NBCSN continues its coverage of the 2013-14 campaign tonight when the Minnesota Wild host the St. Louis Blues at the Xcel Energy Center at 8:00 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game online.
The way things are shaping up, this could be a first round preview and if that’s the case, it might be good news for Minnesota.
St. Louis has the makeup of a serious Stanley Cup contender given its depth, great defense, and dominant goaltender in Ryan Miller. At the same time, the warning signs are there.
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The Blues have lost three straight games by a margin of 12-3 and that might be a case of problems catching up to them rather than just an ordinary slump. Since Jan. 10, the Blues have averaged just 2.25 games per contest, which puts them in the bottom five in the league over that span, per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Listen to Blues coach Ken Hitchcock and it becomes clear that’s not the only concern.
“We’re giving up power play goals and we’re not doing the job on the special teams,” Hitchcock added to the Post-Dispatch. “That’s my concern now, our special teams aren’t helping us. … That game within the game is really concerning.”
The team has also been losing steam as games go on recently.
By comparison the Minnesota Wild have been great lately and a lot of that has to do with, oddly enough, Ilya Bryzgalov. He’s stepped up with a 1.78 GAA and .923 save percentage in 11 games with Minnesota, including three shutouts.
After his infamous stint with Philadelphia, the Wild feel confident with him between the pipes.
“(He was) very calm in the net, making a lot of very tough saves look easy, a lot of loose pucks that were either redirected or loose around the net that he was able to swallow up and control and give us a chance to settle things down,” Wild coach Mike Yeo told the Pioneer Press after Monday’s game against Winnipeg.
The Wild’s top players have also clicked lately, with Zach Parise (19 points in 21 games), Mikko Koivu (18 points in 19 games), and Jason Pominville (17 points in 21 games) leading the charge since the Olympic break. All three of them have more points since the Winter Games than any St. Louis Blues player over that span.
On top of that, the Wild have eight players with at least 10 points since the break while the Blues have just five.
None of this changes the fact that St. Louis has a commanding 52-20-7 record while Minnesota wasn’t able to do better than a Wild Card spot. It also can’t be ignored that St. Louis hasn’t lost to the Wild since Nov. 19, 2011.
So the Blues clearly enter this game as the favorites, but with these teams trending in different directions, they are also going into this as a squad that needs a morale-boosting performance.