Lighting the Lamp with Rick Ackerman
Do you know what is more frightening this Halloween than the Frankenstein monster, Dracula, or even ghastly ghosts? The St. Louis Blues' power play, that's what!
As a rather spooky home stand continues, the suddenly impotent St. Louis man advantage scares Blues Nation more than Walking Dead zombies (and I am not referring to the Anaheim Ducks or Toronto Maple Leafs). In the last three games at home, the Blues power play is a combined 0 for 13 and only four for 36 overall, ranked 26th out of 30 NHL teams. If the Note seeks to extract revenge against the visiting Wild tonight for the setback at Minnesota earlier this season, as well as the disastrous first round loss in last season's playoffs, it is necessary for the power play to pick up the slack and take full advantage of Wild infractions.
The boys in blue have had a shaky and scary home stand so far, losing in overtime to the Islanders and barely eking out victories over the Lightning and Ducks. With only six goals for, including one empty-netter, in those three games (and a total of nine in four games at home), it is due to the excellent play of the defense and goaltenders Jake Allen and Brian Elliott that the Blues earned five of a possible six points so far (seven of eight possible total at home). Yes, injuries to center Paul Stastny and winger Jaden Schwartz and defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk have crippled the offense, especially on the power play, yet it is up to others (cough, cough David Backes, Dmitrij Jaskin, Alex Pietrangelo) to make up for all the man-games lost and score some goals. The Blues have now lost 32 man-games to injury, fourth highest in the league. Only Detroit, Boston and Calgary have had more.
The single biggest fright Thursday night, however, was during the second period when the Blues' leading scorer and new poster boy took a forearm to the face and a knee-on-knee hit from the Ducks' Shawn Horcoff and limped off the ice down the runway. No, of course both refs missed it and no penalty was called. When Tarasenko returned for the third period, nearly 17,000 fans sighed in unison, relieved Vladi (Please do not call me Tank) was okay. David Backes also left briefly in the third period after taking a blow on the chin, as did rookie defenseman Colton Parayko near the end of the game. Parayko leads all NHL defensemen with four goals. Backes is relatively fine, yet Parayko was wearing a walking boot Friday morning as a precaution, according to Coach Hitchcock, and is day-to-day. This is a reminder why the Blues recently invited veterans Dainius Zubrus and Martin Havlat to St. Louis in order to try out for contracts with the team. Both are former first-round draft choices and played for New Jersey last season.
Thank you, Marty Brodeur. An NHL team can never have too much depth.
The Blues must also take full advantage of the Wild coming in to town tonight after playing a tough game last night in St. Paul, especially if goaltender Devan Dubnyk played against the Blackhawks. That would most likely mean the Blues will face Darcy Kuemper, who has not played that well, posting a 4.34 goals against average and .891 save percentage in two games (83 minutes). And it is imperative that the Blues improve upon their first period results so far. It has been their worst period by far, only scoring four goals while allowing seven against. The third period has been St. Louis' best, scoring 12 goals and allowing only 5, while out shooting combined opponents 119 to 70. So, getting (and staying) ahead after two periods is crucial if the Blues hope to catch Dallas and Nashville in the tight Central Division.
Minnesota comes visiting with a high octane offense, led by Zach Parise's seven goals
in nine games (not including last night's contest against Chicago) and center Mikko Koivu, winger Thomas Vanek and defenseman Ryan Suter, all with eight points. They are complimented by wingers Jason Zucker, Jason Pominville, Nino Niederreiter and centers Mikael Granlund and Charlie Coyle. Throw in promising winger Justin Fontaine, and the pretty much injury free Wild can throw three really good scoring lines on the ice. Minnesota has also scored seven power play goals (23.3 %), ninth best in the league. The Blues 15th ranked penalty killing squad (81.1%) will have their hands full if the boys in blue continue to take a lot of penalties. They are currently ranked 5th highest in the league with 118 penalty minutes and 37 times shorthanded, while the Wild is ranked 28th with only 52 penalty minutes and a mere 23 times shorthanded. Steve Ott, Joel Edmundson, Alexander Steen and Robert Bortuzzo have more combined penalty minutes (60) than the entire Minnesota team.
Yes, the bruised and battered third-place Blues are going to have to somehow step it up tonight in order to prevent the Wild from passing them in the Central Division standings. And if the Winnipeg Jets win tonight in Columbus, the Blues could find themselves in fifth place in the division tomorrow morning (if they lose to Minnesota), only ahead of Chicago and Colorado and out of a playoff spot, important even in October. That is just how tight this division is. In the entire NHL, only Montreal, the Rangers and Dallas have more points than the Blues going into action tonight.