From a hockey weekend standpoint, this weekend is about as big as it gets for the St. Louis Blues. This weekend the Blues will play a home and home series with the Minnesota Wild. It will be the first two of four games remaining between these two teams, and while the Blues trail the Wild in the standings, both teams have sights firmly set on making the playoffs.
Entering the weekend, Minnesota leads St. Louis by five points in the standings, but both teams remain on the outside of a coveted playoff spot. With four head to head games on the schedule, both teams feel they can control their own destiny against each other. The scenarios are simple, and more pressure is squarely on the Blues this weekend.
A split works fine for Minnesota, but the Blues would view it as a missed opportunity. Two wins from the Blues and not only will they be right there with Minnesota, but could be within two points of a playoff spot. Two wins by Minnesota could prove disastrous for the Blues. They would fall nine points behind the Wild and potentially even more than that from the number 8 spot. That makes this weekend a potential eight point swing depending on how it plays out.
Halak will have to play well. There is plenty of room to debate on whether or not it is fair to hang so much on the goalie here, but that’s the way it goes in the NHL. The Blues offense and special teams have not been consistent enough to overcome average goaltending. Davis Payne said at the morning skate that he expects Halak to play well and there is no set plan on how his tandem will be used with a stretch of three games in four nights. A lot will be determined from game to game depending on the work Halak faces as well as how he plays.
Carlo Colaiacovo returns to the line-up tonight for the Blues but Nikitin is also staying. The Blues will dress seven defensemen tonight, allowing the coaches to monitor how Carlo’s eye responds to his return to game action. It also gives the Blues options on pairings and ice time depending on game situations. The ice time will be an important factor with the three games in four nights.
Colaiacovo said losing his eyesight, even for a short period of time, was one of the scariest things he has ever experienced. He will wear a full cage for the next week or so as a safety precaution. He will eventually move to a shield full time. His eye injury came in the very next game he played after taking a puck in the face at Anaheim, cutting him for nine stitches above his lip.
Niktin remains with the team while Strachan has been assigned to Peoria after clearing waivers yesterday. Nikitin has played well and gives the Blues some added options with his ability on the power play. Strachan had not played much and needed to play. The Blues now have a wealth of options defensively as the season moves on. Neither Nikitin or any of the defensemen in Peoria need waivers to move up or down. Strachan or Oystrick can come up and play 10 games or 30 days without having to go through waivers again, and Nikitin and Cole do not have to deal with waivers. This allows the Blues, who feel they have four very solid options for a 7th d-man to do what is necessary to get them all the playing time needed in case of an injury to the Blues top 6. It is also an interesting situation if the Blues decide to deal a defensemen as the trade deadline approaches.
TJ Oshie said yesterday that the Blues last game in Florida, was the first game since returning from a broken ankle, that he did not think about the ankle at all during the game. That is great news as he did return almost a month earlier than originally expected from the injury.
With the return of Colaiacovo tonight, the Blues will be dressing their healthiest line-up since a 1-0 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on October 23rd. That was the game the Blues lost roman Polak in the 3rd period, when his wrist was cut by Crosby’s skate. That injury started a string of injuries that saw the Blues lose Polak, Jackman, Colaiacovo, Oshie, Perron, and McDonald for extended periods of time. Heading into this weekend’s games, only Perron remains out as he continues to recover from a concussion.