What: Detroit Red Wings at St. Louis Blues
When: 8 p.m. tonight
Where: Scottrade Center, St. Louis, Missouri
TV: Fox Sports Detroit
Records (2011-12): The Red Wings were 48-28-6 last season; The Blues were 49-22-11
Coaches: Mike Babcock is 421-216-19-83 in his tenth season as a head caoch, and 352-154-68 in his eighth season with the Red Wings. Ken Hitchcock is 576-365-88-81 in his 16th season as a head coach, and 43-15-11 in his second season with the Blues.
Season series: The Red Wings went 4-2 against the Blues last season, including a 3-2 shootout win in St. Louis in the last meeting.
Red Wings update: The Red Wings enter the shortened regular season without Nicklas Lidstrom, who retired in May. Henrik Zetterberg is now the team captain, which he was named Tuesday. He will be skating with Pavel Datsyuk and rookie Damien Brunner, who was the top scorer in the Swiss league last season, and played with Zetterberg in Switzerland during the lockout. Niklas Kronwall will take Lidstrom's spot as the team's top defenseman. Jimmy Howard returns for his third season as the number one goaltender. In terms of injuries, defenseman Jakub Kindl and winger Todd Bertuzzi have been bothered with groin injuries. Bertuzzi has also been battling the flu; both he and Kindl will not play. In addition, center Darren Helm will not play with a back injury.
Blues update: The Blues were a surprise winner of the Central division last season, which earned Hitchcock the Jack Adams Coach of the Year Award last season. The Blues are led by their captain, center David Backes. Backes was a finalist for the Selke Trophy last season. David Perron and TJ Oshie are the top two wingers for the Blues. On defense, Alex Pietrangelo was considered a Norris Trophy candidate last season. Both Brian Elliot and Jaroslav Halak helped the Blues lead the league in fewest goals allowed (166), and both won the William Jennings Trophy.
BREAKDOWN OF PLAYER GROUPS
Centers: Datsyuk and Backes are both Selke-caliber centers. The difference between the two is that Backes is more of a stat sheet stuffer, as he led the Blues in goals and points, and also racked up 101 penalty minutes. The matchup between the two should be a good one. Valtteri Filppula will likely be going against either Patrik Berglund or Alex Steen. Steen is a better two-way center than Berglund. With Helm out, Justin Abdelkader will move up to third-line center. Cory Emmerton will likely see action against Vladimir Sobotka (no relation to Al Sobotka) or Scott Nichol.
Wingers: Perron and Oshie are not high-scoring wingers, but nobody really is in Hitchcock's system. Brunner could have a big test using his speed against the size and trapping of the Blues' wingers. The Blues will face two shot-happy wingers in Mikael Samuelsson and Johan Franzen. Franzen was a thorn in the Blues' side last season, scoring five goals in six games. The Blues will likely have Andy McDonald and rookie Vladimir Tarasenko on the second line. McDonald has been solid when healthy. Chris Stewart is a physical winger on the third line for the Blues, Stewart racked up 34 PIMs against the Red Wings, including one game misconduct for boarding Kronwall (Stewart was later suspended three games). With Bertuzzi out, Patrick Eaves will play on the third line with Danny Cleary. The wingers for the Red Wings have done well against neutral zone trap teams.
Edge: Red Wings
Defensemen: Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk form one of the league's top defensive pairs for the Blues. Barret Jackman is the most experienced of the blue liners. Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson will have to use their size and checking ability against a physical Blues team. They will also have to chase after loose pucks a lot as the Blues play dump and chase.
Goalies: Halak will get the nod over Elliot, who led the league in goals against average with a mark of 1.66 and save percentage with a mark of .960, despite playing only 38 games. Halak recorded a 1.97 GAA with a .926 save percentage last season in 46 games. He faced the Red Wings once last season (a 3-1 loss on January 22, 2012). Howard will get the start for the Red Wings. He put up a 4-2 record last season against the Blues (1.65 GAA, .943 save percentage).
Prediction: There is a lot of pressure on both teams. The Blues are considered a favorite to win the Central Division, and possibly the Stanley Cup. The Red Wings are considered a middle of the pack team in the west. With both teams so closely matched, yet playing two different styles of hockey, expect the home team and their two-way dump and chase neutral zone trapping to squeak out a win in this one.
Make it: Blues 3, Red Wings 2.
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