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Wednesday Night Hockey

Pluses, minuses for Wild-Blues

Dubnyk return could boost Minnesota; St. Louis needs to fill offensive void with Tarasenko out

by Kevin Weekes @kevinweekes / NHL Network Analyst

Each Wednesday throughout the regular season, Kevin Weekes will be offering his pluses and minuses for the teams competing in the NBCSN "Wednesday Night Hockey" game in his Weekes on the Web blog.

The St. Louis Blues got off to a slow start following their short offseason after they won the Stanley Cup, and the Minnesota Wild have been struggling to start the season.

Each will look for an important two points when the Central Division rivals play at Enterprise Center on "Wednesday Night Hockey" (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

The Blues (6-3-3) have won three of four following a 5-4 overtime victory against the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday. The Wild (4-8-0) are coming off a 6-3 loss to the Dallas Stars on Tuesday, when they led 3-0 with less than a minute remaining in the second period before allowing five third-period goals.

Here's my breakdown of the game:

 

Wild

Pluses: Eric Staal has played better lately. He has eight points (four goals, four assists) in 12 games with each of his four goals coming in his past four games. Staal had 52 points (22 goals, 30 assists) last season after he had 76 (42 goals, 34 assists) in 2017-18. And defenseman Matt Dumba (six points; one goal, five assists) has looked good in his return after missing all but 12 games last season because of an injury.

Backup goalie Alex Stalock played well before allowing five goals in the loss to the Stars. He's 2-3-0 with a 2.49 goals-against average and .914 save percentage in seven games (five starts). That could be huge for Minnesota if he plays well, meaning starter Devan Dubnyk wouldn't have to play 60-plus games like he has in each of the past four seasons. Dubnyk is expected to start Wednesday after he was sidelined with an injury.

Video: MIN@TOR: Dubnyk shuts down Nylander's backhander

Minuses: Their defensive play has not been good. They are minus-14 in goal differential and have allowed at least four goals in eight of 12 games. This likely will lead to growing pains with more young players getting bigger minutes (Jordan Greenway and Luke Kunin, for example).

Being in the Central Division really hurts them. We saw last season that five teams made the Stanley Cup Playoffs, which is the most teams that can make it from one division, and that very well could happen again this season. The Wild weren't one of those five teams, finishing in last place.

 

Blues

Pluses: Ryan O'Reilly, David Perron and Brayden Schenn have played well, which is good news considering Vladimir Tarasenko will be out for most of the regular season with a shoulder injury. O'Reilly and Perron each have 12 points and Schenn leads them with nine goals and 13 points.

The injury should give younger players like Robert Thomas and Robby Fabbri an opportunity to step up. Each has scored one goal this season but has shown in the past the ability to be counted on when needed. The good news for the Blues is that they have had depth at forward and on defense, and never seem to panic when an injury occurs.

They got off to a slow start (3-2-3) but are 3-1-0 since and have almost the same team returning from last season. That helps when you have chemistry and players who know what it takes to win in the spring.

Video: LAK@STL: Thomas nets loose puck for easy goal

Minuses: Tarasenko being out for at least five months really hurts them. He's an elite goal scorer and has led them in scoring in each of the past five seasons. It changes the dynamic of how they play with him out of the lineup as opposed to in it.

After the run they made last season, they can't fly under the radar anymore. Coach Craig Berube told me they earned the target that is on their back and they like it and will continue to play hard. You can see so far teams have given the best against the Blues, who have six wins in 12 games.

I think losing a player like Pat Maroon hurts them and it's shown. He brings the sandpaper and grit they don't have now. He finished second on the Blues with 64 penalty minutes last season behind Joel Edmundson (68), who's now with the Carolina Hurricanes.

 

THREE THINGS TO WATCH

1. Will the Blues take control early?

2. Will Dumba, Wild be able to contain Blues offense?

3. Who steps up for St. Louis in the absence of Tarasenko?

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