NEW YORK - Throughout the course of an 82-game season, the rigors of traveling in the NHL can certainly take its toll on teams, especially when you consider the late-night flights, the early morning hotel checkin-ins and strenuous daily practices.
But despite all that, the Blues seem to be doing just fine on the road.
In fact, the Blues could return to St. Louis with a perfect record on their four-game trip if they can get a win against the New York Rangers tonight at Madison Square Garden (6 p.m., FSMW, KMOX).
The Blues have already earned victories over the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks, the always-tough Nashville Predators, and the New Jersey Devils, who had their four-game winning streak snapped when the Blues came to town Tuesday.
What’s been the key to the success on the road?
“We just don’t get discouraged. We’ve been down a lot (on the scoreboard) in these games, but we don’t get down. We just keep playing,” Blues Head Coach Ken Hitchcock said. “I think our guys deserve an awful lot of credit. It hasn’t been smooth, it hasn’t been complete control. We’ve had to really challenge ourselves. We had to win a lot of games in the third period, but we just keep going. We just keep coming after you.”
It’s early, but the Blues already have seven wins away from Scottrade Center this season, tying them with the Dallas Stars for first in the League in road wins. Vladimir Tarasenko (five goals and six assists) and Alexander Steen (six goals, five assists) each have 11 points on the road, which ranks fourth overall in the League.
Since the 2014-15 season, the Blues rank second in the League in winning percentage on the road (.670).
Which brings us to the New York Rangers, who own the League’s best road winning percentage in that stretch (.713). As it turns out, the Rangers are pretty good at home, too.
New York has won six consecutive games, giving up two or fewer goals in each. In their last 10 games, the Rangers are 8-0-2. Mats Zuccarello leads the Blueshirts in points with 12 (seven goals, five assists), while goalie Henrik Lundqvist is 8-2-2 with a 1.65 goals-against average and a .949 save-percentage.
“This will be the hardest game (of the trip). These guys are good,” defenseman Jay Bouwmeester said of facing the Rangers. “They’re right up there for a reason. It will be tough. They’re a team with a lot of speed. They’ve got a good goalie, we’ve just got to do what we do to grind them down and hope for the best.”
“New York is the best game-management team I’ve seen in the League so far,” Hitchcock said. ”They manage the game well, so you might get to them early, but if you don’t get to Lundqvist or the Rangers early, as the game wears down, they seem to wear you out. We need to get to them early, get them uncomfortable early.
“If we do that, I like our chances.”
ALLEN’S STREAK CONTINUES
For the first time in his career, Blues goalie Jake Allen has back-to-back shutouts. He hasn’t allowed a goal in 165 minutes and 59 seconds, stopping 96 of the last 96 shots he’s faced.
“I haven’t seen my stats all year,” Allen said after Tuesday’s game in New Jersey. “If I have one shutout a year, I’m fine with it. If I have 40 wins, that’s even better. (Shutouts) are just an added bonus.”
The Blues’ all-time shutout minutes record is 241:33, which Brian Elliott set Mar. 15 - April 4, 2012. The Blues have had goalies record three consecutive shutouts three times in team history, most recently Elliott from April 7-11, 2013.
In his last seven appearances, Allen has gone 6-1-0 with a 0.88 goals-against average, a .971 save-percentage and three shutouts.
And while Allen might not look at the NHL’s leaderboard, we certainly will take a peek. Allen currently ranks second in the League in goals-against average (1.53) and save-percentage (.950).
LAST TIME AT MSG
Vladimir Tarasenko gave us this beauty the last time he was at Madison Square Garden (Nov. 3, 2014).
Hitchcock indicated he would keep his lineup the same, so here are tonight's projected lines:
Steen - Lehtera - Tarasenko
Upshall - Backes - Fabbri
Halvat - Gomez - Brouwer
Paajarvi - Brodziak - Jaskin
Bouwmeester - Pietrangelo
Edmundson - Shattenkirk
Gunnarsson - Parayko
Magnus Paajarvi recorded his first goal of the season Tuesday in New Jersey. He’s played in three games since being recalled from the Chicago Wolves and said it’s easy to fit in when you’re joining a team that’s already playing well. “When you win, everything’s good, everything’s easier,” Paajarvi said. I’m trying to fit in here and play good with my linemates, whoever they are.” Hitchcock said the difference for Paajavri has been how competitive he has been on the puck. “He’s showing that if he plays like this, he’s an NHL player,” Hitchcock said.
Martin Havlat scored the game-winning goal Tuesday in his Blues debut. It was the 44th game-winning goal of Havlat’s career.
Scott Gomez has assists in three consecutive games.
The Blues have won four straight games at Madison Square Garden. Their last loss came March 3, 2007 when the Rangers won 3-2 in a shootout.