ST. LOUIS -- First it was a 9-2 thumping by the San Jose Sharks. Then it was a 6-0 drubbing by the Anaheim Ducks. After being outscored 15-2 in their past two games, the New York Rangers come limping into Scottrade Center to face a red-hot St. Louis Blues team that's in search of the first 4-0-0 start in franchise history.
So with two teams at different ends of the spectrum, is there a clear-cut advantage?
The Blues play host to the Rangers on Saturday night, but the home side is not taking a proud franchise for granted.
"It doesn't matter if it's the Rangers or Blackhawks or whoever it is, they've been humbled like that for a couple games, you know coming in they're going to be hungry," Blues forward Brenden Morrow said of the Rangers. "[Rangers coach Alain] Vigneault has probably been putting them through the paces and they're probably going to be an angry bear or wounded animal and sometimes those are the worst types to find."
So instead of focusing on what the Rangers haven't done well in the previous two games, Blues coach Ken Hitchcock has stressed the point of focusing on New York's lone victory: a 3-1 triumph Monday against the Los Angeles Kings.
"When we talked about New York, we watched them beat L.A., and that's the game we're focusing on," Hitchcock said. "To me, you've got an eastern team learning what it's like to play out west, not fun.
"We're 100 percent focused on the L.A. game. It was a great hockey game. We saw how good they were, we saw how good they played, we saw how in sync they were and that's what we're running our read on. I don't look at those other games. To me, those are both write-off games. One's a write-off game because of travel and the other's a write-off game because of recovery from a blowout."
The Rangers are at the modpoint of a season-opening nine-game road trip, one that can seem excruciatingly long when losses pile up.
"Obviously they're going to be hungry to get back on track," Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "They put together a really good game against L.A., beat L.A. in their home opener, so we know what they're capable of. They're obviously a very good team. You can't take anybody for granted now, especially in this League. We're going to be ready to play because we know they're going to come out hungry."
What's especially puzzling about the Rangers' start is the fact that they've gotten below-average performances by a number of their top players, including a top-four on defense of Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh and Michael Del Zottot who are a combined minus-21. The defensive miscues have filtered back into goal with Henrik Lundqvist, who allowed four or more goals only four times in 43 games a season ago but has already allowed four or more three times in four games.
"When they're down, you've got to kick them because you know with a world-class goaltender like they've got, he can steal games," Morrow said of Lundqvist, who has a 4.31 goals-against average and a save percentage of .879. "I know the makeup he's got and the mindset he has, when he's letting in goals like that, he's going to come back with a stellar effort at some point.
"You can't sit here and look at scoreboards and think there's going to be an easy night for us. It's going to be a heck of a fight for us because they're going to be really hungry."
That makes the start to the game important.
"We've got to be ready for them," Blues center Derek Roy said. "We know they're going to be wanting to play well against us and maybe a turning point in their season. That's how they're looking at this game probably, so we have to make sure we start off real quick and make sure we're getting pucks towards the net and pucks deep and making them work.
"Those [losses] are tough. Everyone's been through a game somewhat like that where bounces aren't going your way and everything seems to be going in the net. That's when you've got to bear down in the next practice and the next game, turn it up a notch and make sure you do everything right because as soon as you do something wrong, it usually ends up in the back of your net. I know the feeling they're going through. I know they're going to come out hard next game. Their confidence is maybe a little fragile over there, so we have to make sure we come out and play well right off the bat and use the crowd to our advantage."
The Blues will go with the same lineup they've used in their first three games. The Rangers had a very limited optional skate Saturday morning. The projected lineups for this matchup at Scottrade Center: