Minnesota Wild vs. St. Louis Blues
WILD (2-6-0) at BLUES (3-3-1)
|David Backes and the Blues will look to hand the Minnesota Wild their seventh road loss this season (Getty Images).
This is the first meeting of the season between these Western Conference rivals. Last season, St. Louis took three games in the four-game series, despite outscoring the Wild by an 11-10 margin.
It'll be interesting to see who gets out of the gate fastest in this game. Before winning Wednesday night, Minnesota had struggled with its starts in losing six of its first seven games. Meanwhile, St. Louis coach Andy Murray says his team has started slowly in each of its seven games, including Tuesday's dispiriting 5-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
"My biggest concern right now is to find out why we had no legs or no energy tonight," Murray said of the start against Pittsburgh. "It was evident right from the get-go, and that's my thing. When you don't have the energy and the legs, you're reaching with your sticks or you're doing things you shouldn't be doing."
Minnesota defeated Colorado, 3-2, in a shootout Wednesday night for its second win of the season, but both of those wins have come at home. Minnesota is still looking for its first road win. Needless to say, this was not the start envisioned by new coach Todd Richards, who replaced Jacques Lemaire.
"When you're winning, it's easy to come to the rink," Richards said. "But I learn a lot when things aren't going well; it gets me to look at myself, the job I'm doing, what I can be better at. Hopefully, the players are doing the same thing."
St. Louis looked to be onto something special when it opened the season with a pair of comeback wins against Central Division foe Detroit in Sweden, but the team has struggled since, going just 1-3-1 in the next five games. Things definitely came to a head against Pittsburgh, says goalie Chris Mason, who was pulled after two periods.
"For us not to be ready to play the defending Stanley Cup champions is unacceptable," Mason said. "We come off a good second and third period in Anaheim, a very good team. … I don't know if we're getting a little ahead of ourselves and getting a little cocky and thinking that it should be easier than it is."
Minnesota gave Mikko Koivu the "C" earlier this week and he certainly responded in his first game as the team's permanent captain. He assisted on one goal and scored another before netting the deciding goal in the shootout.
"The best way to lead is by example, and that's what I'm trying to do: play the game the way I'm used to playing, the way I've always played," said Koivu, who has been captain a few times in the past during the past policy of a captain's rotation. He is 31-19-6 in those games.
In St. Louis it is a pair of veterans that are carrying the team, giving no quarter to Father Time. Paul Kariya has a team-leading 4 goals and winger Keith Tkachuk is averaging a point-per-game and leads the way with 7 points.
The Minnesota Wild got Martin Havlat back on Wednesday after he had missed two games with a groin injury, but the injury news is still pretty bleak in the State of Hockey. Abrasive winger Cal Clutterbuck is making amazing strides in his quest to return earlier than expected from a high ankle sprain. Petr Sykora has missed four games with a groin injury and Pierre-Marc Bouchard has been out since opening night because of concussion symptoms.
For St. Louis, D.J. King
has returned from a conditioning assignment and should be ready to go, but Barret Jackman
, Alex Steen
and Eric Brewer
With an assist in Tuesday's game, Erik Johnson
now has seven assists in as many games, the leading amount of helpers on the teams. A year ago, a Blues defenseman didn't record his seventh point until Barret Jackman
did it in the club's 30th game. Blues defensemen now have 13 points this season. It took until Game No. 17 last season for the team's blueliners to record 13 points.
Is this the game when Minnesota finally finds its mojo away from the Xcel Energy Center? Or will it be the game when St. Louis finally figures out how to string together three consistent periods?
-- Shawn P. Roarke, NHL.com