WINNIPEG -- While the Winnipeg Jets' three-game homestand needs a good start Tuesday, it will be the visiting St. Louis Blues looking to reverse a trend of poor first-period showings.
The Blues visit Winnipeg fresh off a 5-2 loss Saturday to the Anaheim Ducks in which they allowed three goals in the opening seven minutes. In a stretch of three losses in the past four games, opponents have outscored the Blues in the first period 9-1.
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock put his team through practice Monday before departing for Winnipeg and saw a similar pattern play out.
"[Monday] was a slow start and a great finish," Hitchcock said with a chuckle after the team's morning skate Tuesday. "Kind of like our games. I think for us we just have to play the right way earlier and not dig ourselves a hole. I think every team goes through these lulls. Ours seem to be in the first period.
"But I think we won't have a choice with Winnipeg having a first game back after such a long break and the fans the way they are here. They're going to be engaged at the start, so I don't think we have any choice but to get engaged here."
Hitchcock has emphasized better starts, and the message has filtered through the St. Louis dressing room.
"Mediocre against teams that were more than prepared against us," Blues left wing Alexander Steen said when asked to characterize his team's recent first-period play.
Blues captain David Backes attributes the recent dip to the normal grind and wear-and-tear of the long NHL season and just one more hurdle that any elite team will face over a six-month regular season.
"It's inevitable that you're not going to have a fairy-tale season of 82 games, roll through the [Stanley Cup] Playoffs, they just you give you the [Stanley] Cup and life goes on," he said. "It's just not realistic. But these are things that we can try to control and change and try to cut them off before they become diseases.
"We don't need to win the game in the first 10 minutes but we just can't lose the game in the first 10 minutes."
The Jets will be playing their first home game since Nov. 23. They went 4-2-0 on a road trip through the Eastern Conference, but the success on the road has done little to pull the Jets back into the Western Conference playoff picture as they enter Tuesday eight points behind the Colorado Avalanche for the final Western Conference wild-card spot.
The Jets and Blues have played a pair of one-goal games this season, including a 4-3 Jets shootout win at MTS Centre that featured a third-period comeback.
With their own issues to consider and a tough opponent on tap, the Jets are finding little solace in the recent struggles that St. Louis has experienced. Jets coach Claude Noel said he expects another tough date with St. Louis to begin an all-Central Division homestand that will also feature visits from the Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars.
"We've got to be ready for them," Noel said of the Blues. "I think the fact they hit a bump in the road, I think it just makes [them] more hungry."
The Jets will be without left wing Evander Kane, who will miss his fourth consecutive game with a lower-body injury.
Hitchcock will start Brian Elliott in goal. He started for the Blues when the teams played in Winnipeg in October. Noel will counter with Ondrej Pavelec.
Here are the probable lineups for the Blues and Jets:
Alexander Steen - David Backes - T.J. Oshie
Jaden Schwartz - Vladimir Sobotka - Vladimir Tarasenko
Brenden Morrow - Derek Roy - Chris Stewart
Magnus Paajarvi - Patrik Berglund - Maxim Lapierre
Jay Bouwmeester - Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman - Kevin Shattenkirk
Ian Cole - Roman Polak
Scratched: Carlo Colaiacovo, Adam Cracknell
Injured: Jordan Leopold (hand), Ryan Reaves (hand)
Andrew Ladd - Bryan Little - Blake Wheeler
Chris Thorburn - Olli Jokinen - Devin Setoguchi
Matt Halischuk - Mark Scheifele - Michael Frolik
James Wright - John Albert - Anthony Peluso
Dustin Byfuglien - Tobias Enstrom
Jacob Trouba - Grant Clitsome
Keaton Ellerby - Mark Stuart
Scratched: Adam Pardy, Eric Tangradi
Injured: Zach Bogosian (groin), Evander Kane (lower body), Paul Postma (blood clot), Jim Slater (sports hernia)