Blues-Wild Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated November 18, 2011
Hired less than two weeks ago, St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock is off to the best five-game start in team history. Continuing that success, however, could prove difficult against the Northwest Division-leading Minnesota Wild. The Blues try for a season-best fourth consecutive victory Saturday night against the Wild, who look to win five straight at home for the first time in more than three and a half years. St. Louis (10-7-1) seems to have turned its season around under Hitchcock, who replaced the fired Davis Payne. The Blues have gone 4-0-1 under their new coach while outscoring opponents 14-4, surrendering a combined two goals in the wins. As impressive as the change of fortune has been, St. Louis' run has come at home. The Blues have dropped three straight on the road and six of nine there this season. St. Louis has converted two of 29 power-play opportunities as the visiting team - 6.9 percent, the lowest mark in the league. "We did a number and a job we're supposed to do, and we did it at home," Hitchcock said. "Now we've got to take it on the road. It's whether we can take this same type of intensity and effort onto the road. That's the next challenge facing us." The Blues could struggle to generate offense against the Wild (11-5-3), who have given up two goals during their four-game home winning streak - killing off all 14 of their opponents' power plays. Minnesota, 6-2-1 at the Xcel Energy Center this season, hasn't won five straight there since closing 2007-08 with six home wins in a row. After taking three of five on a grueling trip, the Wild returned home and defeated Colorado 1-0 on Thursday. Devin Setoguchi scored with 2:31 remaining while Niklas Backstrom made 27 saves for Minnesota, 8-2-0 in its last 10. "Mentally it was very tough," Backstrom said of playing Thursday after the five-game, eight-day road swing. "The way we're playing defense at the moment is good. For sure we want to do better, but the guys are really bearing down and helping each other out there and that's a big part of our game." Backstrom has gone 6-2-0 with a 2.00 goals-against average and one shutout at home against St. Louis. The Wild have taken five of six from the Blues, beating them 2-1 on Nov. 5 behind 30 saves from Josh Harding in the most recent meeting. Harding has gone 5-2-0 with a 1.68 GAA in nine games against St. Louis. Halak started opposite Harding and dropped to 0-2-2 with a 3.05 GAA against Minnesota. He has gone 0-5-0 with a 3.71 GAA on the road this season. St. Louis could give the nod to Brian Elliott, 3-1-0 with a shutout and a 1.51 GAA in four road starts. In his only career appearance versus the Wild, he stopped nine of 12 shots and was lifted in the first period of Ottawa's 5-3 defeat Feb. 14, 2009. Blues forward Chris Stewart will serve the second game of a three-game suspension for a hit on Detroit's Niklas Kronwall on Tuesday. Wild defenseman Marek Zidlicky is likely to miss a second consecutive game and left wing Guillaume Latendresse remains out, but defenseman Marco Scandella could return following a three-game absence. All three players are dealing with concussions.
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