You can run but you can’t hide. The dreaded west coast road trip begins tonight in L. A. when the Blues take on the Kings at 9:00 CT on FSMW. Don’t worry it will only FEEL like midnight when the game gets over. And just think, we’ve got four more late starts after this one.
Historically the west coast swing has been a difficult one for the Blues. Whether it is the late start times, being away from home for over a week, or just the difficulty of the opponents there is no-one in a Blue sweater that is overly excited about the task at hand.
Along with the usual Kings, Ducks and Sharks, the Blues will also pickup the Coyotes and Avalanche on their return trip home. But really, I think it’s safe to say that the teams the Blues will have trouble with are the three at the front end of the trip and not the two at the back. L.A. tonight and a back to back against Anaheim and San Jose on Wednesday and Thursday should offer the Blues all the adversity they want. If the Blues can secure 8 out of a possible 10 points I would consider this trip a definite success.
However, it’s worth mentioning that this trip probably comes at one of the best times in the Blues season. They are in the middle of a four game win streak despite facing teams like the Wild, Ducks and those pesky Islanders. Out scoring their opponents 13-7 as well as all of their wins coming in regulation.
Vladimir Tarasenko’s 32 goals is tied for second best in the league and only 2 behind leader Sid Crosby. Jake Allen has a .953 save percentage in his last three games with one (should have been two) shutout thrown in for good measure.
The Blues have played the Kings twice this year and have split the series at one game a piece. Jake Allen started both games and holds a .929 save percentage and a 2.12 goals against average versus L.A.
The big question heading into tonight’s game will be what head coach Mike Yeo decides to do with struggling center Jori Lehtera.
Lehtera was a scratch in Saturday night’s game against the Ducks after taking a puck to his grill the night before. One can only assume that scratching Lehtera was due to his injury rather than his poor play because when the club learned that top line center Paul Stastny was unable to play due to an illness Mike Yeo elected to move Alexander Steen to center instead of bringing Lehtera down from the press box. It should be noted that in Friday night’s game Lehtera won exactly zero face-offs, had no points and was one of only four players (Jaskin, Paajarvi, Gunnarsson) to be a minus on the night.
Tonight, Yeo’s decision may be a little more complicated. Stastny should return to the lineup and will force the coach to choose between the veteran Lehtera and AHL call-up Ian Barbashev who won 57% of his face-offs and was a plus/minus even in the game Saturday night.
I would also think that Yeo would opt for the size of Zach Stanford over the speed of disappointing winger Nail Yakupov. After a somewhat hopeful start to the season, the former first rounder Yakupov has failed to show any kind of growth while wearing the Blue note. After being given every opportunity he has pretty much played himself right into a permeate position in the press box.
The Blues also hope to get back top-pair defenseman Colton Parayko who was injured during Friday’s game and did not play on Saturday. Jordan Schmaltz preformed fine in the big man’s absence but is not a permeant solution to replace Parayko if he were to be out longer than a game.
The once dominate Kings are currently sitting outside the playoff picture and trail the Blues, who occupy the final wildcard spot, by three points.
It should be noted that the Kings have had to play the majority of the season without all-star Jonathan Quick, who has only returned to the lineup in the last seven games. In order to combat another possible Quick injury the Kings went out and got former Blue Ben Bishop from the Tampa Bay Lightening.
Despite a mediocre record of 32-28-6 the Kings remain the best possession team in the league at 55%. And this game will be anything but a cake walk for the Blues.
L.A. is still a big, bruising team that can beat you with their size and skill. Their defense is still among the best, only giving up an average 2.5 goals per game, good enough for 5th best in the league. Their 84.9% penalty kill is also in the top five.
The Blues have a long road ahead of them and are smack in the middle of a heated playoff race. The Blues need to cash in on this road trip and the best way to start would be with a win tonight. Lets Go Blues!