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Morning Skate: Blues

The Griffins and Rivermen (h/t to WiiM reader Robocop for the names) meet for the fourth time this season, with the Wings holding a 2-1 series lead. Both teams have won their home games, and last time the Wings were in St Louis they got off to a slow start that they could not recover from (sound familiar), losing 4-3 two days before Christmas. The Wings are coming off a game in which "uninspired" is probably the nicest thing you can say about their play, losing 4-1 to the Crosby-less Penguins. Tonight's game caps off a 7-game road trip (that had 1 home game sandwiched in there), before the Wings head home to play the Hawks and Devils at home to end the first half of the season.

The Blues have alternated wins and losses in their last 4 games, and they just concluded a west coast trip of their own that saw them go 1-2. 2011 has not been kind to the Blues, who have gone 2-5-1 since the calendar turned, slipping down to 11th in the Western Conference.

St. Louis Game Time is your SB Nation Blues website.

Head on past the jump for the bullets and prediction form.

  • After Joey MacDonald held down the fort for the last 2+ games, Jimmy Howard returns to the Wing net tonight. Outside of a brilliant game against Vancouver a couple of weeks ago, Jimmy has struggled, allowing at least 4 goals in his last 2 starts (not including the game he got injured). Given the injuries the Wings are dealing with, a healthy and effective Howard is crucial to them getting 2 points.
  • Speaking of injuries, there's nothing new to report on the Wings' front minus the news that Howard is back. Pavel Datsyuk and Dan Cleary are both progressing as expected, and with the All-Star break coming up, that means 1 more week of playing with a depleted lineup.
  • The Blues received some good news of their own with their injuries with the return of T.J. Oshie to their lineup against the Kings. He's one of their best players, and his return should bolster an offense that currently sits 23rd in the NHL in goals for. Conversely, the Wings are second, and have scored 15 goals in 3 games against St Louis, 14 against Jaroslav Halak and 1 empty-netter.
  • Defensively, the Blues are solid, having given up 125 goals in 45 games, good for 13th in the NHL. Their game is predicated more on preventing the other team from scoring than it is on out-scoring the opponent (you know what I mean), so the Wings are going to have to do a much better job at creating traffic in front of Halak and pouncing on second and third chances.
  • With the return of Oshie, the Blues have another strong offensive contributor. They are led in scoring by David Backes (who I can't stand both because he's a Blue and because he was such a thorn in the Canadians' side in the Olympics), but a guy to watch is Alexander Steen, who is having a quietly good season. He's their leading goal-scorer with 15 goals, with 5 of them standing up as game-winners. If it's close late in the game, the Wings would be wise to be aware when #20 in Blue is on the ice. 
  • Blues-Wings is one of those rivalries that only those involved realize how hated it is: it's not as sexy as Penguins-Capitals, doesn't have the history of Maple Leafs-Canadiens, and wasn't born out of a single incident like Wings-Avs. But these two teams (and especially the fans) really dislike each other. I'm setting the over/under on the number of "F*** Detroit"s we see at SLGT at 50.
  • Maybe a Blues fan can help me out, but I was wondering how that whole "Jay McClement for Selke" thing was going. I checked his stats and it appears he's a -12; now, I'm not a big proponent of +/- as the be all-end all of stats for determining defensive prowess, but something tells me a guy who is on the ice for 12 more even-strength goals against than for is probably not doing his job very well. Of course, I could be wrong.
  • Also, I don't want to get in to the injuries too much, because our good friends to the south (well, south of me, anyway) have had to deal with them all year. I'm much to classy to complain about how the Wings are missing 2/3 of their top line, their leading goal scorer, their third line center and one of their top-pair defenseman, not to mention the 2 games they had to play with their third and fourth-string goalies dressed. Nope, no complaining here at all.
  • Prediction time: All jokes aside, another effort like what we saw against the Penguins will not be good enough against a hungry Blues team. I'm going to go out on a crazy limb and say the Wings fall behind 2-0 at some point in the game for the 9 millionth time in a row, but they find a way to eke out a 4-3 victory. Henrik Zetterberg is your player of the game when he notches 2 goals.
  • Around the League: The Rangers smoked the Leafs 7-0 behind 4 goals from Marian Gaborik; the scary part is that Brett Lebda didn't play. Imagine how bad the score would have been then? The Blue Jackets tied the game late against the Panthers and then won in OT, a game that about 58 people saw live.