STARS (22-5-2) at BLUES (16-9-4)
TV: FS-SW+, FS-MW
ST. LOUIS -- The St. Louis Blues see an opportunity to get their game back on track Saturday against the NHL-leading Dallas Stars.
It's no secret the Blues haven't been playing their best hockey in December; they're 1-3-1. After a 3-1 victory Friday against the Philadelphia Flyers, the Stars find themselves 10 points ahead of the Blues for first place in the Central Division.
The Blues' game has been stellar at times and stagnant at others. But an opportunity against the Stars, who are 5-0-2 in their past seven games, gives the Blues, who begin a stretch of four games against divisional opponents, a chance at defining moments. Bringing their best game against the Stars is a must.
"If we don't, we're going to get our [tails] handed to us," said Blues goalie Jake Allen, who will start. "Unfortunately that's the bitter truth. I think they're the best team in the League right now and they've proved that to start the year. They're a high-powered offense. All they need is one chance and we're going to have to be on our toes.
"We definitely haven't been playing our best. Everyone knows that, everyone's talking about consistency and things like that. We don't need to talk anymore and just go out and play. Those are the things, but it has to happen. It's got to happen. It's got to come forth. We need to play with a little bit of swagger, I think. We lost our swagger a little bit I think from the group, from myself, right through the whole lineup, through the whole organization. We need to have our swagger back, our confidence, and that's when we play our best."
So how does one regain that swagger?
"Just knowing that you're a good player," Allen said. "For me, if I have a bad game or (allow) a bad goal, go right back at it. Have the ability to change the game, make a save, or help the team in some way, somehow. I think that's an opportunity for every single one of these guys to get the ball rolling. One guy sees one guy doing it, it's a snowball effect. Once we get that going, we'll get back to our winning ways."
Coach Ken Hitchcock has often spoken of when the Blues played scared, it tends to bring out the best in their game. If facing Dallas, which has the most points (46), most wins (22), fewest regulation losses (five) and most goals in the League (102), doesn't get a team on edge a bit, it could make for a long night.
But Hitchcock said right now, it doesn't matter who the Blues play. Getting back on track is important no matter who it's against.
"I don't think it matters the opponent," Hitchcock said. "… Dallas is a hot team; I don't think it matters. I think it's all about us and the way we're playing and how many really good minutes in a game can we build."
Goalie Kari Lehtonen, expected to start after Antti Niemi made 19 saves Friday, was on the ice Saturday morning with the three likely scratches (defensemen Jamie Oleksiak and Patrik Nemeth, and forward Travis Moen). The rest of the Stars took the morning off after playing Friday.
Here are the projected lineups:
Jamie Benn - Tyler Seguin - Valeri Nichushkin
Mattias Janmark - Jason Spezza - Patrick Eaves
Antoine Roussel - Cody Eakin - Patrick Sharp
Colton Sceviour - Vernon Fiddler - Ales Hemsky
Alex Goligoski - John Klingberg
Johnny Oduya - Jason Demers
Jyrki Jokipakka - Jordie Benn
Scratched: Travis Moen, Patrik Nemeth, Jamie Oleksiak
Magnus Paajarvi - Paul Stastny - Vladimir Tarasenko
Alexander Steen - David Backes - Troy Brouwer
Robby Fabbri - Jori Lehtera - Dmitrij Jaskin
Scottie Upshall - Kyle Brodziak - Ryan Reaves
Jay Bouwmeester - Alex Pietrangelo
Petteri Lindbohm - Kevin Shattenkirk
Carl Gunnarsson - Colton Parayko
Injured: Jaden Schwartz (ankle), Patrik Berglund (shoulder), Steve Ott (hamstring)
Scratched: Scott Gomez, Robert Bortuzzo
Status report: Lehtonen is 7-0-0 on the road this season, which likely went into the strategy for Stars coach Lindy Ruff to go with Niemi on home ice Friday. … The Blues will keep their lineup from the past three games intact after Hitchcock said Friday they reserved judgment to change.
Who's hot: Jamie Benn has two goals and three assists in the past two games. Nichushkin has seven points in the past six games. Seguin has a point in 25 of 29 games this season. … Fabbri has a point in five of the past eight games. Steen has a three-game point streak (one goal, three assists). Shattenkirk has 14 points in 13 games.