Welcome back, everyone! It's been a day shy of three weeks since the last time we saw our black and gold clad heroes take to the ice in a 5-2 victory over the Nashville Predators. Since then, seven of our boys took a trip over to Russia to play in some big tournament or something, with five of them bringing home some hardware.
The most notable of our medal winners was none other than Teemu Selanne. At 43 years old and playing in his sixth Olympics (he's been an Olympian longer than I've been alive), the Greatest Eight showed the world that he's still got it by leading Team Finland to a bronze medal, and earned the title of tournament MVP in the process. Hopefully his fantastic play will continue now that he's back stateside.
Jonas Hiller was one of two Ducks who returned to Anaheim empty handed, but that fact should be overshadowed by his 0.67 GAA and a .971 save percentage against the world's best, which, needless to say, is freaking outstanding. Not a bad confidence booster for our goalie to come home with.
On the other hand, tonight's opponent, the St. Louis Blues, sent nine of their guys to Sochi, with two golds and two silvers coming back with them. One of these players is none other than self-proclaimed American non-hero T.J. Oshie.
Keys to the Game: St. Louis is a solid puck possession team, currently sitting just inside the top 10 among NHL teams in Corsi For percentage. The Ducks, as we've unfortunately been witness to on occasion, are not as strong. This difference has been shown in both matchups this year, with the Blues putting more pucks on net by counts of 28-22 and 36-21. If it wasn't for rookie Frederik Andersen turning away 94% of those shots in both outings combined, St. Louis may very well have been the team looking for the season sweep tonight. I pointed this out at the beginning of the calendar year, but on paper, the Blues are absolutely unreal on both sides of the puck, further reinforcing the fact that their possessions have to be disrupted as much as possible.
These are four solid arguments to the notion that, with games in hand, St. Louis could be the top team in the NHL. As you can see, they don't get scored on too often, and they're pretty good at putting the biscuit in the basket, which usually tends to be the end result from quality possession of the puck. With that being said, how is a painfully obvious way that Anaheim can combat this? Hold on to the puck, keep those failed clearing attempts we've seen a handful of times to a minimum, and outshoot St. Louis for once.
What Can We Learn From This Game: There's a good amount of backlash towards NHL players being permitted to compete in the Olympics, due to injuries that can be sustained among other reasons. This should be a good game for those naysayers to watch, since there will be 16 players between the two teams who recently returned to the United States. If nobody is inactive with jet lag tonight, then maybe this matchup can be a good example of why it's not so bad to continue to allow the best hockey players in the world to represent their home countries in future Olympic games.
Fearless Prediction: I figured I'd switch it up a little bit here and make this a double-sided prediction. A buddy of mine from the dorm days, a St. Louis area native, and goaltender for the University of Missouri hockey team, Stephen Williams gives his two cents on the game from the perspective of a Blues fan:
The Ducks have given the Blues a rough go this year. It's either two or three games now that the Blues haven't been able to get much done against Anaheim. The Blues have had a tough time playing any West Coast team close this year, actually. It seems to be a scoring issue, especially since the Blues are a super physical and gritty team. Players like Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf have worked wonders on our goaltenders and our scorers such as Vladimir Tarasenko, Oshie and Alexander Steen haven't been able to beat Andersen. The Olympic break is something that could help or hurt either team, obviously. The jet lag is a major issue, as the US and Canadian players have only been back a few days. Players like Jaroslav Halak and Tarasenko have been back for almost a week now, and are reportedly still jet lagged from Sochi. I think if the Blues are going to beat the Ducks, it will have to be a highly defensive game and our scoring players are going to have to step up. It will be a hard fought battle between the two teams, with solid goaltending on either end. The game will be won with hard work in either offensive zone, not many pretty plays. Halak (or Brian Elliott) will need to play strong early and often. Look for goals from either Schwartz, Steen or Tarasenko.
Reinforcing some of Steve's points, I'm going to go ahead and say that this will end up being a one goal game, with that aforementioned jet lag forcing one of the coaches to wake up one of their Olympians after they doze off on the bench.
Stay tuned here for updates throughout the day (lineup news, etc.) and start commenting. We'll have a quick stats pack shortly before puck drop for the in-game comments to flow.