ST. LOUIS - Before the ball drops in Times Square tonight, the puck drops right here in St. Louis (7 p.m., FSMW, KMOX).
The Blues will attempt to put an exclamation point on the 2015 calendar year with a victory against the division rival Minnesota Wild, who come to St. Louis trailing the Blues by six points in the Central Division. The Wild, though, have played fewer games than any team in the League (35).
“They’re a team that’s had success against us in the playoffs, and we’ve split the two meetings so far this year,” Blues captain David Backes said. “It’ll be a good divisional rivalry, another great contested game for a full 60 minutes. There are two points at hand and we’ve got to stockpile them.”
The Wild beat the Blues on Oct. 10 at Xcel Energy Center (3-2), while Backes buried the overtime game-winner on Oct. 31 for a 3-2 victory at Scottrade Center.
“Neither team gives you much. You’ve got to earn it,” said Blues Head Coach Ken Hitchcock. “Not a lot of scoring chances and both teams have groups of forwards that work for their defense. You have to stay really patient, and if you don’t stay patient, you end up making mistakes and they make you pay for it.”
The year 2015, overall, has been very good to the Blues. The club signed Vladimir Tarasenko to a long-term contract in the summer and introduced a few talented newcomers into the lineup in rookies Robby Fabbri, Colton Parayko and Joel Edmundson. Jake Allen continues his rise, too, as he ranks fourth in the League in wins (18), seventh in goals-against average (2.08) and first in shutouts (5).
Statistically speaking, 2015 was a good year for the Blues, who rank third overall in win percentage (.667) with a 52-24-8 record. The club also ranked fifth in goals per game (2.36), first in shutouts (11), sixth in power-play success (20.6 percent) and first in penalty kill (87.5 percent).
“We’ve finished a lot of this year off with some good games, playing some good hockey,” Blues forward Robby Fabbri said. “We want to carry that into tonight and into the new year. We’re happy with the way we’ve played in the first half or so. Amping it up in the second half is what we’re looking to do.”
LEHTERA LINE GOING STRONG
After Tuesday’s game, Blues Head Coach Ken Hitchcock was raving about the line of Robby Fabbri, Jori Lehtera and Dmitrij Jaskin. The trio produced five points in Tuesday’s 4-3 overtime win against the Nashville Predators, including Jaskin’s first goal since Nov. 12.
“They were excellent,” Hitchcock said after the game. “They were the poster card or poster child or whatever you want to call it for how to play. They checked, they hunted the puck, they created offense because of it. They played in straight lines offensively. They were excellent.”
Lehtera finished with two assists, while Jaskin netted a goal and an assist. Fabbri’s goal was his fourth in the last five games.
“I was really excited when I saw it on the board that we were going to play together,” Jaskin said. “I think it works. Jori’s the brain of that line. He’s making the plays. Me and Fabs, we work to get the puck to him. That’s our role and each guy’s got unique stuff.
“We’re getting to know each other a little more every day. We have a lot of fun. “
Vladimir Tarasenko didn’t participate in today’s morning skate, but Hitchcock assured everyone that his lineup would remain the same tonight.
Alexander Steen - Paul Stastny - Vladimir Tarasenko
Magnus Paajarvi - David Backes - Troy Brouwer
Robby Fabbri - Jori Lehtera - Dmitrij Jaskin
Scottie Upshall - Kyle Brodziak - Ryan Reaves
Jay Bouwmeester - Alex Pietrangelo
Colton Parayko - Kevin Shattenkirk
Carl Gunnarsson - Robert Bortuzzo
The Blues have won two of the last three games against the Wild, including a 3-2 overtime win in the last meeting on Oct. 31. The Blues have won seven of the last eight meetings at Scottrade Center, outscoring the Wild 27-14.
Alexander Steen has a five-game point streak against Minnesota (two goals, five assists). His game-winning goal in overtime Tuesday was the 44th game-winning goal of his career, which ranks first on the team.
Fabbri ranks first among all rookies with five goals in the month of December.
Tonight will be Carl Gunnarsson’s 100th game as a Blue. Since joining the Blues last season, Gunnarsson has a +21 rating, which leads all Blues defensemen.
Zach Parise won’t play tonight due to injury, but he is on the road trip and could return to the lineup Saturday against Tampa Bay.