St. Louis Blues vs. Los Angeles Kings: Game Preview and Opponent Outlook


The St. Louis Blues play their third game of 2014-15 and their first away game of the season tonight, facing off against the Los Angeles Kings in LA. The Blues sit at 1-1 after opening weekend, while the defending Stanley Cup champion Kings are 2-2 but winners of their last two.

The Blues will be resuming action following a four-day layoff in which they took a team bonding trip to Palm Springs, California. In addition to the morale-building opportunity the break provided, it also gave forwards Paul Stastny and Patrik Berglund time to heal from injuries they suffered during the opener last week. Defenseman Carl Gunnarsson also has been cleared to return to action following the completion of his recovery from offseason hip surgery.

We talked to Eric Fleischmann, the editor at Rink Royalty, our FanSided site covering the Los Angeles Kings, to get a perspective from the opponent’s point of view and preview tonight’s matchup.

1. Obviously the Blues have had their fair share of struggles against Los Angeles in the past several years. Is there anything you can specifically pinpoint as to why the Kings are continually so dominant against the Blues, and if so, do you see that success carrying over into this season?

EF: The Strength of the Kings team is down the middle with their centermen and their depth at defense.  Through all four lines and all three defensive pairs, the Kings are solid.  They’ve found players that fit their system and attitude.  Big, skilled players that are not just big, but they enjoy the physical aspect of the game.  Kings players don’t shy away from contact; they’re willing to take a hit to make a play for the team.  They also enjoy giving hits, so they hit often and more importantly at the appropriate time.

This style of play creates space on the ice for the Kings.  Especially when the Kings don’t have possession of the puck, they can control territory on the ice and dictate where scoring chances will be generated, as opposed to the Blackhawks and Blues who focus on controlling the puck.  The Hawks and Blues’ style from the defensive point of view is reactionary.  In a vague, and incomplete way the best analogy for the difference in styles is like man vs. zone defense.

Some teams get into a rhythm.  It’s part of what makes rivalries great.  It can be the players, or a system, but one team just knows how to get the best of the other.  A quick example that comes to mind are the Sabres-Senators during the Spezza-Alfredsson vs. Ryan Miller days.  For whatever reason Spezza and Alfredsson knew how to score on Miller whenever they needed to.

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Another example is the Penguins-Capitals from 2008-2010.  Not just Crosby vs. Ovechkin.  It’s partly that, but there’s something about the team, coach, and how they all work together.  Fierce rivalries drive

competitiveness to a new level.  Franchises design their team to defeat one or two rivals and win important games.  Football is a great example with division rivalries like the Bills-Patriots (if you can call that a rivalry), Ravens-Steelers or Eagles-Cowboys.  No matter how many personnel changes there are, or how the teams are performing that season, one just knows how to get the upper hand on the other.  Belichick-Brady, Tomlin/Cowher or Dick Lebeau-Roethlisberger, and the Eagles’ football operations just know how to get it done against these opponents.  It’s attitude, game planning, and roster moves implemented in these games and it shows in the results.

The Kings and Blues rivalry is no different.  After failing to beat the Kings the last few years, the Blues have made roster changes that imitate the Kings’ philosophy.  The Blues had great scoring and puck moving defensemen in Pietrangelo and Shattenkirk (similar to the Capitals’ Mike Green).  But they needed big tough bodies to match up against players like Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown. So they went looking for a Matt Greene/Willie Mitchell and brought in Jay Bouwmeester. Getting Steve Ott for the playoffs was part of that same shift.

There was the attempted upgrade at goaltender with Ryan Miller that backfired.  Bringing in Derek Roy to play as a third line center to keep up after the mega-trades the Kings made to get Mike Richards and Jeff Carter.

Even coaching is an example.  The Blues kept getting drawn into focusing on the physical, and chippy parts of the game, losing sight of the score.  That’s something the Kings intentionally lull them into.  The Blues brought in Ken Hitchcock to help change the attitude and fix the discipline problems the Blues had.  It’s been somewhat successful, but in the microcosm that is a seven-game series the Blues begin to break down.

If there is one criticism I have of Blues players, it’s that they look like they hold back in certain games.  Whether it’s because they are focused on adhering to a certain strategy, or they get caught up in the heat of the moment I can only speculate.  In big games the Blues need to get on the same page and individually sacrifice for that extra inch.  If they don’t the Blues woes will continue.

This season should be interesting.  The Kings and Blues play twice, and both games are before the end of December 2014.  If they meet in the playoffs the teams could look very different, even if the same players are suiting up.  I would bet the teams split games this year, as L.A. has struggled early and they don’t usually awake from their slumber until February.

2. Particularly in the early portion of the postseason in 2013-14, we saw Jonathan Quick have some struggles in net. Is the general belief in Kings circles that he’s more likely to exhibit the form he displayed in the Finals, or is there more of a chance of us seeing that same inconsistency we saw in the early playoffs?

EF:  Kings fans, and followers in general, have absolute faith in Jonathan Quick, though he has had stints during the regular season where he’s struggled as well.  Usually his poor play can be attributed to an undisclosed injury discovered in the aftermath.  Speaking for Kings Nation, I believe many would agree that the 2014 Stanley Cup Final pitted the two best goaltenders in the world against each other.  After all, part of his reputation is that Quick plays his best in the big stage, high-pressure games.

3. If there’s one player you can pick out as someone the Blues should be watching out for on Thursday night, who is it?

EF:  One player to watch out for is a toss-up.  It’s either Tanner Pearson or Tyler Toffoli depending on the night.  Right now Tanner Pearson is on fire.  Pearson is a young player with a laser shot, similar to Vladimir Tarasenko.  Pearson has great instincts, and a tremendous work ethic.  Pearson’s physical, a tenatious on defense.  Pearson currently leads the Kings in goals and points with 4 goals, 2 assists and 6 points through the Kings first 4 games.

A huge thank you goes out to Eric for giving us a Kings perspective. Brian Elliott will make his third start of the season in goal for the Blues tonight. All 23 players on the roster are expected to be available to play tonight, though the team may continue to hold back on putting Gunnarsson into the lineup as he gets up to speed. There’s a good possibility that forward Chris Porter may replace fourth-liner Maxim Lapierre in the lineup, as that was the planned course of action before Berglund was a late scratch preceding Saturday’s victory over the Calgary Flames.