Adversity is bringing out the best in the St. Louis Blues.
Faced with their toughest stretch of the 2016-17 schedule, the Blues are playing their best hockey of the season.
St. Louis’ game against the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday at Gila River Arena will represent its sixth in nine days, with a pair of back-to-back sets included. The Blues have played six of their eight March games on the road and yet they are 6-2-0 this month.
That run has helped St. Louis climb back into a solid playoff position as the Western Conference’s final wild-card team. The Blues lead Los Angeles by four points for that spot, but they are also just two points behind third-place Nashville in the Central Division.
“For some guys, probably it’s taxing,” forward Scottie Upshall told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch when discussing the team’s brutal schedule. “It’s hard on the top players, but it’s a chance for young players. We can’t pull on the (Vladimir) Tarasenkos, the (Alex) Steens, the (Alex) Pietrangelos, (Jay) Bouwmeesters every night.”
The Blues got a goal from center Zach Sanford, who came from Washington in a trade-deadline deal for defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk. They also got 19 saves from backup goalie Carter Hutton to complete a three-game season sweep of the San Jose Sharks on Thursday, their sixth consecutive win on the back half of back-to-back games.
“For me, the biggest thing was, we asked for a response and we got it,” coach Mike Yeo said in reference to a 2-1 loss in Anaheim on Wednesday. “It was a close game, but we weren’t really happy with the way things went. We know we left something on the table. We asked for a response and the guys more than delivered.”
St. Louis’ special teams have been terrific this season. The Blues’ power play is ranked fourth in the NHL (22.4 percent) and the penalty-killing unit is sixth (84.3).
The goaltending has been just as solid this month. Starter Jake Allen has a .952 save percentage in five March games and Hutton has a .939 save percentage in three March contests. Allen is expected to start against the Coyotes.
Blues left winger Dmitrij Jaskin (upper body) and center Jori Lehtera (upper body) are both considered day to day.
For the Coyotes, captain Shane Doan (lower body), defenseman Kevin Connauton (upper body) and center Alexander Burmistrov (concussion) are all considered day to day. Doan has not been ruled out, but is doubtful to play against the Blues after suffering his injury late in the second period of Thursday’s loss to Detroit.
Center Brad Richardson (broken right tibia and fibula) is on injured reserve.
Coach Dave Tippett has not decided whether Mike Smith or Louis Domingue will start in goal after the former struggled in a 5-4 shootout loss to Detroit on Thursday that ended Arizona’s three-game winning streak.
While the Coyotes will not make the playoffs, Tippett is hoping to see continued growth from his young team, which has a chance to pass several clubs and climb out of the 29th spot in the NHL standings.
“You want to do as well as you can, and climbing in the standings is a barometer of how you play,” Tippett said. “We want our young guys to push right to the end. We want our veteran guys to push right to the end. You’ve got a lot of players in that room playing for contracts, too, so there’s a lot at stake for individuals.”