Friday, December 25, 2015

Blues get another crack at NHL's best on consecutive days

Stars visit St. Louis tonight; teams play in Dallas on Sunday

ST. LOUIS -- When asked about the daunting task coming out of the Christmas break, Blues goalie Jake Allen preferred to notice what awaits the Blues for the remainder of 2015.

"All divisional games, so they'll be all important," Allen said.

Yes, the Blues will close out the calendar year with four games against Central Division opponents, but first thing's first: back-to-back games against the NHL-leading Dallas Stars (26-7-2), who lead the league with 54 points, eight ahead of the Blues (21-11-4) with one game in hand.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues goalie Jake Allen has been tough on the Stars and Cody Eakin (20).
Allen's shut out the Stars in two of the past three meetings.

The teams will renew acquaintances at 7 p.m. today (FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM) at Scottrade Center, then turn around and play Sunday in Dallas at 5 p.m. in a rare back-to-back in consecutive days.

It's the second of five meetings -- three of them will come in a 16-day span after Sunday -- this season. The Blues shut out the Stars 3-0 on Dec. 12, the only time Dallas, which leads the NHL in goals (124) and average goals per game (3.51).

And the NHL's top two goal scorers (the Blues' Vladimir Tarasenko and the Stars' Jamie Benn) go head-to-head once again. What more drama could one want?

The Blues have won three straight against the Stars, who have won three in a row and outscored their opponents 16-5. Two of those Blues wins have come via shutouts from Jake Allen, who is likely to get the start tonight.

"Unbelievable. He's so good with us," left wing Magnus Paajarvi said of Allen, who is tied for the NHL lead with five shutouts this season. "He gives us a calm influence. That's huge. Hardest shots look easy for him."

A Blues win tonight would match the longest win streak against the Stars franchise in history (Dec. 26, 2011-Jan. 26, 2013) but first thing's first: building off an impressive win at Boston in a 2-0 victory which followed a rough 4-3 loss at Philadelphia after the Blues allowed a 3-0 lead slip through their fingers.

"It was a tough one (in Philadelphia) to swallow," defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "Especially with the three-day break, you want to make sure you give a good effort so those three days you're resting your mind. We finished on a good note.

"... We played really well against (Dallas) last time, so we have some confidence going in there. It's a couple of days off and then it's back-to-back, and then I think nine (games) in 15 days, so these three days (were) important for us."

After the Stars, the Blues will host Nashville Tuesday and Minnesota to round out 2015 on New Year's Eve looking to improve on a 8-3-0 record against the Central Division and 15-4-0 against Western Conference foes.

"Those are huge-standing games," said rookie forward Robby Fabbri, who's scored in consecutive games. "To come right back after the break and play two tough games to get everyone back into it will be good.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues' Vladimir Tarasenko (91) enters tonight's game against the
Stars tied with Dallas' Jamie Benn for the NHL lead with 22 goals.

"I think we're in a pretty good spot. There's obviously areas we need to improve on and things we can do a little bit better, but we're winning games right now. If we just pick up those little things that we work on, well be even better."

Despite what some deem as an up-and-down season thus far, the Blues, who were 22-11-3 a season ago (47 points), are just one point off last season's pace, a season in which the Blues finished with 109 points.

"Definitely going into the break and beating a good hockey team in a tough barn is definitely big for us," said defenseman Robert Bortuzzo. "I thought we were solid all night and pretty thorough to be honest. We like how we're playing."

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