Sunday, March 12, 2017


Showdown with Kings on deck with Blues trying to extend winning streak to 
five; faceoff success without Stastny; Schwartz playing well; bucking the trend

ST. LOUIS -- Three points separate the two teams. 

They butt heads on Monday. 

Something's got to give.

For the Blues (35-27-5) and Los Angeles Kings (33-28-6), it's simple: a Blues victory in regulation puts them five ahead in the race for the second wild card in the Western Conference. A Kings victory in regulation tightens the screws down to a single solitary point.

There's of course the proverbial three-point game that could make it four with a Blues win or two with a Kings win, but regardless, Monday's tile at Staples Center (9 p.m.; FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM) adds plenty of zest to the start of a five-game, 10-day trip for the Blues.

"This California trip will be very important for us," said Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko. "Even if we look at point-wise, it's so simple, we need these points. Especially with tough opponents it's going to build our confidence. We know how to play successful against those teams, great teams, so it will be really interesting games."

The Blues enter play on a four-game winning streak, and aside from the second wild card, they can still shoot for third place in the Central Division because they trail the Nashville Predators by two points with a game in hand and are only four points behind the Edmonton Oilers for the first wild card.

But first thing's first: trying to distance themselves from the Kings.

"It's a great challenge for us," said Blues coach Mike Yeo, whose squad is 1-1-0 against the Kings this season with each team winning on home ice. "We'll continue to do what we've been doing, and our focus will be on LA right now, but this is obviously a very key point of our season right now.

"I would say they're putting a lot of importance and emphasis on it, so I think if we want a good chance to win, we better too. As competitors, those are fun hockey games to play. That's what you want. You want to be involved in those, you want to go out there and be a gamer and rise to the level your teammates need you to play at and obviously it's a lot of fun to come out on top."

The trip also includes games against the Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks in California before shifting to Arizona to play the Coyotes before finishing in Denver against the Colorado Avalanche.

"It's tough, especially going on the West Coast, had success out there last time," said goalie Carter Hutton, who made 20 saves in a 4-3 victory over the New York Islanders on Saturday. "Just have to be simple, playing our game, especially on the road. I think we've found that niche on the road, we're a tough road team to play against. We have to keep on it. 

"Sometimes it's hard not to look at the big picture. But we've got to keep it individual, sometimes even break it down period by period. If we keep doing what we're doing, we're going to have success."

The Blues' last California swing netted them wins against the Ducks and Sharks and a loss to the Kings. They want to start this one off on the right foot.

"We've got to bank points," left wing Alexander Steen said. "Doesn't matter how we do it, we've just got to get points."

The Blues control their own destiny, and with six of their remaining 15 games against the Coyotes and Avalanche and only four of 15 against teams in a playoff position, the Blues know it's a good spot to be in as long as they take advantage of it.

"It's probably goal of every team to play whole season to not look on other teams in the season," Tarasenko said. "It's what we try to do, focus on our own game and improve every day."

* Faceoff prowess -- Missing Paul Stastny was not only bad news Saturday for the Blues because of his ability to create and help set the tone for the top line, but it also took away the Blues' best faceoff specialist.

Stastny entered Saturday winning 55.29 percent of his draws and is on the ice in most of the important ones. Missing him could have been catastrophic, especially late trying to protect a one-goal lead.

But the Blues came out and put up their season-best, winning 37 of 57 draws, or 65 percent, including Patrik Berglund winning 14 of 19 (74 percent) and Kyle Brodziak winning 10 of 13 (77 percent).

I don't have all the numbers, but every one of our guys at key points tonight won huge faceoffs," Yeo said after the win. "It was not just a matter of the faceoff wins, but the importance of a lot of those wins."

* Schwartz playing hard -- Jaden Schwartz may not be slamming pucks into the back of the net with any sort of regularity lately, but the Blues' left wing is still contributing.

Forget the fact that Schwartz has six assists the past six games and that he only has one goal in the past 21 and two in the past 33, but he's getting chances and still playing the all-around game Yeo is looking for and making an impact in the games.

"He's doing a ton," Yeo said. "It's almost mind-boggling that he hasn't scored lately, but who cares because he's doing so many great things to help us win. There's so many parts of his game that if you go back and you watch the tape that show up, it's all the little things that winners do. What I really respect is obviously he's gone through a tough goal stretch, but there is no cheat to his game and because of that, he's given us a great chance to win hockey games right now."

Schwartz does have 11 assists in his past 12 games.

"He's easy to play with," Steen said of Schwartz. "He's energetic, he reads the play well, he's easy to read off of and quite frankly, it was a treat playing with him (Saturday)."

* Roller coaster ride continues -- To say the Blues have been hot and cold is understating it.

When Yeo took over, they alternated a win and loss to start, but since have won six, lost five and now won four straight.

What gives?

"I don't know if I've seen it like this," Hutton said. "It's something we want to get away from. I said it this morning, some of those losses we had we thought we were good and ran into good goaltending and things like that. It's definitely a trend we want to get away from. We're OK with the win streaks but the losing streaks can't happen. We want to be a good team and try not to lose two in a row is kind of the mindset we have to have down the stretch here if we want to be pushing for this and be a contender when the playoff start."

* Stastny, Parayko status -- Along with Stastny, the Blues were without defenseman Colton Parayko (undisclosed) on Saturday, but Yeo sounded optimistic both could play Monday.

"There is a chance, yes, so I would say there is a chance for (Parayko), there is a chance for 'Stas,'" Yeo said.

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