ST. LOUIS -- When St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock looks across at the opposition's bench Saturday, there will be a familiar face guiding the Carolina Hurricanes.
Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller played for Hitchcock at the tail end of his 19-year career and will be opposing his former coach. It will be the third time the two have faced each other (each owns one victory), but with the Hurricanes in the midst of their best stretch of the season [4-0-1 in the past five games], Hitchcock was asked if the Hurricanes are reflective of their coach when he was a player.
"Depends which one you get," Hitchcock said. "The one in New Jersey? No. The one in Dallas? Probably a lot."
Hitchcock was referencing the transition Muller made throughout his playing career, which started with the New Jersey Devils in 1984-85 and ended with the Dallas Stars in 2002-03. It was in Dallas where Muller played for Hitchcock, who was fired by the Stars in 2002. The following season, Muller's last as a player, saw Dave Tippett take over behind the Dallas bench.
"Kirk was a really smart player. He changed his game later in his career where he played very similar to the way Brendan [Shanahan] had and [Jeremy] Roenick had where they played closer to the net, less rush attack, more down-low offensive opportunities," Hitchcock said. "He's got this team really committed to 200 feet. They use their skating legs both offensively and more important, defensively. They create a number of turnovers, frustrate you if you're not prepared to work through it. That's the way he learned."
Muller played for Hitchcock from 1999-2002 and was on the Stars roster when Hitchcock was fired.
Muller's Hurricanes have scored nine goals in their past five games but have allowed six. The style in which they're winning is certainly a reflection of their coach and how he was as a player. Muller had 959 points in 1,349 NHL games with six teams.
"Kirk's done a heck of a job," Hitchcock said. "When you're not scoring, you still have to get points and that's what they're doing. They're getting points, waiting for some of the big guns to load up. In the meantime, they're finding ways to win the close games. They're finding ways to negate other teams' scoring chances.
"I think they're a perfect example of you can either commiserate that you're not scoring or you can just get to winning hockey games. I think they've really turned it around here in the last six games, seven games because they're competing at a very high level. They're a hard team to play against now."
The Hurricanes did not have a morning skate Saturday after a 3-2 shootout victory Friday against the Anaheim Ducks but are expected to keep playing with seven defensemen.
The Blues, who defeated the Colorado Avalanche 7-3 Thursday, are 3-0-1 on their five-game homestand and will begin a stretch of facing four straight Eastern Conference opponents. They are 5-1-0 against the East this season and 29-8-5 since 2010-11, which is the best record in interconference play.
Here are the projected lineups for the Hurricanes and Blues on Saturday:
Jiri Tlusty - Eric Staal - Alexander Semin
Nathan Gerbe - Jordan Staal - Patrick Dwyer
Chris Terry - Riley Nash - Tuomo Ruutu
Drayson Bowman - Manny Malhotra
Justin Faulk - Andrej Sekera
Brett Bellemore - Ron Hainsey
Ryan Murphy - Jay Harrison
Injured: Cam Ward (lower body), Jeff Skinner (upper body), Tim Gleason (upper body), Anton Khudobin (lower body), Radek Dvorak (lower body), Kevin Westgarth (upper body)
Alexander Steen - David Backes - T.J. Oshie
Brenden Morrow - Vladimir Sobotka - Chris Stewart
Jaden Schwartz - Patrik Berglund - Vladimir Tarasenko
Derek Roy - Maxim Lapierre - Ryan Reaves
Jay Bouwmeester - Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman - Kevin Shattenkirk
Ian Cole - Roman Polak
Scratched: Carlo Colaiacovo, Adam Cracknell
Injured: Jordan Leopold (hand), Magnus Paajarvi (upper body)