ST. LOUIS — Special teams figure to be a factor as the St. Louis Blues kick off a five-game homestand against the Minnesota Wild on Saturday night in a game between two hot teams.
The Blues enter the matchup with 247 penalty minutes, fourth most in the NHL. St. Louis had four penalties in the first period of its 4-3 loss to the Washington Capitals on Wednesday, which snapped its four-game winning streak.
The extended penalty kill time took a toll on the Blues physically and made it impossible to get into an offensive rhythm, as St. Louis managed a season-low two shots in the first period at Washington.
"It’s tough when you take I think four in the first," Blues forward Robby Fabbri told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "A lot of our best players are on the PK and then playing five-on-five as well. It was a little bit of a slow start, which kind of killed us at the beginning and we picked it up a little too late."
The Blues’ saving grace is that they are third in the NHL on the penalty kill at 88.1 percent. However, St. Louis has been short-handed 34 more times than Carolina and San Jose, the top two penalty kill teams.
"That’s a discipline problem," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock told the Post-Dispatch. "It’s not role players that are doing it. We’re having the same people hurt us, taking penalties. It puts it in our hands; we’ll have to do something."
The question is, can the Wild take advantage? Minnesota was just 9 of 57 (15.8 percent) on the power play this season, 20th overall in the NHL, entering its Friday night game against Pittsburgh. But the Wild scored three times with the man advantage in a 6-2 win over the Penguins.
"I hope it’s something we can improve on and keep working at," Wild left winger Zach Parise told NHL.com. "That’s such a big part of the game for us. Again, when you can get one on the power play, it’s hard to score five-on-five, so when you can get one on the power play, it’s amazing what it does for the team and the guys as individuals."
Kicking off a five-game road trip, Minnesota enters the game a winner of its last two after beating Winnipeg and Pittsburgh at home.
Parise and defenseman Jonas Brodin each have two goals in the Wild’s last two games. The Wild’s offense has come alive, scoring nine goals during that stretch after scoring just nine goals in their previous six games.
"He’s skating extremely well, I think, and he’s just brimming with confidence right now," Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said of Brodin to NHL.com. "He’s got a lot of ability and his shot is a rocket."
Blues right winger Vladimir Tarasenko leads the team with nine goals and is coming off a two-goal performance at Washington.
St. Louis could be getting healthier as left winger Alexander Steen skated with the team on Friday for the first time since suffering a non-concussion-related upper body injury on Nov. 15 against Buffalo. Steen is not expected to play against the Wild.