ST. PAUL - The Blues look to avoid their first four-game losing streak since last season when they meet the Minnesota Wild (42-26-12, 96 points) tonight at 7 p.m. at Xcel Energy Center (NBCSN, KMOX).
The Blues have lost three in a row for the first time this season. The last time the club lost four straight was Feb. 1 – 11, 2013.
Despite the losing streak, Head Coach Ken Hitchcock said he’s seeing improvement.
“We’re making progress. We probably had two sloppy games. Last game we showed a lot of improvement, a lot of good things, so I’d rather build on the positives,” he said. “We’re doing a lot of things that I like to see. The feeling with us and the players was that it was a good thing that we saw (Wednesday at practice) and a lot of good stuff (in Tuesday’s game), so we’ve just got to stay with the program.
“If we were guilty of anything, maybe we were guilty of looking too far ahead,” Hitchcock added. “Now the last three games caught our attention. Now it’s back to work.”
The Wild punched their ticket to the playoffs Tuesday night with a 4-3 shootout win against the League-leading Bruins. Minnesota trailed 3-2 in the third period until Ryan Suter scored with 1:05 left to play.
With the shootout win, the Wild locked up the first Wild Card spot in the Western Conference.
Since losing 5-1 to the Blues on March 27, Minnesota is 5-0-1, with their only loss coming in overtime on April 3 at Chicago.
“It’s a good challenge for us. They’re winning hockey games and they’ve won their way into the playoffs,” Hitchcock said after Wednesday's practice. “It will be a good test for us…a possible (playoff) opponent.”
Said Brenden Morrow, “We still have three games here to straighten it out and get some momentum. You want to have confidence and momentum going into that first game of the playoffs. Colorado is at our heels. We need to sharpen up.
“It’s been pretty smooth sailing for us throughout the year. Now we’re finding some adversity. We’re going to find out what we’re made of.”
Alexander Steen will play tonight when the Blues host the Washington Capitals at 7 p.m. at Scottrade Center (NBCSN, Y98 FM).
Steen missed three games with an undisclosed upper-body injury. He returned to practice on Monday and skated with the team again today.
“He’ll play, he’s good to go,” Ken Hitchcock said. “This is the player’s call and the trainer’s call. When they leaned over the boards and said ‘I’m good to go,’ I think it’s my obligation (to put him in) considering he’s had an unbelievable year and he’s been our best player most nights.”
For a team looking for more offense, Steen is returning at the right time. This season, he has 33 goals and 27 assists (60 points). In this last four appearances, he has three goals.
The Blues will be facing a Washington Capitals team that is 4-3-3 in their last 10 games is coming off a 4-3 win on the road against the New York Islanders. The Capitals find themselves four points behind Columbus for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference with four games to play.
Meanwhile, the Blues sit four points ahead of the Colorado Avalanche in the Central Division and one point ahead of the Anaheim Ducks for the top spot in the Western Conference. With a win tonight, the Blues would tie the Bruins for the League-lead with 113 points.
A HERO'S WELCOME
Army Ranger Sgt. 1st Class Cory Remsburg, who was an honored guest of President Barack Obama at the State of the Union address in January, will attend tonight’s game and drop the ceremonial first puck.
Sgt. Remsburg, who is from St. Louis, was injured by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan on his 10th deployment. He was in a coma for three months and is recovering. He is partially paralyzed and brain-damaged.
Sgt. Remsburg watched today’s morning skate and visited the locker room, where he met the team.
“His sacrifices for our freedom, for allowing us to do what we do, does not go unnoticed,” Blues captain David Backes said. “We lose two big games on the weekend and think we’re having a tough go and are down in the dumps, then we see everything he has put on the line for us.”
To learn more about Sgt. Remsburg to see him during President Obama’s State of the Union address, click here.
Brian Elliott will start in goal when the Blues host the Buffalo Sabres at Scottrade Center tonight (7 p.m. FSMW, KMOX).
The move may come as a surprise since this is the first opportunity to see Ryan Miller meet his former club, but Blues Head Coach Ken Hitchcock said it’s all part of a plan for the rest of the season.
“(The decision) is mostly based on the weekend games,” Hitchcock said. “We talked to (Ryan) and said ‘listen, do you have to play against Buffalo? Does it matter?’ He said he didn’t care one way or another, so it set our schedule nicely for what we wanted to do until the end of the season.
“We still have some flexibility based on the opponent and wherever we are standings-wise, but we want to make sure both guys get what they need.”
In his last start on March 23, Elliott made 33 saves to help the Blues to a 1-0 win against the Penguins.
“Since I’ve been here, this is the best I’ve seen him play,” Hitchcock said of Elliott after Wednesday’s optional practice at the Ice Zone at St. Louis Outlet Mall. “He’s really focused. He works his tail off. He’s one of the most competitive guys I’ve ever seen in practice, whatever the position is. I think you really want to reward that work ethic.”
Said Elliott, “You go out there every day in practice and those are your games when you’re not playing. You just try to get better every day and stop the puck. There’s not much to it.”
Elliott will face a Sabres team that made plenty of changes at the deadline, including acquiring former Blues forward Chris Stewart, who has been sidelined with an ankle injury. Buffalo is coming off a 3-2 shootout win Tuesday against the New Jersey Devils.
“They’re playing for next season and building blocks and to get something started for that,” Elliot said. “We want to (be) continuing to play the way we want to play and not play down or play to someone else’s level. We want to play to ours.”
Elliott has 9-0-2 career record against the Sabres with a 1.81 goals-against average and a .940 save-percentage.
ST. LOUIS - Less than two weeks after their first meeting (a 4-1 Flyers win at Wells Fargo Center on March 22), the Blues get a chance to avenge the loss tonight (7 p.m. - NBCSN, KMOX).
“We didn’t have a bad game against them (last time). We missed some scoring opportunities and hit a lot of posts and they were victors in the end,” Barret Jackman said. “They’re a great team, they’re very physical, they’re fast and they play in-your-face hockey. We know (tonight) is going to be a tough game from the drop of the puck and it’s going to take three periods to get under their skin and push them back into their net.”
Said Ryan Miller, “They’re a hard-grinding team with a lot of skill. They like to throw the body around. They create offense from behind the net, they can create it off the rush, they can create it from the point. They’re pretty well balanced in that regard, so you just have to stay alert.”
The Flyers are coming off a 4-3 shootout loss to Boston, while the Blues are coming off a 4-2 loss to the Dallas Stars. After practice yesterday, Ken Hitchcock talked about getting his team back to a 60-minute game.
"What I'm troubled by that I'd like to see changed is we're in the 40-50 minute range for hockey, not the 60-minute," Hitchcock said. "We were great against Toronto, went to sleep for 10 minutes, game on. We were asleep for 10 minutes against Minnesota and then game on. You all know what the playoffs are like; you can't sleep for 10 minutes. It's game over, not game on."
ST. LOUIS - Ah…home sweet home.
Since the Olympic break ended a month ago, the Blues have played just four games at Scottrade Center and 11 on the road.
That changes tonight, when the team begins a five-game home stand and will play seven of their last 10 games at home.
“With all the road games we’ve had, I think guys are excited to finally play in front of their family and friends and play in front of the home crowd,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “It’s certainly been a tough month for us in terms of travel and road games, but to have the success we’ve had, to be able to pick up some more points here at home is certainly a good feeling.”
First up is the Minnesota Wild, a team the Blues have beaten in eight consecutive games. The Wild currently have the first Wild Card spot in the Western Conference at 37-25-11 (85 points) and are a team the Blues could potentially face in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“Every team we’re playing it seems like is either fighting for playoff spots, looking for more points to jockey around in the standings, trying to find home ice, whatever it might be,” David Backes said. “We’re never going to get a slack game in the last 10. We have to make sure we bring our A-game and that we’re concentrating on bringing what we have to the table.”
Added Ken Hitchcock: “We’ve had a really tough schedule here since the Olympic break, and now we’re at home and we get to have a few quality hockey practices along with some great competition in the games. I want us to take advantage of this. It’s also about sending a message to whoever comes in here, especially from the West. We want to send them a message that we’re back playing in a tough building.
“All we’ve done is one and out. We’ve come home, played a game and gone back out on the road. That’s what it feels like anyway. Now we’re at home, I want us to really get energized and really send a message to teams coming in here that this is not going to be fun (for them).”
TORONTO - Tonight’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs will be a homecoming of sorts for several Blues.
Alex Pietrangelo grew up just over an hour north of Toronto in King City. Carlo Colaiacovo and Chris Porter are both Toronto natives, and Alexander Steen, although a Winnipeg native, spent three years with the Maple Leafs.
“It’s always special to come home and see the family,” Pietrangelo said after Tuesday’s morning skate, which was his third in Toronto. “Last night was a great opportunity to kinda catch up with everyone. You don’t get that chance too often, so I made sure I took advantage of it. I saw the parents, saw the grandparents and slept in my own bed. (I have) lots of energy today.”
Pietrangelo said his parents, grandparents and a few buddies will be at the game tonight, which begins at 6 p.m. CT on FOX Sports Midwest and KMOX 1120 AM.
The Blues will be facing a Maple Leafs team that has lost five consecutive games and is barely hanging on to the last wild card spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
“They’re going to come. We’re aware of it,” Steen said. “This is an emotional building for them as well and they want to come out and play well in front of their fans. Saying that, we’ve got to make sure that we play the way that we play.”
Head Coach Ken Hitchcock said the players won’t just write this off as a bad performance and forget about it.
“Other people might say it’s just a bad game, but this group doesn’t do that,” Hitchcock said after Friday’s practice. “These players are invested in a lot of things this year that are important for them, and one of the things is playing well in big games. They were really disappointed in the way things went.
“The way they practiced (Friday), to me, showed how much they cared. They care deeply, and quite frankly, that might be the impetus to get us to another level.”
The Blues won’t have much time to dwell on the loss. Starting with Saturday’s noon game against the Flyers, the Blues will play three games in four days on the road. Sunday, they’ll meet the Pittsburgh Penguins before heading to Toronto for a Tuesday night matchup with the Maple Leafs.
“We know it wasn’t our best effort (against Chicago). But to get to the playoffs, you’ve got to get ready and try to move on and learn from the experiences,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “It’s a great experience for us, with the success we’ve had, to learn from (this) and that’s what we’re going to do. We've got two games back to back here to get us back on track.”
“We believe in what we have in this room.”
It’s finally here – after almost three weeks of anticipation, Ryan Miller’s new mask arrived yesterday.
Here is a side-by-side picture for comparison.
As you can see, Joseph’s trumpets have been replaced by Miller’s guitars. We know Miller has been known to pick a guitar every now and then, including in a band when he played in the American Hockey League. Joseph’s music notes along the jawline of the mask have been carried over to Miller’s mask, too.
ST. LOUIS - Aiden Howard-Maul was all smiles Thursday at the Blues morning skate.
Aiden, a six-year-old who is battling a type of kidney cancer called Wilms' Tumor, watched the team's practice, met some of the players and interviewed Ken Hitchcock after the skate.
"Are you gonna win tonight?" Aiden asked.
"That's a lot of pressure, Aiden," Hitchcock said. "I sure hope so."
Aiden has already surgery to remove a kidney. He will begin chemotherapy soon.
As Americans, we’ll never do enough to thank the military men and women for their service and sacrifice. All we can do is try and hope we come close.
To give it a shot and say thank you, the Blues welcomed Cpl. Justin McLoud and SSG. Joshua Eckhoff to Tuesday’s morning skate. Both were injured while serving overseas and were presented with personalized camouflage jerseys from Blues captain David Backes.
“They’ve served our country and made great sacrifices so we can be free. They’ve given me an opportunity to play a game I love. I can’t thank them enough,” Backes said. “For them to come down to the morning skate and see smiles on their faces, it’s very rewarding for us."
McLoud and Eckhoff were given a tour of the Blues locker room, where they met the team and sat in on Ken Hitchcock's pregame press conference. In addition, they had lunch with broadcasters John Kelly and Darren Pang.
"It was definitely special,” McLoud said. “Right when I walked in, I saw those jerseys and I wanted one. (Backes) came out and had a jersey with my name on it. It made my day for sure.”