New York Islanders vs. St. Louis Blues Preview: Closer look at a Western force

Bodies, bodies everywhere. - Bruce Bennett

A look at some of the Blues who could destroy the Isles tonight.

The St. Louis Blues have lost two regulation games in a row -- club in crisis! -- after falling behind a combined 7-0 in the first half of each game -- club not ready for games! -- but we should all know by now that a narrow snapshot such as this does not tell the story. In fact, it can even mislead.

For one thing, those games were on the road against two equally tough opponents in the San Jose Sharks and the Los Angeles Kings. For another, Brian Elliott had his share to do with the Blues falling behind 4-0 in the first period in San Jose.

Regardless, with the Blues chafed by losses to two conference rivals and now returning home to put things right again, there is every reason to believe they should have their way with the New York Islanders tonight. For individual villains, follow along below.

Islanders (8-15-5, 8th/Metro) @ Blues (18-5-3, 2nd/Central)
8 p.m. EST | MSG+ | WRHU/WRCN
[trading or stocks or something] Center

Blue, always blue: St. Louis Game Time

Ken Hitchcock had praise for the Isles, some of it warranted, after watching their overtime loss to the Penguins...

"That's the best I've seen somebody play against Pittsburgh in a month, other than us," Hitchcock said. "They've gotten through the frustration and if that's the game we're going to get, we're going to get a hell of a game."


Read more here: http://www.bnd.com/2013/12/04/2941547/jackman-proud-of-ex-teammates.html#storylink=cpy

...but don't be fooled. He's worried about his own team being ready as much as he's worried about the Isles playing them tough.

Why should he worry?

Chris Stewart and Patrick Berglund

Stewart is a winger, Berglund is a center, and they are the Josh Baileys of the Blues. There is no reason they shouldn't be good, nightly effective players -- both have hands, skills, size -- yet they too often disappear for games at a time. If the Blues make a "statement" trade this season, I'll bet you it's one of these two who goes out the door.

Why should the Isles worry?

Because those two guys are third-liners for the Blues. There are more, better players above them.

David Backes, Alex Steen, T.J. Oshie

These three are centers by training, but Backes is the pivot on what has been a devastating line for the Blues this season. Steen is like a more physical Frans NIelsen -- a fully developed, "200-foot" game and defensive conscience -- except he also possesses a very dangerous shot from the point on the power play.

Backes is, of course, one of the better power vs. power centers in the league. He handles tough matchups on a nightly basis and can get under the skin of any star.

Oshie is their Kyle Okposo -- goes through slumps, never scores as much as you think he should -- except more creative, more skilled. Combined, these three can control play.

Hitchcock has said one of the great things about the Blues this season is he no longer has to get the Backes line out against an opponent's top line. Instead, he has the depth to have other lines face tough competition, meanwhile it's the opponents who are now trying to match up with the Backes line.

Jaden Schwartz, Vladimir Sobotka, Vladimir Tarasenko

Schwartz is a second-year pro who has really improved his game the last two seasons. To his skill he has added strength and more overall intelligence and PK abilities.

Sobotka is a little ball of hate who does everything well and regularly takes other players off guard. During a rout of the Avalanche, Matt Duchene hilariously thought he'd show his teammates he has their back, so he took on someone his own size. Unfortunately for him, he chose Sobotka...


...oops!

The Bruins hilariously scapegoated Sobotka after one bad line change with "veteran" Mark Recchi in the playoffs and promptly dumped him that following summer. Bruins' loss, Blues gain.

Tarasenko is who Isles fans probably hoped Kirill Petrov might be. Really skilled, smart Russian. Hitchcock likes him because he "plays like a coach's son" -- not much teaching needed here.

Hitchcock on this line recently:

"That line has been terrific, it was a great line in all three games on the road," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "They've earned the right to be thought of as a good line and kept together. I was really, really impressed with the way they played, specially the way they played in Los Angeles.

"I think they're feeding off of each other's effort and determination."

What's the secret to the line's success?

"They're not big guys, but they play a big game and that's where they deserve all kinds of credit," Hitchcock said. "They're on top of the puck, they hound the puck, they get it back. They're determined to stay with it."

Magnus Paajarvi, Derek Roy, Maxim Lapierre

Read more here: http://www.bnd.com/2013/12/04/2941547/jackman-proud-of-ex-teammates.html#storylink=cpy

Stewart and Berglund are as the aforementioned third line which at the moment has the on-fumes Brenden Morrow.

That leaves a fourth line of Paajarvi, Roy and tool Lapierre, who, well ... not bad at all for fourth liners! Roy will get power play minutes yet, and Paajarvi had a concussion earlier this season so he hasn't fully gotten his Blues career on track after being acquired in a payroll readjustment for David Perron.

Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester

Pietrangelo is better than any defenseman the Islanders have had for at least a decade, and arguably two. Partnered with Bouwmeester -- playing on his preferred side after being used on his off-hand in Calgary -- the two make a fleet-footed, laser-scope passing tandem.

Their defense and positioning is good, of course, but they really tilt the ice by getting the puck out quickly and precisely.

The rest of the defense, including Kevin Shattenkirk and Roman Polak, doesn't have any Blues fan pining for Matt Carkner, it's safe to say.

Weight on Life on the Island

Doug Weight likes to talk hockey as much as Ken Hitchcock, so he obliged St. Louis media as he returned to one of his former homes:

“I get to be on both sides of the fence," Weight said. "I get to coach and I get to sit in the office with Garth and help him build the team. I’m learning a lot and working with great people. Jack (Capuano) is a great coach and empowers me and Garth does the same. We’re striving to get better. We’re not where we want, but we’re close. It’s fun to come to work every day and try to win.”

The Islanders will field the same lineup as last time, including Anders Nilsson in goal and Brock Nelson in the pressbox. The Blues will start Jaroslav Halak, who is their good goalie. (Please don't suggest the Isles acquire Brian Elliott. Please.)

The Central Division is crazy tough (as is the West overall), with all of its teams ranking higher than all but two teams in the Metro. Though the Isles have offered their share of good performances against the West over the past several seasons, this games is the Blues' to lose.

(So naturally, the Isles will lose in a gut-wrenching shootout.)

FIG Picks

Leave your First Islanders Goal picks for tonight over here.

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