So the Olympics are over, everyone's come home to St Louis, and we're back to start the second half(ish) of the season. Previously on Blues 2014, the team achieved their goal of reaching first place in the Central Division, although they didn't get there easily. Nonetheless, the team is 7-2-1 in their last 10 games, and have won 2 in a row leading into tonight's match-up against the Vancouver Canucks. Hopefully, the distraction of the impending Olympics being removed, we'll see a more focused team on the ice. What we won't see is our injured players Jordan Leopold and Vladimir Sobotka. While things look pretty positive, they aren't quite ready to go just yet. They'll need some time to heal still.
The Canucks, on the other hand, have been dealing with quite a bit of drama themselves. Since we've last played the Canuckleheads, their coach John Tortorella was involved in an altercation with the Calgary Flames, leading to a rare coaching suspension of 15 days (6 games). In the past 10 games, they've gone 2-8-0, including 7 losses in a row. They are certainly hoping to hit the reset button coming out of the Olympic break. Despite this cold streak, they are just a point behind the last wild card spot, so the playoffs are still well within reach. Expect them to run like hell to attempt to stay in the playoff picture. Their season record thus far is 27-24-9, and they've gone 14-9-5 at home.
One of their many issues is injuries. Alex Burrows and Kevin Bieksa were practicing with the team and appear ready to return. Of bigger concern are their centers: Henrik Sedin had a rib injury that kept him out of the Olympics, and he has not practiced with the team Monday or Tuesday. Coach Tortorella was "hopeful" that Henrik would be available for tonight's game, but that's not certain yet. Their other premier center is Ryan Kesler, who was hurt while blocking a shot from some Russian retiree in the Olympic games. They fear he may have broken his hand, which could sideline him for a few weeks. Additionally, while not injuries per se, they will have a few players dealing with time zone adjustments from the Sochi games - Canadians Roberto Luongo and Dan Hamhuis, and Swedes Daniel Sedin and Alexander Edler were all in Russia up until the last game, so will have only been back home for a day or two before competing.
Even healthy, the Canucks were struggling to put points up. As mentioned on our sister site Nucks Misconduct, the team only scored 11 goals in that 7-game losing streak. Daniel Sedin has just 1 assist in the past 14 games, and no goals in 19 games. Henrik has just 1 assist in 8 games. Burrows has no goals in 28 games. Those are serious gaps, that no one has filled. It's one thing to be missing a money player, but to have problems with your top 3, well that's unbelievably tough. The Sedins are your scoring leaders of course, with 40 points each (Daniel with 13g, 27a and Henrik with 9g, 31a). Ryan Kesler is next with a team-leading 20 goals and 18 assists for 38 points.
The starting goaltender is our old friend Roberto Luongo. He wasn't used much in the Olympics, so he should be fairly fresh. This year he has a 19-16-6 record and 2.38 GAA / .917 Sv% stat line. His backup is Eddie Lack, who has an 8-8-3 record and 2.22 GAA / 9.22 Sv% numbers.
With all of their problems, the Canucks remain a dangerous team. If you listened to the 02/12 episode of Beyond Checkerdome (cheap plug!), we ran down the #FancyStats profile of the Canucks. Despite their losses, they've been maintaining their possession stats, and are due for some bounce-back puck luck. And if you listened to today's episode (you've got time, go ahead), you'll know that I've got a bad feeling about this game. Back in October, we played Vancouver after a long break, and the Blues looked like crap. Hopefully, that doesn't repeat.
Final Verse: Now that you've started to adjust to waking up at 6AM for Sochi hockey games, we get to switch it up. Tonight you get a faceoff at 9:30 PM St Louis time. The TV broadcast is on Fox Sports MW, and the radio call will be on KMOX 1120 AM. The GDT should drop shortly before the puck does. Until that time, consider this your pregame warmup. Blow the dust off the puppy gifs, and resume hating teams instead of countries. It's Us and Them. The Central Division lead defense begins now. Every win protects that position. Here's a little helper to fuel the rivalry once again: