ST. LOUIS - If that old adage about “whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is accurate, the Blues are going to be an incredibly strong team in the near future.
That’s because in the early going, whether it’s injuries or the bacterial illness circulating through the club, the Blues have faced more than their fair share of adversity.
Here’s what they’re dealing with tonight (that we know of):
David Backes won’t play. He’s been diagnosed with a concussion after being hit by Stars defenseman Trevor Daley in the first period Tuesday in Dallas.
T.J. Oshie won’t play. He slid hard into the goal post Tuesday and began feeling concussion symptoms on Wednesday. He also has been diagnosed with a concussion.
Joakim Lindstrom is the latest to be dealing with the bacterial illness that has worked it’s way around the team. It’s uncertain whether he’ll be able to suit up tonight, either.
Paul Stastny, although practicing with the team, is still out.
“Some seasons are smooth, and some seasons are scrambles. We’re in scramble mode,” Head Coach Ken Hitchcock said after the morning skate. “Nobody’s feeling sorry for us. We’ve got to get two points. We’ve got to keep pace with everybody until we get a lot of these players back in. We can’t get too far away from the pack.”
DALLAS - Carl Gunnarsson will make his Blues debut tonight in Dallas, where the team will face off with the Dallas Stars at 7:30 p.m. at American Airlines Center (FOX Sports Midwest, KMOX 1120 AM).
Gunnarsson has been rehabbing a hip injury sustained last season and was medically cleared to play recently. The injury required a six-month recovery period, so it’s been awhile since he’s seen game action.
“Usually you get a couple exhibition games in and it takes a couple of games to get in that 100 percent mode,” Gunnarsson said. “I guess I’ve got to work on stuff to get it back quicker than usual, but whatever it takes. It’s just something you’ve got to get in the fire, burn yourself a little bit. That’s how you get used to it.”
Gunnarsson describes himself as an all-around player. Nothing flashy, more defense than offense. He’s been getting a good look at the Blues’ system from the press box, trying to get a feel for how he needs to fit in.
“Whenever I’ve been watching games, it’s been figuring out the (penalty kill), whatever system we’re doing, breakouts and all that. It’s a good way to try to learn,” Gunnarsson said. “That’s the only thing you can do from up top. I’ve been trying to pick stuff up. …But it’s another thing to execute it on the ice at game tempo, too. I just have to get in there. It’s hockey. Just relax, play your game, stick to the system. Don’t overthink stuff.”
Head Coach Ken Hitchcock said Gunnarsson would start on the third defensive pairing tonight, with the hope that after a few games, he moves up to the second pairing.
“He’s a smart player,” Hitchcock said. “I don’t think he’s overwhelmed by this. He just wants to get playing. We’ll monitor his minutes and we expect to get good 5-on-5 minutes. I don’t think we’ll use him killing penalties yet, but we’ll see how he looks.”
ST. LOUIS - Another chapter in the Blues / Blackhawks rivalry begins tonight when the teams face off in their first meeting of the season at 7 p.m. at Scottrade Center (FSMW, KMOX 1120 AM).
And just like any other year, the Blues expect every game to be intense and carry a playoff-like feel.
“They’re big (games),” defenseman Barret Jackman said after the morning skate. “Obviously with the playoffs last year, this is another step to making this one of the biggest rivalries in the NHL. They have a team that plays four lines, they’re coming hard, they’ve added Brad Richards to the third line…they’ve got a lot of depth and the rivalry is probably going to intensify.”
Because of the playoff format introduced last year by the NHL, division rivals are often first-round matchups, meaning any road to the Stanley Cup will mean going through some of your biggest rivals.
In this case…Chicago.
“I think we’ve already got that natural close proximity rivalry, with the history of the two teams playing each other, (so) adding that extra divisional playoff match up with Chicago is going to pick up throughout the years,” Jackman said. “We’re pretty much at the peak of that right now, and it’s going to keep getting nastier and more fun to play.”
“I think there’s a real healthy respect on both sides. Both teams play the game really honestly,” Blues Head Coach Ken Hitchcock added. “Both teams have a real five-on-five sound foundation in their game. I’m sure there’s players on their team we don’t like, and they don’t like guys on our team, but at the end of the day, both teams play such an honest game. Every game is like a playoff game. … It’s really good competition.”
The Blues are still trying to find their game coming off back-to-back losses to Anaheim and Vancouver. They’ll host a Blackhawks team (4-1-1) that started red-hot but struggled to get much going offensively Thursday in a 3-2 loss to the Predators at Bridgestone Arena, their first regulation loss of the season.
For Hitchcock, he just wants to establish good habits tonight and keep them going.
“Regardless of the score tonight, I want to see us play our game and I want to see a lot of good minutes on it,” Hitchcock said. “If we get that consistent play and that consistent behavior, I just know, whether it’s tonight or a week from now, we’re going to get on a roll here.”
ST. LOUIS - The Blues will face the Vancouver Canucks tonight at 7 p.m. at Scottrade Center. That part at least, is certain.
What’s not certain is which players will be wearing the Blue Note as several are battling an illness that’s been going around the team since the weekend.
“We’ll dress 20 and we’ll let you know who they are,” Head Coach Ken Hitchcock said after the morning skate. “We’ll figure it out once we get to the game and see who can play and who can’t.”
Regardless of who suits up, the Blues face a Canucks team that has given them trouble as of late. Vancouver won all three meetings between the clubs last season, although each game was decided by one goal.
“We’ve played some of our best hockey in Vancouver and not gotten out of it, whether it’s the goaltending or lack of offense or whatever,” Hitchcock said. “They play us hard…(Tonight’s) going to be two really good teams going at each other playing a similar style of offense and a similar style of defense. It will be just as competitive, and hopefully we get on the right side of those one-goal games.
“We’ve played some of our best hockey against Vancouver.”
The Canucks started the season with three consecutive wins but have now lost two straight (4-2 to Tampa Bay on Oct. 18 and 6-3 to Dallas on Oct. 21). Daniel Sedin leads the team with eight points (one goal, seven assists) and has his brother, Henrik, a close second with seven points (two goals, five assists).
ST. LOUIS - Alex Pietrangelo is a darn good hockey player, and as it turns out, he's a pretty good uncle, too.
He didn’t want his five-year-old niece, who is undergoing chemotherapy, to be the only one losing her hair, so on Monday afternoon, he let her shave his head.
“We’ve been talking about it for awhile, about when she loses her hair,” Pietrangelo said after practice Tuesday. “I asked if she wanted to (shave my head) yesterday. To see her laugh and smile, the way she was when she was doing it - even though she dug the razor in a couple times - it was good.”
In August, Ellie was diagnosed with Wilms’ Tumor, a rare type of kidney cancer that primarily affects children. Since her diagnosis, she has undergone surgery to remove her kidney and has moved onto the next stage of treatment, which includes chemotherapy.
“She’s a bundle of joy, a handful, she’s fun to be around,” Pietrangelo said. “We’re all there to support her, but to see the way she’s acting, it’s something to learn from. You appreciate every day that you have.”
ANAHEIM, Calif. - The Blues wrap up a three-game road trip out West tonight at Honda Center, where they meet the Anaheim Ducks at 7 p.m. CT (FOX Sports Midwest, KMOX 1120 AM).
The Blues are coming off a big night offensively in Arizona, where six different players had multiple points in a 6-1 win against the Coyotes: Jaden Schwartz (3G, 1A), Jori Lehtera (1G, 2A), Vladimir Tarasenko (3A), Alexander Steen (1G, 1A), David Backes (1G, 1A) and Kevin Shattenkirk (2A). Schwartz scored his first career hat trick, Lehtera netted his first NHL goal, and Backes tallied assist No. 200 of his career.
The Blues will need more where that came from tonight against a Ducks team that has won four consecutive games after dropping their season opener 6-4 in Pittsburgh. Anaheim is coming off a come-from-behind win Friday against the Minnesota Wild. Andrew Cogliano and Corey Perry scored in the third period to complete Anaheim’s second come-from-behind win of the season.
Perry has five goals and two assists through five games to start the season. Ryan Kesler, who signed with the Ducks as a free agent in the offseason, has two goals and three assists.
GLENDALE, AZ - Blues goaltender Jake Allen will make his first appearance of the season tonight when the Blues meet the Arizona Coyotes at 8 p.m. at Gila River Arena (FOX Sports Midwest, KMOX 1120 AM).
Allen last played on April 21, 2013, when he made 11 saves in relief against the Colorado Avalanche in a 5-3 loss.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Allen said of tonight’s game. “I’ve been trying to treat my practices like games. I think I’ve put in a lot of good work at training camp with me, (Goaltending Coach) Jim (Corsi) and (Brian Elliott). Obviously it has been awhile since I played a meaningful game, but you always have to be sharp and ready and that’s my job. I feel confident in myself and ready to go. It’s something I’ve been looking forward to for a long time.
In the 2012-13 season, Allen made 15 appearances with the Blues, posting a 9-4-0 record to go with a 2.46 goals-against average and a .905 save percentage.
“He’s been good. We need to just get him up and running,” Head Coach Ken Hitchcock said of Allen. “We’ve got to play good in front of him so we give him a fighting chance. We don’t want to hang him out to dry and put him in a vulnerable position. He’s going to be a big part of our team now and in the future.”
Allen said he learned a lot watching the first three games of the season from the bench.
“To be able to watch our team, to see how they perform on and off the ice, to watch the D, how they play, how they handle the puck…it’s going to help me and give me a little more confidence,” Allen said. “I think the work that I put in through last season, this summer, training camp…I think it’s going to pay off.”
GLENDALE, AZ - Cows, mooing, mechanical bulls...you never know what you're going to get when you sit down for an interview with Blues defenseman Jordan Leopold.
Chris Kerber learned that on Friday afternoon following a team practice at the Gila River Arena, where the Blues will meet the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday at 8 p.m. CT.
The interview quickly goes off topic when Leopold says this: "(I) think of the days when it was just the rink here, and all around there were cows. I'm not kidding! There were ranches here everywhere and there wasn't even a stadium next door. It was a ghost town out here. Now, everything is built up! Times have changed over the years."
Play the video and listen closely. Among other non-hockey related conversation, you might even hear Blues forward Maxim Lapierre mooing in the background.
LOS ANGELES - The Blues haven’t played since Saturday (a 4-1 win vs. Calgary at Scottrade Center), but they’ll face a tough test when they get back on the ice tonight at Staples Center in Los Angeles, where the defending champion Kings are waiting.
“It feels like such a long period of time between games that I hope we don’t have to get restarted again,” Head Coach Ken Hitchcock said. “The last five periods of hockey we’ve played have been excellent, and that’s what we want to build off of.
“It feels like we weren’t even in the League, like we were watching the League on television, and now we get to join it.”
The Blues will face a Kings team that was won two consecutive games after going 0-1-1 to start the season. The Kings have scored 10 goals in their last two wins (Oct. 12 vs. Winnipeg and Oct. 14 vs. Edmonton).
Early on, it’s the line of Jeff Carter, Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson who have been contributing offensively. Pearson leads the Kings with four goals, while Carter has three and Toffoli has two.
“You can’t let them feed the engine. They’re going to get scoring chances,” Hitchcock said about the line. “They’ve got a lot of skill, they’ve got a lot of size, you just can’t give them easy ones. They’ve gotten far too many easy scoring chances based on the opposition’s turnovers…we don’t want to give them the second or third chances.
“We’ve got to be diligent and make it hard for them defensively. When we get the chance to get the puck out, we’ve got to get it out of the zone on the first try.”
Tonight’s game is a 9:30 p.m. start time in St. Louis on FOX Sports Midwest and Y98 FM.
ST. LOUIS - After getting off to a slow start Thursday vs. the Rangers, Blues Head Coach Ken Hitchcock wants to make sure his team dictates the play from the start when they host the Calgary Flames (1-1-0) tonight at 6 p.m. (FSMW, Y98).
“We put 40 great minutes in the last game, and we’d like to put 60 in,” Hitchcock said after an optional morning skate on Saturday. “We let New York dictate period one. We don’t want to let Calgary dictate. They’ve got too many tenacious high-energy guys.
“We can’t let them dictate, we have to do that ourselves.”
Tonight will be Calgary’s third game in four nights. The Flames earned a 5-2 win against the Oilers on Thursday night thanks in large part to a hat trick from Mason Raymond.
“They’re very aggressive on the forecheck, very aggressive in the neutral zone,” Hitchcock said. “We’ve got to make them defend more than they want to, because once they get a bead on you, they have foot speed and tenacity so they can take the game over like they did in the third period (Thursday) against Edmonton.”
Brian Elliott will start in goal for the Blues tonight. He has a 1.80 career goals-against average against the Flames, which ranks fourth among all goalies since the 2006-07 season. Only Ray Emery (1.33), Marc-Andre Fleury (1.57) and Jonathan Quick (1.60) have a better goals-against average.
Last season, the Blues went 2-0-1 against the Flames, who have lost in their last four trips to Scottrade Center.