By LOU KORAC
DETROIT -- Joe Louis Arena hosted it its first event on Dec. 12, 1979, and 15 days later, the Blues were the first opposing team to face the Detroit Red Wings there.
SInce then, the Red Wings have raised four Stanley Cup banners here, 11 in franchise history altogether.
And on Wednesday night, barring some unforeseen miracle that the Blues (29-22-5) and Red Wings (22-24-10) play in the Stanley Cup Final this season, this will be the last visit for the Blues in this building when they face the Red Wings at 7 p.m. (NBCSN, KMOX 1120-AM).
The Blues are 54-65-21-1 during the regular season here at The Joe, including 4-0-1 the past five visits. They would love nothing more than to close out one of the few remaining old barns in the league, but the memories between the former Central/Norris Division rivals are endless.
"I do actually, funny you ask. Game 7 victory for the Stanley Cup," Blues coach Mike Yeo said of his favorite memory here, a win as an assistant coach with the Pittsburgh Penguins here in 2009. "That's a pretty good one."
Goalie Jake Allen won his first career NHL start in this building on Feb. 13, 2013 and is one of three goalies in NHL history (Damian Rhoades in 1991 and Rastislav Stana in 2004) to accomplish that feat.
Wayne Gretzky, during his short stint with the Blues in 1996, played his final game with the Blues here in this building in the conference semifinals in a 1-0 Game 7 double-overtime loss.
Brian Sutter scored the very first goal in this building in the Blues' 3-2 victory here on that Dec. 27, 1979 night.
On April 3, 2009, David Backes scored four goals in a 5-4 victory, and on March 30, 2011, the Blues put up 10 goals in a 10-3 victory.
Many, many more exist, but it all likely comes to a close for the Blues here tonight.
"We have some good ones there and not so much just wins or losses, but I've played on two teams that have had some pretty historical rivalries against the Red Wings," said Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, including the Colorado Avalanche, the team that drafted him, in that group. "It's a very special place. It's one of those arenas like the Bell Centre (in Montreal), like Madison Square Garden (home of the New York Rangers) that you walk into and you take a step back and you realize there have been a lot of greats who have stepped on that ice and for you to have the honor to do the same thing, it's pretty amazing. It's one of those places for me, the rookie, the first time I played there, that's when playing in the NHL really meant something.
"You're waiting for your Little Caesar's after the game, which is obviously something we all cherish, but yeah, it's just old, brick-lined hallways and steel beams running everywhere and wires and that adds to the charm, I guess."
The Red Wings, last in the Eastern Conference, have gone 0-3-1 the past four games but will likely play with a lot of emotion tonight after team owner Mike Ilitch passed away Friday.
The Red Wings didn't hold a morning skate so team members and staff could attend a visitation.
"We've just got to prepare for it," Blues left wing Jaden Schwartz said. "We talked about that. We're sure they're going to be ready. They're always good in their building. When something like that happens, I'm sure they'll want to win tonight a lot. We'll just prepare for it, make sure that we're ready and execute our game plan."
But after tonight, gone will be the staunch smell of nearly 40 years of comings and goings, the nostalgia old-time buildings bring.
"Oh, it’s an old barn," joked Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo. "We all like the new shiny things, but then the nostalgia of that rink, the history behind it. It’s always a cool place to go play."
- - -
Center Wade Megan, recalled Tuesday for the injured Paul Stastny, who was placed on injured-reserve with a lower-body injury retroactive to Thursday, will play tonight and center a fourth line he's quite familiar with.
Megan, who was recalled when Stastny missed a game Dec. 22 in Tampa Bay, scored his first NHL goal in his first NHL game that night in a 5-2 loss, and he'll center a line with Scottie Upshall and Ryan Reaves.
"(With) Megan coming up, (he's) jumping into a familiar spot," Yeo said. "He played with us in Tampa Bay should help us as far as that line, keep come consistency in what their approach is.
"Part of why he came up is he's got an identity as a player. The game is about scoring goals, the game is also about preventing scoring goals. Inside of that, there's momentum shifts in each and every game. He's the type of player that can help us get to our game, help us bring momentum, help us create energy as far as how he gets in on the forecheck, how he wins battles, how he plays in the offensive zone. I think we saw a lot of that in the game that he played with us earlier in the year and we want to see if he can come up and bring some more of that."
Megan's first recall was new for him, with only former college teammate Shattenkirk and Brad Hunt, a teammate with the Chicago Wolves at the time, on the roster.
This time, he's got Magnus Paajarvi, Kenny Agostino and Ivan Barbashev to kick around.
"It's good to see some familiar faces," Megan said. "Just kind of helps ease the tension a little bit coming into a new team just to see some of the guys, so it's been great.
"I'm obviously very excited to be here. Ready to get it going."
- - -
Carter Hutton will get the start in goal tonight.
Hutton last played Feb. 6 in Philadelphia, a 2-0 shutout victory against the Flyers that started what has now turned into tying a season-high four-game winning streak, all on the road.
"Same thing we've done all year. I've said it before, I'll say it again, we go as the team goes," Hutton said of he and Allen. "We just want to win hockey games and give them a chance to win. That's all we can do.
"We're two good goalies. We've proven that. It's not like this is our first dance. We've played a lot of big games in this league. For us, it was just a matter of sticking with it. Personally for me, I felt that coming of the bench sometimes, I wasn't great, but my starts were good. I think I've been pretty rock solid so far this year. Just keep continuing in that mindset and play hard to help the team win."
Hutton's lone other game in his career against the Red Wings was not a memorable one; he allowed three goals on four shots and was pulled in the first period of a 5-2 loss Jan. 17, 2015 as a member of the Nashville Predators.
- - -
The Blues have won seven of nine games on the road after starting off 5-11-1 away from Scottrade Center, outscoring the opposition 27-14, including 14-3 in the past four.
"I think we're playing better as a whole, defensively especially," Schwartz said. "We're not letting guys be open as much, not making as many mistakes defensively always helps. Obviously that was a good road trip for us. I think we scored first in every game and that gives you a boost right away. Just all around offensively, we're protecting the puck better, there aren't as many turnovers. That was just a good stretch for us there and we kept rolling with it and we're having fun. We're playing for each other, which is big."
Yeo said staying out of the penalty box and keeping their cool has played a big role. The Blues have only gone to the box four times the past three games and are 13-for-13 on the penalty kill since Yeo replaced Ken Hitchcock on Feb. 1.
"You go into the road, the other team, doesn't matter who you're playing, they're going to have moments in the game where they push and they've got a little momentum," Yeo said. "I think what we're doing is we're handling those situations a little bit better. Whether we score, whether they score, we're taking the approach that the only thing that matters is the next shift and your next shift and making sure you have the right focus and sort of the right mentality of how you handle that. I would point to one other very important factor is something we have to stay on is we've been much more disciplined. We're staying out of the box a lot more and obviously when you're going into other teams' buildings, you don't want to be putting them on the power play all night."
- - -
The Blues are the only team in the NHL without a shorthanded goal this season, and it's not for a lack of trying but more so that they are focused on having a stout penalty kill.
Under Hitchcock, the Blues didn't seem to take as many risks in jumping into the play when an opportunity presented itself to go forward shorthanded, but under Yeo, that could change.
"For me, I'm pleased with the penalty kill right now," Yeo said. "I think that an aggressive penalty kill was always the way. There are some situations. A lot of the shorthanded goals, you do a good job in your zone, you create a turnover, you catch them out of position and when you have a chance to go, you go for sure, but the flip side of that, you have to make sure you're not pushing that to the extreme where you try so hard to score. You score one shorthanded goal every 10 games, but you give up an extra three or four power play goals against, then that doesn't equate. There's some situations. Maybe you can read that a forward's on the backend and you can challenge them a little bit more aggressively, but I've got no issues right now. Our penalty kill has been strong. As long as we continue to do that, then we're in good shape."
According to Pietrangelo, as long as the Blues stay in that upper echelon of penalty killing efficiency (they're fifth at 84.2 percent), that's what matters; they're 16-for-16 in six games under Yeo killing penalties.
"Some years you score 10, some years you score two, you score four, you score none," he said. "The ultimate goal of that penalty kill is to get it back to even strength and I think we're what, fifth or sixth in the league. We're doing the job that needs to be done. I know we use a lot of guys, a lot of different rotations. We keep guys fresh in the zone. That's why we've had a lot of success. A lot of times, that's not going to allow guys to get up in the rush and try to make a play because we're constantly changing trying to get energy out there. If we don't score one the rest of the year and we don't give up a goal, we'll go score 5-on-5 or the power play.
"We see momentum killing that penalty and you look at a team like Montreal, there's some key times in games where we're killing these penalties and that's what's building a lot of momentum whether it's in the first period, there's a lot of pressure on us and we kill it or at the end of the game. Yeah, you might score, but chances are of you try that the next game, there's going to be an opportunity going back the other way. We'll continue to do what we're doing and if we've got the opportunity to score, we'll take it."
- - -
Since Yeo took over six games ago, the Blues have blocked 20 or more shots in four of those games, including a season-high 24 in their 4-2 win at the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday.
"Guys are paying a price," Yeo said. "That's No. 1. When you have penalty kill success, generally speaking, first off, I think one thing, we have to credit our group with right now is we're taking less penalties per game. That's a huge part. You go against Montreal, who's had a real strong year on the power play and we take one penalty in the game, you give yourself a pretty darn good chance. We have to make sure we stay on that, but then you start looking at things like how you clear pucks, your pressure to limit the amount of control zone time they have and your up-ice pressure, and I think we've been doing a good job in those areas."
- - -
Yeo said after Claude Julien was fired by the Boston Bruins last week, he reached out to his friend offering words of encouragement, just as Julien did for Yeo when he was fired from the Minnesota Wild last year.
Little did Yeo know at the time Julien would be unemployed for six days after the Canadiens made the stunning move of firing Michel Therrien and hiring Julien on Tuesday.
Did Yeo perhaps tell Julien he wouldn't stay unemployed for long?
"No, I didn't say that," Yeo said smiling. "But obviously he's a great coach, so I knew somebody would pick him up sooner or later."
- - -
The Blues' projected lineup:
Alexander Steen-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko
Jaden Schwartz-Patrik Berglund-David Perron
Kenny Agostino-Ivan Barbashev-Magnus Paajarvi
Scottie Upshall-Wade Megan-Ryan Reaves
Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo
Carl Gunnarsson-Kevin Shattenkirk
Joel Edmundson-Colton Parayko
Carter Hutton will start in goal; Jake Allen will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Robert Bortuzzo, Dmitrij Jaskin and Nail Yakupov. Paul Stastny (lower body), Robby Fabbri (ACL) and Kyle Brodziak (foot) are out with injuries.
- - -
The Red Wings' projected lineup:
Tomas Tatar-Henrik Zetterberg-Anthony Mantha
Andreas Athanasiou-Frans Nielsen-Thomas Vanek
Dylan Larkin-Darren Helm-Justin Abdelkader
Luke Glendening-Riley Sheahan-Steve Ott
Danny DeKeyser-Mike Green
Brendan Smith-Xavier Ouellet
Niklas Kronwall-Nick Jensen
Petr Mrazek will start in goal; Jared Coreau will be the backup.
Tomas Jurco and Ryan Sproul will be healthy scratches. Gustav Nyquist was suspended six games this afternoon by the NHL Department of Player Safety for a stick infraction Sunday against the Minnesota Wild and will begin serving it tonight. Jimmy Howard (knee) and Jonathan Ericsson (wrist) are out with injuries.