ST. PAUL - The last time the Blues met the Wild, Minnesota was mired in a four-game losing streak and had just one win in their last 10 games.
The Blues handed the Wild a fifth consecutive loss that day. Brian Elliott made 38 saves and Jori Lehtera, Robby Fabbri, Paul Stastny and Troy Brouwer each two-point efforts in a 4-1 Blues win on Feb. 6 at Scottrade Center.
Not long after that meeting, the Wild replaced Head Coach Mike Yeo with John Torchetti and are 8-3-0 since. Tonight, the Wild seek a fifth consecutive win and hope to gain a stronger hold on the final Wild Card position in the Western Conference.
The puck drops at 7 p.m. on NBC Sports Network and KMOX 1120 AM.
“I don’t think, in the middle of the season, you can make enough change in your system of play. When we watch them play, they play the same way,” Blues Head Coach Ken Hitchcock said of the Wild since the coaching change. “They’ve got good structure, good discipline. They play the game without giving up much. I don’t think there’s a lot of changes that we need to make. We’ve had good games against them this year. It seems the team that’s outplayed the other team has lost, and that’s something we’d like to see change.”
The Wild will be playing their third game in four days and are coming off of a 3-2 shootout win Saturday in Buffalo.
The Blues, meanwhile, have to be enjoying their post All-Star break schedule, which includes the second-fewest games in the League with 30. The Blues will be coming off their longest break of the season (four days) since a thrilling 4-3 shootout win Tuesday night in Ottawa.
“I think there are benefits to staying in a groove and to keep playing, but there are also benefits to being rested and having energy and letting some bodies heal, especially in our circumstances,” Blues captain David Backes said. “We’ll need to get back in the groove in a hard, direct way, but maybe on the other side, they’ve played a lot lately and might be run down but in they’re in that groove and competition.
“We just needed a concerted effort from the 20 guys in here.”
The Blues will get Lehtera back in the lineup tonight, and he’ll be back to centering the ‘STL Line’ alongside Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko in tonight’s game.
“They’re two good players,” Lehtera said after the morning skate. “I’m just the third wheel.”
All kidding aside, Lehtera says he’s happy to be back after missing three games. He took a puck to the face against the Rangers and experienced headaches, but has been back on the ice since Wednesday.
“When you’re injured, it feels like the time goes so slow and it feels like I was out for a month, but it was just a couple games,” he said. “I’m excited to be back.”
His linemate, Tarasenko, is happy to have him.
“I think we have a good chemistry when we play together,” Tarasenko said. “It’s always nice when somebody plays with you for a long time and comes back to the lineup. We’re looking forward to playing better until the end of the season, and we know what our goal is: we’re trying to be prepared for the playoffs.”
Today’s morning skate was optional, but here’s an educated guess as to what lines we’d expect to see tonight:
Jaden Schwartz - Jori Lehtera - Vladimir Tarasenko
Robby Fabbri - Paul Stastny - Troy Brouwer
Patrik Berglund - David Backes - Dmitrij Jaskin
Scottie Upshall - Kyle Brodziak - Ryan Reaves
Jay Bouwmeester - Alex Pietrangelo
Carl Gunnarsson - Kevin Shattenkirk
Joel Edmundson - Colton Parayko
By registering his 30th goal on Tuesday in Ottawa, Tarasenko has become the first Blue with back-to-back 30-goal seasons since Brad Boyes scored 43 in 2007-08 and 33 in 2008-09. Tarasenko has five goals in his last six games against the Wild.
Paul Stastny has a three-game point streak against Minnesota (one goal, three assists).
The Blues are just two points behind the Chicago Blackhawks and Dallas Stars for first place in the Central Division. All three teams have played 66 games and will be in action tonight.
Robby Fabbri leads the Blues with 10 points since the All-Star Break (four goals, six assists).