– Photo by Ryan Leopando
It was just what the doctor ordered for T.J. Oshie and the Blues Friday night. Although a 4-3 overtime win was not the prettiest win for the now 15-6-2 Blues this season, Oshie’s three points provided a much need breath of fresh air for the St. Louis fan base. Oshie tallied his second goal of the season in the first period and two assists later in the game. The three points on Friday for Oshie matched his entire point total so far in the 2014-2015 season.
However, it cannot stop there.
It was not a good sign for the St. Louis fan base to once again see David Backes and Paul Stastny absent from the scoresheet. However, one of the promising signs was from Stastny as he was able to put up five shots on goal, which is his highest total since October 16th against the Los Angeles Kings when he accounted for six shots on goal.
Tonight against the Wild the Blues will need all they can get from Oshie, Stastny and Backes. Minnesota currently sits at 13-9-0 and just six points behind the high-flying Blues in the Central Division. Despite the Wild being just fifth in the Central Division, they have played well as they sit at 10th in the league in goals scored per game (2.82) and sixth fewest in goals allowed per game (2.36).
Without the benefit of last change on home ice, Ken Hitchcock will have to rely on his slumping stars in less than favorable pairings. However, if Friday is a sign of things to come for Oshie, expect the play of Backes and Stastny to improve for the Note. In addition, will the real Alexander Steen to please stand up? So far, Steen has amassed just five goals in 23 games, when the 30-year-old sharpshooter put up 33 last year. Although the Blues have found goal scoring from other players this season, they need production from Steen to take that next step.
For Backes, he is known for his physicality and exceptional two-way play. When Backes is playing physical in the corners, getting in the occasional fight and scoring hard-nosed goals in front of the net, this team is at its best. People can say all they want about Vladimir Tarasenko, or Oshie, but I truly believe the Blues are at their best when David Backes is playing his best because he makes everyone around him better. If the Blues are going to keep pace in the deadly Central Division, which has five teams above .500, they will need much more than the mediocre 10 points Backes has put up this season.
In their defensive zone, the Blues will need to find a way to slow down Minnesota superstar Zach Parise who has eight goals and nine assists for 17 points in as many games. Parise dished out three assists in Minnesota’s 5-4 win agianst Dallas last night. Defensively, expect to see a lot of Alex Pietrangelo in the game when Parise’s line touches the ice. Parise likes to use his exceptional speed and quickness in tight spaces to work from the outside and corners in the offensive zone and then put pressure into the slot and on net.
Pietrangelo has a unique blend of size and speed standing in at 6’3″ 201 pounds and has the ability to use his strength to force Parise to stay on the perimeter, and then use his speed to keep Parise from getting position back inside. This season Pietrangelo averages 25:39 of ice time, which ranks first among Blues skaters and seventh in the NHL. Do not be surprised to see that number approaching 28 or 29 minutes tonight, especially if Minnesota gets behind early.
In net Jake Allen looked a bit shaky Friday night. On 16 shots, Allen allowed three goals, but that would prove to be enough for the Blues offense which put up a whopping 41 shots and four goals. That will not work tonight against Minnesota as the Wild average 32.9 shots per game, which puts them third in the league in this category. Despite defensive break downs on all three of Edmonton’s goals allowing David Perron, Nikita Nikitin and Mark Arcobello to go virtually untouched, the young netminder must be better for the Blues.
The defense also must do its part to allow Allen to get good looks without screens in front and keep the majority of the shots to the perimeter, but it will be up to Allen to shut down the rest of the Wild offense. Back-to-back games does not help the 24-year-old after he is now the starter in place of Brian Elliott. However, the Blues will need him to perform like he has earlier this season in order to get a win in Minnesota.
St. Louis is on the road against Minnesota, and the puck is set to drop at 7 p.m. CT from the Xcel Energy Center.