GDB 63.0: FIRST PLACE BLUES AND PAAJARVI TO OKC.

The St. Louis Blues are the best defensive team in hockey. They’ve allowed 126 goals in 63 games, but in 2012 they’ve been ridiculously stingy. The Blues are 18-5-2 in their 25 games this calender year. In the seven losses/OT games they surrendered 20 goals, but in their 18 wins they allowed a mind-blowing 20 goals.

Seriously, 20 goals against in 18 games. They’ve allowed 40 goals in their last 25.

The Oilers allowed 40 in their last 12 and they went 6-5-1. The Blues aren’t flashy, and they don’t score many goals, 22nd in GF, but they win A LOT.

Ken Hitchcock has convinced his young players to buy into his system, and it is working exceptionally well. But why did the players suddenly buy in? TJ Oshie explained what changed.

"Since I’ve been here this is the first time we’ve truly bought into the system. We did for stretches in the past, but never for this long. I think guys just got fed up with trying to do it on our own. Right now we are more about the team than individuals, and we’ve had success and it’s been fun."

Ultimately it is up to the players if they are going to be successful. It helps when you have a coach with Hitchcock’s knowledge, but even Hitchcock pointed out most of the success is because of the players. When he was hired, he had some lengthy chats with captain, David Backes, outlining what he expected from the players. "I feel the most important conversations in the dressing room happen after the coach is gone. The players need to be on the same page as one another, and they have to agree to play together," Hitchcock said when talking about why the Blues are having so much success.

The Blues forwards are big and strong, but Hitchcock doesn’t allow them to run and gun. The Oilers have had much more success in games where they can free wheel, but they’d struggled mightily against tight-checking, defensive teams, and they recognize that has to change.

"Against teams that want to run and gun we seem very comfortable, said Shawn Horcoff. "Against team that are stingy defensively we try to create too much, and that results in some odd man rushes and other areas that we have struggled in this year. We need to learn how to play in those games, because those are the types of games, and those are the type of teams we are going to have to beat to get in the playoffs and be successful in the playoffs."

Tonight will be a great test for the Oilers to see if they have the discipline to make the Blues go 200 feet to create offence, rather than turn the puck over in the neutral zone or give up odd man rushes.

LINEUP 

Magnus Paajarvi is going back to OKC. The Oilers want him to play down the stretch in OKC and into the playoffs. He wasn’t going to get top-six minutes up here, so they obviously feel he’d be better served in the AHL.

Nick Schultz will be paired with Ryan Whitney, and Corey Potter will skate with Cam Barker. Devan Dubnyk gets the start.

Nikolai Khabibulin will be ready to play sometime this weekend, maybe as early as Friday.

Hall – Nugent-Hopkins – Hemsky
Smyth – Gagner – Eberle
Eager – Horcoff – Jones
Hordichuk – Belanger – Petrell

Smid – Petry
Whitney – Schultz
Barker – Potter

Dubnyk

QUICK HITS

  • Brian Elliott might be the comeback player of the year. He is 20-7-2 with a mind-blowing 1.65 GAA and .937 SV% with the Blues. Last year he was arguably the worst NHL goalie with a .893 SV% and an ugly .3.33 GAA. I’m not sure anyone can explain his incredible turnaround, but he’s having an excellent season.
     
  • The Blues really miss Alex Steen, Matt D’Agostini and Kris Russell. All three are out with concussions, and their return dates are unknown. If they get those three back, the Blues could be very dangerous come playoff time.
     
  • The Oilers’ PP is first in the NHL at 21.8% and they are 3rd in PP goals with 48. Once this team learns to cut down on their EV goals against they should be very competitive.

GAME DAY PREDICTION: The Oilers are playing well, and they’ve got some confidence, but the Blues are a bad match up. I’ll go against the grain and pick the Oilers to win 4-2.

OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: Eberle pots a pair and becomes the 8th 30-goal man in the NHL. Wanye instantly shaves his head and sends a box full of hair to Eberle.

NOT-SO-OBVIOUS GAME DAY PREDICTION: After spending all day yesterday saying they hate TSN, Oiler fans will be pumped to know that tonight’s game will be shown right from the opening faceoff. Most won’t realize that the NHL schedule maker is more at fault than TSN. They knew that TSN had a national exclusive deal on Wednesday nights yet they still scheduled the game in Edmonton. TSN shouldn’t be taking flack on this, the NHL should.