By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The Blues will look for their fourth win in five games when they entertain the Minnesota Wild for a brief two-game homestand at 7 p.m. (NBCSN; ESPN 101.1-FM).
St. Louis (6-3-3) will get a rather angry Wild squad, which fell to 4-8-0 on the season after coughing up a 3-0 lead in Dallas Tuesday, losing 6-3 by allowing five third-period goals.
"They're the same they've kind of always been with that team," Blues coach Craig Berube said of the Wild, who have won three straight at Enterprise Center. "They've had a core group of guys there for some time, [Mikko] Koivu, [Ryan] Suter, [Zach] Parise, [Eric] Staal. They're a hard-working team. They do a good job defensively in their own end. Offensively, they do a good job of getting to the net, throwing pucks there.
"We've just got to focus on our game tonight. They played last night, so we've got to take advantage of the travel they had and stuff like that."
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The Blues have talked about tightening things up in the defensive end, and the numbers prove it to be the case.
Entering Wednesday, the Blues are 16th in the league in goals allowed at 3.17, which is a far cry from the 2.68 goals-against last season, which was fifth.
It's been a slow start, which isn't uncommon, and this has been a group in the past that has really tightened things up as the season progresses, and will need to do so moving forward.
"Some games have been good, some games not so good," said defenseman Carl Gunnarsson, who will replace Robert Bortuzzo in the lineup tonight. "We won last game but gave up a lot of chances. It wasn't great, we've got more to work on, but that's certainly one of the area we've got to get better in.
"It's a five-man unit out there. Everyone's got to pitch in. It's not only the d-zone where everything happens. You can take a look at the sequence before, two sequences before, what you do with the puck and how you get back. If we have forwards that play our style, it's easier to play tight for us as d-men. It's the whole thing."
The players know they need to get better. Cutting down the shots against will help. The Blues are 10th in shots against at 30.3 compared to 28.6 last season, which was fourth in the league.
"Yeah, I think so. It feels like we've been kind of rushing a little bit too much in the defensive zone so far," forward Oskar Sundqvist said. "We need to be a little bit more patient, when we're going out on guys, when the second man is coming in and stuff like that. It feels like sometimes we've been rushing it to try to get the puck and they wind up making a couple good plays and get a good scoring chance out of it. We think we have to be a little more patient, but I'm not worried, I think it's going to come."
Berube thinks better puck management in the offensive zone will help neutralize those chances against and quite frankly, what he thinks are too many odd-man rushes.
"I think in my opinion, a lot of it starts in the offensive zone where we're careless with the puck at times," Berube said. "Our forwards are not in good position to check when the puck's turned over or be in position to help our defense out. Last year, I thought defending the rush and defending from the offensive zone, we were really good. A big part of that is our defense being tight and having good gaps, but when our forwards aren't there, it's tough to do that, so we can be a little bit more connected there and just manage the puck a little bit better."
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Sammy Blais looks like will return after missing Sunday's 5-4 overtime win at Detroit and will get the chance to play on the top line with Brayden Schenn and Jaden Schwartz.
"I'm ready," said Blais, who has three goals and two assists in 10 games. "I'm going to play tonight. It feels good enough for me to come back. A good practice yesterday and I felt pretty good in the morning skate too. I'm just happy to be back.
"It's another great opportunity for me. Two great players and I'm excited to be playing with these two tonight."
Blais missed the game against Los Angeles last Thursday, returned to play at Boston Saturday but it was evident he wasn't ready.
"In Boston, it was pretty sore but today it feels a lot better and just happy to be back and help my team win tonight," Blais said. "It's hockey, so every guy gets injured, gets banged up and I'm just happy to be back in the lineup."
Alexander Steen (lower body) will be a game-time decision after missing practice Tuesday and leaving the win over the Red Wings in the third period.
Berube said both Steen and Blais are game-time decisions.
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Schenn, who has five points (four goals, one assist) the past four games, will play in his 600th NHL game.
Blues right wing David Perron has seven points (three goals, four assists) the past five games and needs two assists for 300 in the NHL.
Blues center Ryan O'Reilly has five points (two goals, three assists) the past three games, including his second four-point game of the season Sunday.
Schwartz has eight points (one goal, seven assists) the past eight games.
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The Blues' projected lineup:
Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-Sammy Blais
Zach Sanford-Ryan O'Reilly-David Perron
Alexander Steen-Tyler Bozak-Robert Thomas
Mackenzie MacEachern-Ivan Barbashev-Oskar Sundqvist
Colton Parayko-Alex Pietrangelo
Jay Bouwmeester-Justin Faulk
Carl Gunnarsson-Vince Dunn
Jordan Binnington will start in goal; Jake Allen will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Robert Bortuzzo and Robby Fabbri. Vladimir Tarasenko (shoulder) is out for a minimum of five months.
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The Wild's projected lineup:
Jason Zucker-Eric Staal-Mats Zuccarello
Zach Parise-Joel Eriksson Ek-Luke Kunin
Marcus Foligno-Mikko Koivu-Ryan Hartman
Jordan Greenway-Victor Rask-Ryan Donato
Ryan Suter-Jared Spurgeon
Jonas Brodin-Matt Dumba
Carson Soucy-Brad Hunt
Devan Dubnyk is expected to start in goal; Alex Stalock will be the the backup.
The healthy scratch is expected to be Nick Seeler. Kevin Fiala (lower body) and Greg Pateryn (core) are out.
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