ST. LOUIS, Missouri - After snagging their first win this season over the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday, the Winnipeg Jets will look to accomplish the same thing tonight against the St. Louis Blues.
The Blues have won all three previous meetings against the Jets this season, with two of those being one-goal games. As a team, Winnipeg is 7-3-3 in one-goal games this season, and defenceman Tyler Myers expects more of the same in the final meeting of the regular season between the two teams.
“It’s always a battle with these guys. I learned that coming in last year at the end of the year. I think we played them five times in the 25 games I played,” said Myers. “I’ve seen them a lot, and we’re expecting a tough game always against these guys.”
Since the division realignment in 2013, 10 of the 13 games the Jets and Blues have played against each other have ended as one-goal games. Jets forward Blake Wheeler, who leads the team in points with 49 in 52 games, says that could be contributed to the similarities in how the teams are built.
“We’re both big, fast teams. We’re built in their image a little bit. We’re trying to achieve the level they’ve gotten to the last few years,” he said. “We look up to them in a certain sense, in that way, in the success they’ve had. We go out there, they seem to bring out the best in us.”
The Jets will need to be at their best with leading goal scorer Drew Stafford ineligible to play tonight due to a one-game suspension handed to him from NHL’s Department of Player Safety yesterday.
With Stafford out, head coach Paul Maurice moved Alexander Burmistrov into the top six.
“(It gives) him a chance to get out in a different role with different players. It’s also a function of I really like Joel (Armia)’s game,” said Maurice. “Sometimes it’s not about the individual, but there seemed to be a good feed off factor with all three of those guys, with Adam (Lowry) and with Andrew (Ladd). We left that line alone. Sometimes the simplest move is the one that works the best.”
Speaking of Ladd, the Jets captain has a goal in each of his last three games. But Maurice says the 30-year-old veteran has been contributing for much longer than that.
“Quietly, I’ve asked him to take on a real challenging role shift in his career. He goes into that game tonight he’s playing with one guy who is in his first year in the NHL, and another guy in his second,” said Maurice. “I’m going to get them out against (David) Backes, I’m going to get him out against (Vladimir) Tarasenko, and (Alexander) Steen. They’re going to play a huge role. He’s done a lot of things really well that don’t end up on the score sheet.”
Tarasenko’s 26 goals and 47 points lead the Blues in both categories. Four of those goals and seven of those points came against the Winnipeg Jets this season.
“Once it’s on his tape, you have to expect a shot at any point,” Maurice said. “You hear standard cliches of time and space, because they’re true. But everyone is coming in with that game plan on these guys, right? All the elite players draw the attention. He’s special.”
Wheeler believes the Jets can’t focus all their energy on stopping Tarasenko though. The Blues have depth offensively, and it’s one of the reasons St. Louis sits third in the Central Division (30-17-8), 10 points clear of the wildcard teams.
“You obviously want to have an awareness when he’s out there. You want to try to not give him more chances than he’s going to create on his own,” said Wheeler. “From there, we’re going to need some big saves, we’re going to need to get into some shooting lanes, and try to get him off his game.”
The Jets are nine points back of the Avalanche for the final wildcard spot in the Western Conference. To get back in the race, Wheeler feels the Jets need to replicate the effort and emotion from the win over Colorado on Saturday.
“I think we were pretty determined in that Colorado game. We didn’t have a great showing against Carolina at home, and we were a little pissed off going into Colorado,” he said. “We have to carry that same mentality coming into tonight. We play better when we play with a little bit of an edge and we had that in Colorado.”
The puck drops at Scottrade Center at 7 pm CT.
BANGED UP BLUES
The Blues will be without star defenceman Alex Pietrangelo, who left in the third period of Saturday’s win over the Minnesota Wild with a right knee injury. Pietrangelo suffered the injury after colliding knee-on-knee with Minnesota forward Charlie Coyle.
Pietrangelo, who has 23 points in 55 games this season, was placed on injured reserve and will be re-evaluated in three weeks.
In other Blues injury news, Jaden Schwartz (fractured ankle) was back practicing Tuesday, but has been ruled out for tonight, according to Blues coach Ken Hitchcock.
-- Mitchell Clinton, WinnipegJets.com