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Lightning at Blues preview: the NHL’s two best teams face off

Someone’s leaving this game in second place.

NHL: St. Louis Blues at Tampa Bay Lightning Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

This season, it seems like the Tampa Bay Lightning and the St. Louis Blues are the two teams to beat. They both have 44 points, they both sit atop their divisions, and they both have one of the best lines in hockey.

Or, well, the Blues did until Jaden Schwartz got pegged in the ankle while blocking a shot on Saturday. As an added bonus, the team placed captain Alex Pietrangelo on the IR as well, and has recalled Jordan Schmaltz from the San Antonio Rampage.

The Bolts already bested the Blues on October 14th at the start of the young season, but only by a goal. The Blues, who are missing two extremely key players, have an uphill battle tonight. They came out of the gate strong Sunday evening with a goal 40 seconds in by Brayden Schenn, but strugged to put away the Sabres until Vladimir Tarasenko’s overtime game winning goal. Missing your top players is enough to discombobulate a team, but this is something that the Blues have dealt with off and on this season. Hopefully they begin the first period tonight focused on limiting Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov’s chances - the forwards are number one and two in the league in points. Smart defense isn’t only Alex Pietrangelo’s job. It’ll take a full team effort to limit the NHL’s best offense (3.75 goals a game) and power play (28.4%).

Luckily, for December, the Blues are 16 for 17 on the PK, which is pretty good stuff. The Blues are still in the lower part of the league overall, at 22nd (79.16), but it’s improving since the return of Jay Bouwmeester. The power play is still 24th overall - having it spring to life against the Bolts would be nice, but without Schwartz and Pietrangelo, I wouldn’t hold my breath.

This is going to be the toughest game that the Blues have played since December 1st against the Kings.