Most sports fans in Joplin will have their televisions set to Monday Night Football this evening, but there’s another game worth watching.
Two of the biggest surprises in the National Hockey League will meet tonight when the St. Louis Blues host the Los Angeles Kings at Scottrade Center in St. Louis. The division leaders have kept up with hot starts and sit tied atop the Western Conference with 19 points each. St. Louis, L.A. and the Tampa Bay Lightning are tied for the overall league lead in points.
The Blues and Kings were both expected to be part of their respective divisions’ playoff races, but few picked either team to pace the entire league. Entering Sunday, the Kings had the NHL’s best goal differential at plus-19 and the Blues the league’s fourth-best at plus-12.
While the Blues continue to play well despite losing multiple key contributors to injury, Los Angles has not been completely healthy, either. In particular, the Kings have missed Jeff Carter, who has not played since Oct. 18 after an ankle injury. Carter, one of the league’s better centers, is expected to miss nearly two months.
Despite still missing Robby Fabbri, Zach Sanford, Patrik Berglund and Jay Bouwmeester, the Blues this past week breezed past the Calgary Flames, Carolina Hurricanes and Columbus Blue Jackets by a combined score of 11-4 to stretch an active points streak to six games. St. Louis has stuck to the same formula of combining a balanced offensive attack with stellar play in goal to continue its early season success, pushing its record to 9-2-1.
In the three wins last week, 10 different Blues registered goals, including three from the third or fourth line. Defensemen Alex Pietrangelo and Joel Edmundson combined for three of the team’s 11 goals in the three games, continuing a trend of reliable offense from the blue line.
The Blues seemed to respond to a line shakeup coach Mike Yeo put in place before the Oct. 25 game against the Flames. Yeo dropped dangerous wingers Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz from the first line to the second, where they are now centered by Brayden Schenn. That bumped Alexander Steen and Vladimir Sobotka to the top line with Paul Stastny. The change seemed to spark an already productive offense, deepening the attack and forcing opponents to deal with two lines capable of scoring at any time.
St. Louis’ offense has been swarming since the change, playing with a front-of-the-net presence not yet seen before this season. Not including empty-netters, six of the Blues last 10 goals have come on rebounds or deflections.
It’s worth pointing out that the Blues have done all this despite having played only four games at home so far. St. Louis is also 6-0 on three back-to-backs on the young season.
Jordan Larimore is a former sports reporter and designer and now covers business for the Globe. He can be reached at Media and on Twitter at @LarimoreJG.
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