ST. LOUIS - The Blues are back.
I mean, technically, they’ve been back for a few weeks now with training camp practices, #IsItOctoberYet hashtags on social media, and preseason games with young players still trying to get a feel for the NHL game.
But for real…tonight, hockey is officially back.
“Opening Night is special. You look forward to it every year,” said Blues captain David Backes, who will lace up the skates for his seventh season-opening NHL game tonight. “You get the goosebumps because you’ve been working every year training to work up for this night and it’s finally here. (We’ll be) waiting in the tunnel, waiting to come out, and we’ll hear the place going crazy.
“Hopefully we deliver two points.”
That won’t be an easy task. The schedule-makers handed the Blues an opening night match-up with the Eastern Conference Champion New York Rangers (7 p.m., FSMW and KMOX). It’s just the second time in team history the Blues have opened a season against the Rangers. The first meeting, a 3-1 Blues win, was on Oct. 10, 1970.
This summer, the Rangers added Dan Boyle, Matthew Lombardi, Tanner Glass and Lee Stempniak. Offseason subtractions from last year’s team include Brad Richards, Benoit Pouliot and Brian Boyle. On the injury front, the Rangers are without Derek Stepan tonight as he recovers from a fractured fibula sustained on Sept. 24.
“We couldn’t get a better opponent to measure (ourselves against),” Head Coach Ken Hitchcock said. “We’re going to have a list of things we need to get better with after (tonight), and a list of things probably that we’re happy with. I think we have a lot of credible players who know how to play the game the right way, and I think that’s going to help us win a lot of close games this year.”
The Blues begin the 2014-15 season with some new faces.
A St. Louis native, Stastny signed a four-year contract with the Blues on the first day of free agency. A former All-Star, Stastny has 458 points since entering the League in the 2006-07 season. With tonight’s debut, he’ll be the third Stastny to wear the Blue Note. His father, Peter, wore No. 26 from 1993-95, while his brother, Yan, wore No. 25 from 2007-10.
Stastny’s parents, brother, wife and in-laws will watch his debut tonight at Scottrade Center.
“It’s almost icing on the cake being able to come back home and play for a team I grew up watching my whole life,” Stastny said. “I’m excited to put on the Blue Note and get another season going.”
A 2008 third-round pick of the Blues, Lehtera comes to St. Louis after spending four seasons in the KHL. Lehtera has seen just one NHL game in person (a playoff game between the Rangers and Ottawa Senators). So what does the newcomer expect tonight at Scottrade Center?
“I’m expecting a full house, a something-I’m-going-to-remember-my-whole-life kind of moment,” Lehtera said. “I think there might be some (butterflies tonight), but I think that’s a good thing. When I get those, I play better.”
A former second-round pick of Columbus in 2002, Lindstrom had stints with Columbus, Arizona and Colorado in the NHL before heading to Europe. Prior to joining the Blues, Lindstrom won back-to-back Swedish Hockey League championships with Skelleftea. In 2013-14, he recorded 63 points (23 goals, 40 assists) in 55 regular season games.
The Blues acquired Gunnarsson at the 2014 NHL Draft in exchange for defenseman Roman Polak. The 27-year-old defenseman has played in five NHL seasons, all with the Toronto Maple Leafs. In 304 NHL games, he has 15 goals and 71 assists (86 points) and a plus-14 rating.
Guannarsson has been rehabbing a hip injury and won’t be ready for tonight’s season opener or Saturday’s game vs. Calgary, but he did remove the no-contact jersey in practice today. Hitchcock said he’ll see doctors on Monday in Nashville in hopes of being cleared to play.
The Blues are 12-6-2 all-time in home openers, including the last two.
Brian Elliott will start in goal tonight. In his last meeting against the Rangers (Dec. 15, 2011), Elliott turned aside 25 of 26 shots in a 4-1 Blues win.
Alexander Steen has three goals and four assists (seven points) in his last three games against the Rangers.
Jay Bouwmeester will continue his iron man streak tonight with consecutive game No. 718. It’s the longest active streak in all of the major professional sports.
The Blues are the only team goalie Henrik Lundqvist has yet to beat in his career. He’s 0-4-0 with a 2.81 goals-against average and a .905 save percentage against St. Louis.
Doors to Scottrade Center will open at 5 p.m. Fans can enjoy music from a live DJ and get select half-price items at the concession stands until 6 p.m. Fans should be in their seats at 6 p.m. for the start of the Opening Night festivities, which include videos, appearances from Blues Alumni, player introductions and more.