Big divisional games await Blues this weekend; work on the holidays; Steen,
Berglund absent from practice; Blais recalled; Gunnarsson wants back in
ST. LOUIS -- It's been a rather strange first quarter to the schedule for the Blues, who will get a huge test with back-to-back home games beginning Friday night.
The Blues (16-5-1, 33 points), have only played three Central Division opponents through 22 games, and although it won't change much as just three of the next eight games will come against divisional foes, two of them are big matchups at Scottrade Center Friday and Saturday, respectively, against the Nashville Predators and Minnesota Wild.
The Predators, who have won eight of nine, and Wild represent the teams that the Blues played in the Stanley Cup Playoffs last summer, two series that were intense.
The Blues lost to the Predators (13-6-2, 28 points) in six games in the second round after St. Louis eliminated the Wild (10-8-3, 23 points) in five games in a series that was anything but easy despite it only going five games.
But the fact that the Blues are playing just their fourth and fifth divisional games means at some point, they will start to add up.
"It's definitely a weird setup," Blues defenseman Joel Edmundson said. "Usually you start against your own division, but there's just a lot of excitement right now.
"We see what they've done so far this season, but whether we play either of those two teams, it's always a big rivalry. It's always a fun game. They're fast, they're hard to play against. I think all around, it's almost like a playoff atmosphere and we had a good skate today and just looking forward to it."
First up will be Nashville, which reached the Stanley Cup Final last season.
"Now we get into it. We're definitely going to get into it," Blues coach Mike Yeo said of the divisional games. "It's going to be an intense weekend, that's for sure. You look at both teams, they're going to be gunning for us. Both teams are playing very well. Obviously we'll start by concentrating on Nashville and then move on from there. I look at tomorrow, it's going to be a really good test. They're 8-1 their last nine games. I think they're feeling really good after the trade (for Kyle Turris) that they've made.
"... I can't imagine that any of our players have forgotten. For me, it's much more about right now and preparing them for what we're going to face and there's a lot of similarities there. They're very much on top of their game. Defensively, they don't give up much. They're playing really well and offensively, they're as dangerous as we've seen them be. It'll be a really good challenge. ... If you look at a couple of the players they've added, they look pretty good right now. It'll be fun."
The Blues haven't forgotten, and it's always good motivation to have a chip on their shoulder.
"Oh yeah, absolutely," defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "And they're playing well. Whether they ended our season last year or not, they're playing well. Those are always good tests.
"Both of us are playing really well right now. It's a good test for both sides. They're trying to catch us in the standings, so we're going to expect the best game from them. We feel confident with the way we're playing."
A measuring stick? Perhaps.
"I guess you can say that a little bit, a little bit of carryover, but it's a completely different year, a completely different season, different mindset," Blues goalie Jake Allen said. "I think what's done is done, but I think it's just divisional games that are more intense, more or less rivals than anyone else.
"Nashville's quick. They've got four lines that can score, good defense and a good goalie. I think it's going to be our toughest game of the year."
* Blues work on Thanksgiving -- The Blues held a full practice on the holiday before playing their back-to-back games.
They took the day off Wednesday and had a team dinner then, but some will use today as a day to unwind, some to watch football and some to gather with family.
"Not a whole lot for me to be honest," Allen said. "My daughter's American now, so I guess there's a little bit into it. It's more or less a relaxing day for everyone. It's a big holiday. We'll just enjoy the day at home and take it easy.
"I'm not a football guy at all. I never watch football. Maybe we'll take the dogs out for a run or do something like that."
Pietrangelo, whose wife Jayne is from St. Louis, is more into the day, including being a couch potato for the NFL games.
"We love Thanksgiving," he said. "My wife is already at her grandpa's. I missed brunch, but right now, headed to lunch. Guys in here are big holiday guys every Christmas and Thanksgiving. You can feel the energy in here, it's a good time of year."
"I got my in-laws in town," Yeo said. "My son was able to come in for a day, brought a couple teammates with him and my daughter's in town from college. It's nice."
Kyler Yeo is currently playing for the Springfield (Ill.) Junior Blues of the North American Hockey League; he has one assist in eight games.
"He's finding his way," Mike Yeo said of his son. "He started on the IR, so he's trying work his way into being in the lineup consistently.
"I've watched him play online. I haven't been able to go to a game yet."
* Steen, Berglund absent, Blais recalled -- Blues forwards Alexander Steen and Patrik Berglund were the only notable absentees from Thursday's skate.
"Just a maintenance day for 'Steener,'" Yeo said. "We expect him to be in the lineup tomorrow. 'Bergy' came in and wasn't feeling well, so we sent him home."
Forward Sammy Blais was recalled from San Antonio of the American Hockey League to give the Blues an extra forward.
Blais, who was expected to arrive from San Jose Thursday afternoon, where the Rampage were playing on Wednesday, had 13 points (five goals, eight assists) in 11 games with the Rampage.
"We've been able to kind of roll with the 12 forwards here," Yeo said. "We haven't had back-to-back games, but we've got two division games. We wanted to make sure we've got an extra forward here, so if we have to insert somebody ... he's deserving. He's playing really well. We're really happy with what he's done. Bring him in tomorrow and obviously we'll make our lineup decision tomorrow. We're very happy with what he's done. Deserves to be called up.
"Now that doesn't necessarily mean he gets into the lineup tomorrow, but certainly if there's an opening whether we decide to throw him in tomorrow but more likely if there's an opening Saturday against Minnesota, then that's a good possibility."
* Gunnarsson odd-man out -- Blues defenseman Carl Gunnarsson is the odd-man out of the defensive rotation now that Jay Bouwmeester is back and healthy.
The Blues knew they would be in this predicament at some point, and now that there are eight healthy defensemen in the mix (Nate Prosser has played in just one game), it's a crowded group back there, and with rookie Vince Dunn not looking to relinquish his spot any time soon, Gunnarsson, who leads the defensemen in plus-minus at plus-10, is on the outside looking in for the time being.
"I'm not happy about it. It's a little tough," Gunnarsson said. "... The best thing I can do is try to work hard and not be discouraged. Just do whatever I can to get back. It's not going to be easy, I know that. It's been a battle all year. We've been playing well, but it was tough competition coming in. Now we're here.
"I can't complain. I had a couple bad games, too. Overall, I think it's been a good start to the season. ... It's nothing you can do, really. Everyone knew 'Bouw' was coming back and it's all up to the coaches. They make the decision and you've just got to react to that, and I do that, it's up to yourself. Missed one game. I'm trying to get back as quick as possible here."
Yeo said with the internal competition, nobody is budging right now.
"The guys have been doing a good job," Yeo said. "I think looking at last game, everybody factored in on that win. Tomorrow's another game we're going to need everybody. I would say it's a pretty tough lineup to crack, but one thing that we've shown and we're willing to do is we don't just sit still either. We know that guys need opportunities and that pressure is good for our group, that internal pressure and I think that's why guys are playing as well as they are right now.
"I have had experience with it. Every team has had experience with it at certain points. It's something that we'll manage and obviously 'Gunny's played outstanding for us this year, a really, really good hockey player. He's played at a level that's even higher than last year. He finds himself out of the lineup right now, so it's a credit to everybody else. Our message just has to be to him that he's got a great attitude. He always does. He's a pro. We know he wants to get in there. Obviously it's up to us that we manage the group the right way."