The St. Louis Blues will try to avoid falling too far early in the Western Conference playoff race during their five-game westward road trip that begins Thursday night in Edmonton.
The Blues come into this game against the Oilers at Rogers Place on the heels of a 1-0 overtime victory over Nashville on Monday. That was just their third victory in 11 games (3-7-1), but it kept them within range of the final wild-card standings in the early going.
“I think we’re very fortunate to be where we’re at in the standings,” Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo said. “Obviously we’re unhappy with our play and where we’re at. But to be three, four, five points out of a playoff spot is something we’ve noticed.
“And it’s going to be a grind all the way in here, but it’s a challenge we’re up for.”
Myriad factors contributed to the Blues’ slow start, but poor team defense and leaky goaltending top the list. They are allowing 3.72 goals per game, which is on pace to be the fifth-worst average in franchise history.
“We’ve talked about it obviously quite a bit,” captain Ryan O’Reilly told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “It’s no secret, we’re not defending the way we want to. The Blues, in general, since I’ve been in the league, and even before that, have always defended well and been hard to play against. And that’s what we’re searching for. We’re missing that right now.”
The Blues tightened up defensively in their last two games, the shutout against the Predators and a 3-2 overtime loss to the Colorado Avalanche the day before.
St. Louis will have its hands full against the explosive Oilers, who rank among the NHL team scoring leaders with 3.63 goals per game. Back on Oct. 22, the Blues blanked the Oilers 2-0 in Edmonton with Jordan Binnington earning a 23-save shutout.
But Edmonton has won seven of its last 10 (7-3-0) — and the Oilers scored four or more goals in each of those victories.
They are coming off a 6-3 win at Nashville on Tuesday, featuring big offensive games by the forward line of Leon Draisaitl (two goals, three assists), Zach Hyman (three goals, one assist) and Connor McDavid (goal, three assists).
That was Hyman’s first career hat trick.
“Great game tonight (for Hyman), hounding it and obviously being strong as a bull on it as always, as we all know him, so great game from him,” Draisaitl said. “It’s great to see him get three goals. He’s such a big part of our team, does so many little things well. It’s always great to see guys like that get rewarded for their work.”
Draisaitl has eight goals and 10 assists in his last eight games, scoring multiple points in six of the eight.
“I think most importantly, (Draisaitl’s) more worried about us playing the game the right way and finding two points,” Oilers coach Jay Woodcroft said. “I thought that line was very good tonight. The personal success I know for Leon Draisaitl comes second to winning.”
McDavid has also been torrid lately with 10 goals and 13 assists in his last nine contests. He leads the NHL in scoring with 59 points and Draisaitl is second with 51.
The Blues could get an offensive lift from Pavel Buchnevich, who is expected back after recovering from a lower-body injury.
–Field Level Media