WILD (22-16-6) at BLUES (25-12-6)
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Last 10 : Minnesota 2-7-1; St. Louis 6-2-2
Season Series: Minnesota won the first two meetings of the season, a pair of 3-2 wins at home two weeks apart in Novembe that came before St. Louis surged toward the top of the Western Conference standings under new coach Ken Hitchcock. The Wild have won five of the past six meetings.
Big Story: The Wild will try to end their recent road woes against the team with the most home wins in the League this season. The Blues will try to keep pace with powers Chicago and Detroit in the Central Division race.
Wild : Minnesota was one of the surprise teams in the first two months of the season. After a win Dec. 10 in Phoenix, the Wild were atop the NHL with a 20-7-3 record and were five points clear of second place in the West.
That contest against the Coyotes was six games into a brutal stretch for Minnesota that will eventually see them play 21 of 30 away from Xcel Energy Center. The Wild have lost eight road games in a row since Dec. 10 and have seven of their next nine away from home to complete the gauntlet.
The upside? If the Wild can stabilize before ending this run, they finish the season with 18 of 29 games at home and can make a push for the playoffs. Minnesota is a solid 12-6-3 at the Xcel Energy Center this season.
Blues: While other struggling teams waited to switch coaches this season, St. Louis was out in front of the trend; Hitchcock is among the favorites for the Jack Adams Award for the work he has done with the Blues.
St. Louis is 18-5-6 since Hitchcock took over, the second-best record in that span in the Western Conference behind the Vancouver Canucks, who are 20-6-2 -- including a 3-2 overtime win in St. Louis on Thursday. While the Blues have just one All-Star representative at this time (goalie Brian Elliott), either defenseman Alex Pietrangelo or Kevin Shattenkirk could merit consideration as an injury replacement if needed.
Who's Hot: Dany Heatley hasn't looked like a two-time 50-goal scorer with the Wild, but he's been better of late. Heatley has eight points in his past nine games and 16 in his past 20 after getting only 10 in his first 24 contests with the Wild. … One guy who has benefitted greatly from the coaching change is goaltender Jaroslav Halak. He was 1-6 to start the season, but had a shutout in his first start under Hitchcock and is 9-1-5 since the change.
Injury Report: Both Minnesota goalies have been sick, so Matt Hackett has been with the team and relieved Josh Harding against Chicago on Thursday night. Forward Pierre-Marc Bouchard is out definitely with a concussion. … Blues defenseman Barret Jackman (hip) will be a game-time decision. Centers Alex Steen and Andrew McDonald (concussions), and defensemen Kris Russell (groin) and Kent Huskins (ankle) are out.
Stat Pack: Not only are the Blues tied for second in the League in goals against at 2.02 per contest, they are also fourth in goals for/against ratio at even strength behind Boston, Detroit and the New York Rangers. St. Louis is in the bottom half of the League in both special teams categories (including 27th on the power play), but the Blues win games at even strength.
Puck Drop: To say Minnesota coach Mike Yeo was upset after his team's 5-2 loss to the Blackhawks on Thursday would be an understatement.
"Everything we needed to do to win this game we didn't do," Yeo said. "We didn't come close to playing the right way.
"Let's decide right now. We all talk about the playoffs, and that's nice. But you don't talk your way into the playoffs. This is when playoff teams are made -- right now, when it's hard. If we hope it's going to be easy, it's not going to happen. It's time we decide, 'Do we want to make this happen?' and start doing it."