After barely surviving and coming out with a big fat "W" in Chicago Tuesday night, the Ducks trudge along and move onto the next level of hell in what we also know as the Central Division--St. Louis, Missouri. Both teams are coming off close wins--the Anaheim Ducks barely taking the game away from Chicago Blackhawks and the St. Louis Blues coming away with an overtime win in a nailbiter against the Dallas Stars.
The last time the two teams faced off was in Honda Center and the Ducks left the Blues disheveled and singin' the blues in a 0-3 shutout. St. Louis was playing the second of a back-to-back when they arrived at their dreaded destination, the Honda Center (where they haven't won since 2009). Frederik Andersen came out with his first NHL shutout as well as number 25 of 30 games first played. While the Blues were thoroughly decimated by the Ducks, you can bet that this next game will be an entirely different hockey game. The Scottrade Center is not an easy house in which to play so the Ducks will have to transfer their Chicago-mindset and be prepared to play a rough-and-tough game.
As stated before, the Blues are coming off an OT win, where Vladmir Tarasenko lifted his team over the Dallas Stars with his OT winner and hattrick. St. Louis Captain David Backes left during the first period with an upper body injury after taking a hit from Dallas Stars' Trevor Daley. He is listed as day-to-day. Center Paul Stastny (with a wrist injury) has resumed skating with the team but the date of his return still remains questionable.
One down, three more to go after Devante Smith-Pelly's shorthanded goal won the game against Chicago. With Lovejoy out of the line-up, we saw Bruce Boudreau draw these defensive pairings:
Cam Fowler - Clayton Stoner
Hampus Lindholm - Francois Beauchemin
Sami Vatanen - Mark Fistric
While Dany Heatley did make his debut in the last game against the Blackhawks, the Ducks are still far away from getting back Ben Lovejoy, Pat Maroon, and Bryan Allen.
What Can We Learn From This Game?:
We all knew that this roadtrip would be a tough test for the Ducks. It would be a moment in season to see how the Anaheim club stacks up against the best in the West.
The Ducks are looking pretty good when it comes to the possession game early on this season. With the exception of teetering off in the third period, the Ducks looked all around solid against the high flying Chicago Blackhawks.
Looking forward to the roadtrip out to the Central Division, the biggest area of concern for the Ducks was undoubtedly on the blue line. How would the Ducks hold up without the Fowler-Lovejoy pairing, and how would Boudreau shuffle the defensive pairings? Unfortunately, the Ducks were to receive the answers to those questions on this roadtrip. But fortunately, as shown by the game in Chicago, the Fowler-Stoner/ Lindholm-Beauchemin/ Vatanen-Fistric lineup worked against one of the most offensive teams in the league. Backed up by a beautiful showing of John Gibson, the Ducks defense corps were able to keep up and hold the Hawks off. Barely, but all the same, they kept the Hawks off the board.
As the Ducks continue to move forward into St. Louis, they will have to learn to adjust to the hard-hitting and relentlessly rough style of the play for which the Blues are well known. Like the Blackhawks, the Blues are also one of the league's top puck-possessing teams. The Ducks cannot afford to have an "off" night when it comes to clearing their own zone and allowing defensive zone turnovers. The question to be answered on this roadtrip is whether the recent performances of rather impressive puck possession games are for real--or not. Scottrade Center stands to be a good test.
And honestly, this is a good game to gauge where exactly stats-ordained "middle of the pack" Blues stands. According to the numbers, the Blues are mid-pack in the Central Division, holding a 4-3-1 record thus far. We all know that the Blues are a far superior team than those numbers dictate. Sure, they are currently nursing a couple injuries with Stastny and now Backes on the shelf. They have all the components, but how good is this team altogether really?
Do I dare say the "s" word before this game? I mean--the stars are all aligned for it....Andersen had posted his first one the last time the Ducks played the Blues. And Gibson is just coming in from Chicago after pulling one there (a real one, this time, not just a 17 save performance). Not much of a "fearless" prediction, but one can hope for it in the Ducks' case.