BLUES (10-10-5) at SHARKS (19-6-4)
Last 10 --
Blues 5-4-1; Sharks 6-2-2.
Season Series --
This is the second of four meetings between the clubs this season. The Sharks won the first meeting, 3-1, at Scottrade Center in St. Louis on Nov. 14. Dany Heatley and Jed Ortmeyer scored 16 seconds apart in the second period and Evgeni Nabokov stopped 38 shots.
Big story --
The Blues are getting closer to the danger zone of having to try to mount a similar comeback like they did last season. Doing it once was nice; twice may prove to be impossible. A win in the Shark Tank would go a long way at restoring some of their lost confidence and swagger. Meanwhile, the Sharks are steaming with three straight wins and five in their last six games. They just want to keep it rolling.
As it was succinctly described in a recent article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Blues are starting what may very well be their most important stretch of games in the season. They collapsed in December last season, going 4-10-1 and dropping to the bottom of the NHL.
Sure, they rose back up with their remarkable turnaround for a playoff berth, but with 15 games in the next 29 days, they can't seriously think they can overcome another December flop. Eight of their 15 games are on the road. Starting with Thursday's game in San Jose, they play at every first-place team in the Western Conference (Chicago on Dec. 16 and Calgary on Dec. 23). They also play at Los Angeles, Detroit, Vancouver, Edmonton and Minnesota. It's pivotal the Blues avoid a similar December crash because if it happens again, heads could roll.
"What we did last year is unlikely," Blues forward David Backes
told the Post-Dispatch. "If we put ourselves in that situation again, it's going to take another miraculous effort. Is it a very important December? It certainly is. It's huge for us. It will definitely either separate us from the pack or put us at the bottom."
They are once again the top team in the NHL and they are playing like it. The Sharks are coming off a 5-2 win over Ottawa on Tuesday when they got a pair of goals from Patrick Marleau
, who was playing in his 900th NHL game, and two assists from Dany Heatley, who was playing against his former team.
Heatley and Marleau played on the wings between Joe Thornton
, who with his assist Tuesday took over as the NHL's leading scorer with 39 points heading into Wednesday's action. The Sharks don't want to be a one-line team, so it's been good to see Ryane Clowe
on a hot streak (4-4-8 in last seven games) and the third line of Jamie McGinn
, Scott Nichol
and Jed Ortmeyer had a strong night Tuesday. McGinn potted a goal.
Who's hot --
For the Blues, defenseman Erik Johnson has points in six of his last seven games and leads the team with 18. Paul Kariya has points in each of the last three games. For the Sharks, Clowe is on a seven-game point streak and Thornton is riding an eight-game assist streak and nine-game point streak (3-14-17).
Injury report --
The Blues, D.J. King (hand) and Eric Brewer (bruised back) are on injured reserve. For the Sharks, Brad Staubitz (facial injury) and Jody Shelley (general soreness) remain day-to-day.
Stat pack --
Entering play on Wednesday, the Sharks top line had three of the top seven scorers in the League. Thornton led with 39 points, Marleau was tied for third with 33 points, Heatley was one back and tied with Brad Richards with 32 points. On the other hand, the Blues didn't have anyone in the top 75. Johnson was tied for 76th with his 18 points.
Puck drop --
"Hopefully in January, we're fighting for the playoffs and not trying to get out of the basement," Blues forward Jay McClement told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.