WINNIPEG - As the Blues get ready to meet the Winnipeg Jets tonight for the fourth time this season (7 p.m., FSMW, KMOX), one might be curious whether the defense and goaltending could possibly be any stingier.
With three shutouts over the last four games, the club now has 10 shutouts on the season, second only to the New York Rangers (11).
“I think it’s a combination of playing in the offense zone as much as we can,” said Blues captain David Backes. “That’s our recipe, along with some great goaltending and great penalty kills that have limited the other teams’ chances. When we do give up a good chance, our goaltenders have been real solid.
“Knock on wood that shutout streak continues and we talk about it again after tonight.”
As far as individual accolades go, Tuesday’s shutout in Calgary was Brian Elliott’s fifth of the season and 21st as a Blue, which set a new club record and put him ahead of goaltending greats such as Glenn Hall, Jacques Plante and Grant Fuhr.
“It’s pretty cool. You don’t really think about it as it’s happening, but some of those guys on the list are pretty special names,” Elliott said Tuesday. “I’m just honored to even be on that list, but it’s really about how the guys play in front of you. The last four years here for me, guys have made sacrifices by blocking shots (even) with their faces. That’s really how those shutouts come about. We’ve had a good team game since I’ve been here and I’m just part of it.”
Since the 2011-12 season, the Blues have posted a League-leading 41 shutouts. The Los Angeles Kings are second over that span with 35.
Two games into this season-high six-game road trip, the Blues have yet to surrender a goal.
“We’re really trying to be a little bit more aggressive up the ice, disrupt their breakouts and get them off their pace,” said Barret Jackman, who will be paired with Robert Bortuzzo tonight. “Being a little bit more aggressive in the zone, too, especially right when they get in the zone and gain entry.
“We’re playing every game like a must-win. The tighter it is down the stretch, the harder each game is,” Jackman added. “It doesn’t matter if you’re battling for first, a playoff spot or positioning - there’s a couple of teams at the bottom that want to ruin your season. Each game is important for us to win and go into the playoffs on a strong note.”
FACING THE JETS
The Blues have won each of the previous three meetings with the Jets this season, most recently a 5-4 victory at Scottrade Center on March 10 when Jackman scored the game-winner from the neutral zone with 1:03 left in regulation.
The Jets hold the second Wild Card spot in the Western Conference with 82 points and have won two consecutive games despite playing without forward Bryan Little and defenseman Dustin Byfuglien due to upper-body injuries.
“It’s a battle,” Backes said of the Blues / Jets meetings. “Two heavy teams like two rams on a mountainside just buttin’ heads, buttin’ heads, buttin’ heads. Whoever’s still with it at the end of the game seems to have the success.”
The Blues have won seven straight games against Winnipeg and have points in 12 straight (10-0-2) dating back to Nov. 2009 when the Jets were playing as the Atlanta Thrashers.
“To be honest with you, these are fun games to coach in,” said Blues Head Coach Ken Hitchcock. “I’m not sure how fun they are for both teams at the end of the night. You get ice by the inch when you play these guys and you have to be prepared to get it. There’s no gaps, there’s no room - you’ve got to fight for your space.”
CENTRAL DIVISION UPDATE
Chicago’s 1-0 victory against the New York Rangers last moved them within three points of the Blues in the Central Division. St. Louis leads the Central with 95 points.
1. St. Louis - 70 GP, 45-20-5, 95 PTS
2. Nashville - 72 GP, 43-21-8, 94 PTS
3. Chicago - 70 GP, 43-21-6, 92 PTS
Speaking of being stingy, the Blues penalty killers have dispatched 13 consecutive chances over the last four games, including a season-high six kills on March 15. This month, the Blues have killed 27 of 28 power plays for the opposition (96.4%).
Blues newcomer Zbynek Michalek will become the 42nd active defensemen to play in 700 games tonight. Michalek leads the NHL with 1,566 blocked shots since the 2005-06 season.
Alexander Steen, who grew up in Winnipeg, opened an indoor play center for children last year called Great Big Adventure. You can take a video tour of the facility by clicking here.
Jackman’s neutral zone goal in the last game against Winnipeg had Hitchcock thanking the hockey gods. “He said he’d go to church the next day,” Backes said. “I don’t think he ever went.”