By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Records are made to be broken, but when the Blues (45-22-9) play host to the Colorado Avalanche (39-33-4) at 7:30 p.m. today (NBCSN, KMOX 1120-AM), they'll look to keep one going while staying focused on a greater goal.
The Blues are not only looking to keep pace with the Dallas Stars in the race for first place in the Central Division, they have the chance match a modern NHL record Tuesday against the Avalanche.
The Blues, who come in with a franchise-record four consecutive shutouts, can match the record held by the Phoenix Coyotes and goalie Brian Boucher (Dec. 31, 2003-Jan. 9, 2004) with a shutout victory tonight.
Goalie Brian Elliott, who had the first three shutouts before Jake Allen blanked the Washington Capitals on Saturday, will start against the Avalanche and has a personal 180:00 shutout streak of his own going.
The Blues have a franchise-record 240:18 shutout streak on the line, and they haven't allowed a goal with a goalie in net in the past 261:51, and it goes back further in 5-on-5 play at 286:28.
How have they been doing it?
"Other than getting good goaltending, I think it's timely everything," coach Ken Hitchcock said. "Timely saves, timely scoring, timely good penalty killing. I think winning in the League is based on the time and the score and everything. We've been able to get away with it at times. You look at the game in Washington, we made them pay for their mistakes and we didn't pay for our mistakes but both teams made quite a few of them. Scoring chances between the two teams were in the mid-30's and we ended up getting a shutout. They had almost 20 scoring chances. I think the timing of everything is giving you the edge. I think every player in that room knows that we can play better. We're really happy with what's happened the last little while since the road trip in Alberta, but we also know we're going to have to play better and we're going to have to limit teams' chances and that, but it's our sense of timing that's given us this little edge right now."
The Blues and Stars each have 99 points and play Tuesday; Dallas hosts the Nashville Predators.
Colorado, which won 4-3 Monday at Nashville, trail the Minnesota Wild by three points in the race for the second wildcard in the Western Conference.
"Both teams want something out of this game," Blues right wing Ryan Reaves said. "You're going to get a big battle. ... There's a desperate team coming in tonight. If you can't get up for this game, you've got to get out of the building."
The Wild host the Chicago Blackhawks tonight.
"I don't even look at the league," Hitchcock said of the parity. "You're so fixated on the Central Division. I think the part that amazes me is how competitive the Central Division is and how good the teams are and how well a lot of them are playing."
- - -
The balance of the Blues' forward lines can traced to a number of different areas.
Paul Stastny, who has 13 points in nine games (three goals, 10 assists) including five multi-point games in the past seven, and his line with Robby Fabbri (11 points in 12 games) and Troy Brouwer (eight points in nine games) have caught fire offensively, but it can't be overlooked what the fourth line of Kyle Brodziak, Scottie Upshall and Reaves have done to give the group the kind of spark and energy it needs.
Hitchcock has been playing the group more and they're responding with more offensive zone time, more sustained pressure and they're leaving the next group coming on in a better position on the ice.
"I just think Brodziak's at another level now, which is good to see," Hitchcock said of his center, who has goals in back-to-back games. "They're playing hard, and then the coach is playing them more and then the confidence grows because of that. I think in order to win in this league, you've got to have a fourth line that can contribute and that's exactly what they're doing now.
:... We have had a few meetings with that group about style of play, leaving linemates and next line up in a better position. I think they've really taken it to heart. I think they have a real sense of pride that they want to leave whatever line is coming up next in a much better spot, and I think with that attitude has made them a more effective line. There was a period of time where the line was spending far too much time back-checking, and it wasn't making the line effective and now the line is spending way more time forechecking, finishing at the net and making it hard on the opposition. I think it's made us a better team and it's certainly made them a way better line."
They're taking advantage of every opportunity they're getting.
"We're kind of hitting our groove," Reaves said. "We're playing like a fourth line should. We're wearing lines down, we're playing physical when we can and we're playing the right way. We're taking care of our end, but we're making sure that pucks are getting deep in their end and we're grinding teams. We're hard on their 'D' and when we can be physical with their forwards, we're taking pucks to the net and stopping in front. Everything that you need from what a coach asks from a fourth line, I think the last couple games have been w hat we want to do.
"We always say, 'We'll set them up, you knock them down.' We grind out the teams and let the big guys go score. ... I think when you're playing the right way and you're grinding on d-men, it's only natural that they're going to start making mistakes. They're not going to want to go back for pucks as quick when you've got three guys bearing down on them and you're taking away their other options."
Communication plays a big role in it as well.
"I think we're all on the same page of we don't want to make any mistakes in the neutral zone," Brodziak said. "We're trying to just keep the puck going north and I think looking at the speed of the two wingers there, they're good at getting the puck stopped in their end and we're able to create zone time because of it. We've got to stick on the same page. If we get it in our end, lets get it out as fast as we can and get on the attack.
"Like all year, we've been trying to build consistency in our game and the way we play. He knows what to expect from us and hopefully if we keep providing some positive shifts, we'll get rewarded from it."
With Steve Ott, who continues to be on the mend after tearing both hamstrings in early December, getting closer to full health, and Dmitrij Jaskin and Magnus Paajarvi on the outside looking in, the internal competition is growing by the day.
"That's the St. Louis Blues. We're a deep team," Reaves said. "It's been like this for a couple years now. There's been competition on this team and it's healthy. It makes you stay on your toes and makes you always wanting to play your best. Nobody wants to come out of the lineup when you have guys breathing down your neck to take your spot. You're definitely trying to put your best foot forward."
- - -
The Blues will be looking for their first win against the Avalanche tonight.
They're 0-1-2 against Colorado, losing here 3-1 on Dec. 13 despite outshooting the Avs 43-18, then losing 4-3 in overtime on Jan. 6 after giving up a late lead in the third period, which they also did on Jan. 22 in a 2-1 shootout loss.
"We haven't made Colorado defend as much as we would like," Hitchcock said. "They've gotten loose on us. They've got a lot of speed and they've got a lot of people who can put a lot of pressure on you. If we allow them to come out with numbers like has happened with some of the games, then they're going to be dangerous just like they were last night in Nashville. We've got to limit the amount of bodies that get to come out of the zone with speed and if we do that, good things are going to happen. We've done a really good job at times in this series, probably one of the best games we played was the game we lost here 3-1 (Dec. 13), but all they need is three or four chances every period with numbers and they've really got so much speed, they can attack your net."
- - -
Defensemen Jay Bouwmeester (upper body) and Carl Gunnarsson (lower body) will not play tonight, meaning Petteri Lindbohm and Robert Bortuzzo remain in as the third d-pairing.
Alexander Steen, who missed 15 games with an upper-body injury, returns to the lineup and will make Jaskin a healthy scratch.
- - -
The Blues' projected lineup:
Jaden Schwartz-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko
Robby Fabbri-Paul Stastny-Troy Brouwer
Patrik Berglund-Alexander Steen-David Backes
Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Reaves
Joel Edmundson-Alex Pietrangelo
Kevin Shattenkirk-Colton Parayko
Petteri Lindbohm-Robert Bortuzzo
Brian Elliott will start in goal. Jake Allen will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Dmitrij Jaskin, Magnus Paajarvi and Anders Nilsson. Steve Ott (hamstrings), Jay Bouwmeester (upper body) and Carl Gunnarsson (lower body) are out.
- - -
The Avalanche's projected lineup:
Shawn Matthias-Carl Soderberg-Gabriel Landeskog
Mikkel Boedker-Mikhail Grigorenko-Blake Comeau
Andreas Martinsen-John Mitchell-Jarome Iginla
Cody McLeod-Andrew Agozzino-Jack Skille
Chris Bigras-Erik Johnson
Nick Holden-Tyson Barrie
Francois Beauchemin-Nikita Zadorov
Semyon Varlamov start in goal despite playing Monday night in Nashville. Calvin Pickard will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Zach Redmond and Andrew Bodnarchuk. Matt Duchene (knee), Nathan MacKinnon (knee), Eric Gelinas (elbow), Jesse Winchester (concussion) and Brad Stuart (back) are out.