comfortable and calm about it than he was before.”
Allen has certainly looked comfortable and calm in net in 2015. Since turning the calendar to a new year, Allen has won six consecutive games and his 1.50 goals-against average ranks third in the League, while his .937 save-percentage ranks fifth.
“I just need to be myself out there and enjoy it,” Allen said. “I got away from that the last few games in 2014, but I just had to get back to that.”
Regarding tonight, Allen expects a tough test.
“They’ve got a lot of talent up there and firepower. Even from the back end, they’re a dangerous team,” he said. “They’re very well-rounded with (Carey) Price in net, solid defense, solid forwards. We’re going to have our hands full tonight.”
“In fairness to Jake, he’s played really well the last couple games,” Hitchcock said. “Let’s give him an opportunity. This is a big game for both teams and it’s an important comparison game. Let’s give him a chance and see what he can do.”
ST. LOUIS - Last night’s 5-1 win against the Boston Bruins carried with it plenty of memorable moments. A four-goal outburst in the second period. Petteri Lindbohm’s first career goal, Vladimir Tarasenko’s 30th and 31st, some great saves from Jake Allen.
Unfortunately, there’s not much time to reflect.
After today’s morning skate, the Blues got right to work on preparing for the Pittsburgh Penguins, less than 24 hours after last night’s win.
“Today will be a quick review of what happened last night, and we’ll get ready for Pittsburgh tonight,” Blues Head Coach Ken Hitchcock said before today’s team meeting. “We know the energy they play at and we know the energy we’ve got to have for tonight. Let’s save it all and prepare closer to the game.”
If the Blues need any pointers on how to play Pittsburgh, Marcel Goc might be able to help. Goc played 55 games over the last two seasons with the Penguins before being traded to the Blues in January in exchange for Maxim Lapierre.
“If you look at the lineup, they’ve got a solid team over there,” Goc said of his former team. “We’ve got to bring our A-game tonight to give ourselves a chance to win this game. They might ask me for (advice), but there are no secrets to any team (in the NHL). You have to be ready and mentally sharp from the start. We’ll go at this like every other game.”
Since joining the Blues, Goc has played in 12 games, registering one assist. In 11 games with Pittsburgh, Lapierre has one assist.
“I think it’s a trade that helped both teams,” Hitchcock said. “We have a hunter mentality on our fourth line, and we needed someone to just kind of calm it down between the dots. Goc has done that for us. He’s allowed (Steve Ott and Ryan Reaves) to get turned loose and get after people. On the other side, Pittsburgh needed that size and durability that Lappy brings.
“For me, it’s a good trade for both teams.”
Tonight’s game, the third of a four-game home stand for the Blues, begins at 7 p.m. (FSMW, KMOX 1120 AM).
ST. LOUIS - Any player in the locker room will tell you the last two games have been, for the most part, uncharacteristic of the Blues’ style of play.
The Blues gave up a late 1-0 lead against the Florida Panthers before eventually taking a 2-1 shootout victory Sunday. On Tuesday, the Blues were trailing 3-0 in the first period before dropping a 4-1 decision at home to Dallas.
“Is it easy (to put it behind us)? No. We’ve got to learn some lessons and bring our best effort,” Blues captain David Backes said after today’s morning skate. “Every two points is incredibly tough to get in this league. It takes a lot of sacrifice and hard effort to win. We didn’t bring that against Dallas and they took it to us. Hopefully that lesson’s learned and we bring it all tonight.”
The Blues will host a Boston Bruins team (7 p.m., FSMW, KMOX) that has lost five consecutive games and is clinging to the last wild-card berth in the Eastern Conference. Boston is 0-1-2 on a five-game road trip entering tonight’s game against the Blues.
“I don’t think any of that really matters when you’re playing the Bruins,” Jake Allen said of the Bruins’ struggles. “They’re a top team in the League for the last five or six years for a reason. They have a lot of offensive talent over there, sound defense and great goaltending. We’re definitely going to have our hands full.”
The Blues met the Bruins on Nov. 18 in Boston earlier this season. Tuukka Rask registered a 33-save shutout in a 2-0 victory for the Bruins.
“The game in Boston was outstanding, both teams played really well, they were probably a little bit quicker than we were to loose pucks, which made a difference,” Blues Head Coach Ken Hitchcock said. “It was a really well-played hockey game. I expect the same thing again. Two good teams looking for points.”
“It’s a team sport. We need to have 20 guys in here on the right page to win a game,” added Backes. “(Our line) had an off game against Dallas and you’re not going to be great every night, but we’ve got to bring something to the table that helps our team win.”
SUNRISE, Fla. - When it comes to games played, Blues defenseman Barret Jackman’s name is in some pretty illustrious company.
Beginning at 4 p.m. this afternoon, Jackman will skate in his 779th career game with the Blues and will tie another legend: Brian Sutter.
“It’s pretty special,” Jackman said. “Obviously, Sutter was an icon for the Blues for many years, and still is in the hockey world. It’s amazing. In ’99 when I was drafted, never in my wildest dreams did I think this would be something I could accomplish. Being with the Blues all this time has been great.”
Over the course of his career, Jackman has amassed 1,200 blocked shots and 911 hits - stats that only six other NHL players have reached since those stats began being tracked in the 2005-06 season. In addition, he has been a plus-player in all but three seasons.
Overall, Jackman has 27 goals, 151 assists (178 points) and a +55 rating.
“Guys don’t stay in one organization for that long without being a good player and an even better person,” said defenseman Chris Butler. “It’s a testament to him and the work that he’s put in - the countless hours of practices and training that he does to stay in shape to play the way he does, as hard as he does, for that long.
“You have to tip your cap to him.”
When the Blues host the Dallas Stars on Tuesday at Scottrade Center, Jackman will take sole possession of second place, trailing only Hall of Famer Bernie Federko, who played 927 games with the Blues.
“It’s nice to see a guy that’s a good player get to stay on the same team for a long period of time,” Head Coach Ken Hitchcock said. “It’s not very common anymore, you don’t see it happening much. To see Jax here for that extended period of time, I think it helps you continuity-wise with your program. He can help a lot of the younger players out, he’s established in the community…there’s a real identity with him in the St. Louis community.”
“It’s tough in sports to stick in one city for this long,” Jackman added. “This is special to me and it’s special to my family.”
TAMPA BAY, Fla - Just over a week ago, the Blues staged a thrilling comeback win against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Scottrade Center. Down 1-0 with less than four minutes to go and with Brian Elliott keeping his team in the game, Vladimir Tarasenko scored with 3:10 left on the clock to force overtime, where Jaden Schwartz would eventually win it.
The Blues say they’ll be more ready tonight, this time at Amalie Arena, where they begin a two-game road trip with a 6:30 p.m. start against the Lightning (FSMW, KMOX 1120 AM).
“First off, we’ve got to play a lot better than we played [on Feb. 3],” Head Coach Ken Hitchcock said. “If it wasn’t for the goalie, they could have scored 10. I think the challenge for us is can we keep up with their tempo and can they keep up with our grind? That’s why we had the practice we had [Wednesday]. We tried to get our tempo way, way up.”
Brian Elliott will start in goal and has won three of his last four road games.
“They were way better than us (last time), they deserved to win last game and ‘Moose’ kind of stood on his head for us and we got timely goals,” Paul Stastny said. “We’ll be better prepared and more fresh (tonight). We’ve got to be ready for their best, because they’re one of the top teams in the East.”
Including last week’s 2-1 win, the Blues have points in five of their last six games against the Lightning, going 4-1-1. Tonight will be the Blues’ first trip to Amalie Arena since Nov. 2, 2013.
“Until you play against them, (you’re not) ready for it,” Hitchcock said. “We’ll hopefully be more ready for it tonight. They really played with tempo, not just with the puck, but without the puck. They get on you fast. They play at a pace where if you’re not mentally ready for it, you’re going to be a step behind.”
ST. LOUIS - The Blues will get Jori Lehtera back in the lineup tonight when they host the Arizona Coyotes at 7 p.m. at Scottrade Center (FSMW, KMOX).
With Lehtera’s return, the STL Line is also back.
“It’s a big add,” Head Coach Ken Hitchcock said. “It gives us three lines that can do a lot of damage. Three different dynamics, but three lines that can score regardless.”
Lehtera has been out of the lineup since suffering a concussion in the Jan. 29 game vs. Nashville. After practice today, Lehtera said he’s had about three consecutive good days without symptoms.
“There was a couple of really bad days, but then it got better,” Lehtera said. “It got better every day, so that was good for my mind. I feel I’m ready to go. I can’t lie in a bed anymore. I’m so excited to play.”
In 46 games this season, Lehtera has nine goals and 21 assists (30 points).
“Anytime you lose a top end centermen, from a first line to a fourth line - center is one of the hardest positions to play,” Steve Ott said. “You re-energize the lineup by getting a guy back that has the production he’s had this year. That STL line that’s been so special for us, it just gives us another threat.”
ST. LOUIS - Paul Stastny had a good perspective about Friday’s loss in Columbus.
“Sometimes it’s better, I think, to get blown out than lose a close game where in your head, (you can) tell yourself you were in it,” he said. “It’s a good wake up call for us to get back to what works. Maybe we got a little comfortable, a little too loose, which tends to happen when you’re on a good streak.
“But you want to get back to your winning ways, and what better way to get tested than to play probably one of the top teams in the Western Conference?”
Yes, today is one of those days that’s been circled on your calendar since June - a daytime showdown between the Blues and their arch rival Chicago Blackhawks.
The Blues have a six point lead in the standings on Chicago. Both teams have played 52 games. The Blues hadn’t lost in regulation in 13 games before Friday’s loss to the Blue Jackets. The Blackhawks had lost two straight before a 2-1 overtime win against Winnipeg on Friday.
“You take a game like this, it’s a good measure for us and a good measure for Chicago,” Blues Head Coach Ken Hitchcock said after Saturday’s practice at Scottrade Center. “When you get big games, you want to see how your team measures up.”
The Blues have won four straight at home vs. Chicago for the first time since the 1998-99 season. The Blues and Blackhawks have split the season series through two games this season.
Sunday’s game begins at 11:30 a.m. at Scottrade Center (NBC, KMOX 1120 AM).