St. Louis Blues Look to Start 2016 Undefeated with Visit to Toronto Maple Leafs

Dec 5, 2015; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Blues left wing Magnus Paajarvi (56) is checked into the boards by Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Roman Polak (46) during a game at Scottrade Center. Toronto won the game 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Billy Hurst-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 5, 2015; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Blues left wing Magnus Paajarvi (56) is checked into the boards by Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Roman Polak (46) during a game at Scottrade Center. Toronto won the game 4-1. Mandatory Credit: Billy Hurst-USA TODAY Sports /

The St. Louis Blues take a one-game trip Saturday to face one of the league’s worst teams in the Maple Leafs. Can they avoid the embarrassment they faced a month ago when the Leafs defeated them 4-1?

December 5 was perhaps the lowest point thus far in the St. Louis Blues’ season. After already having dropped two straight to the Florida Panthers and New York Islanders, along with four of their past six, the Blues suffered a humiliating 4-1 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs, who came into the game with the worst record in the Atlantic Division. There just wasn’t much cohesiveness and the Blues didn’t play a crisp fundamental game in any sense, resulting in total failure.

As we head into the beginning of 2016, both teams are relatively better off than they were about a month ago. The Blues sustained a 3-1 loss to the Minnesota Wild on Thursday night, but have won six of their past nine; the Leafs are finally out of the cellar in their division and have won four of their previous six, including their most recent game on Wednesday, a 3-2 shootout victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins. Toronto seems to have gotten goaltender Jonathan Bernier back on track after some disastrous play earlier this season and a brief stint in the AHL, so they’ll hope to avoid a repeat of the Blues-Leafs meeting that occurred in Toronto in March of 2015. During that game, the Blues defeated the Maple Leafs 6-1, outshooting Toronto 44-24 and chasing Bernier from the game after the first period. The ultra-aggressive game also featured 50 minutes handed out in penalties.

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock referred to a need to “possibly blow this stuff up” after Thursday night’s loss to Minnesota, indicating that line changes could be in store for Saturday. There won’t be monumental changes in terms of personnel, but the top nine (especially frequently-swapped left wings Alexander Steen and Magnus Paajarvi) could be in for an adjustment against the Leafs.

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There’s a solid chance that forward Patrik Berglund, who missed the team’s first 40 games while recovering from shoulder surgery, could enter the lineup for the first time this season on Saturday night. The Blues indicated that Berglund is ready to serve in at least a reserve capacity by sending down Jordan Caron on Friday.

It’s difficult to know exactly where he’ll fit in the lineup; the 6-foot-3, 217-pounder could be used on either of the wings or at center. He’s unlikely to jump right onto the top line with Paul Stastny and Vladimir Tarasenko due to the fact that they receive so much ice time and he got back into full practices relatively recently (he could, however, be a fit at the left wing position on that line a few games down the road). He’d be a logical fit to play with David Backes, because he could split face-offs with the righthanded centerman. However, Berglund seems to be most comfortable at the right wing position these days, so the most probable scenario if he’s in the lineup Saturday probably involves him playing on the right side of Jori Lehtera.

On defense, Robert Bortuzzo will probably be a lineup casualty after posting a minus-2 rating on Thursday. That would give rookie Joel Edmundson, who has been a healthy scratch for the past four games, an opportunity to get back in. The return to balanced defensive pairings would also send rookie Colton Parayko, who played as part of the team’s top pairing with Alex Pietrangelo on Thursday, back down to the third pairing with Carl Gunnarsson.

Saturday might be a logical night off for Jake Allen. The Blues’ top netminder was by no means bad against the Wild, but he wasn’t exactly great either. With that in mind, the team will be in Brian Elliott‘s home market, and Hitchcock has afforded Allen the opportunity to start on multiple occasions in Montreal–where he played junior hockey–even when was struggling or was clearly behind Elliott in the pecking order. Hitchcock has been content to ride Allen for much of the 2015-16 season, and it’d really be no surprise if he chose to play him on Saturday, but it’d also be a timely opportunity to get him some rest and get Elliott some activity.

Next: How Much Longer will Blues Wait to Solve Defensive Logjam?

It’s impossible to know exactly how Hitchcock plans to blow things up, but at least until he potentially shows his hand at a morning skate on Saturday, here’s a wild guess at how things might end up looking:

UPDATE, 11:25 AM: The St. Louis Post-Dispatch‘s Tom Timmerman tweeted out the groups used for the line rushes during Saturday’s morning skate. Jake Allen will apparently start in goal. Here’s how the lineup is tentatively assembled:

Alexander Steen-Paul StastnyVladimir Tarasenko

Magnus Paajarvi-David BackesPatrik Berglund

Robby FabbriJori LehteraTroy Brouwer

Dmitrij JaskinKyle BrodziakRyan Reaves

Jay BouwmeesterAlex Pietrangelo

Joel EdmundsonKevin Shattenkirk

Carl Gunnarsson-Colton Parayko

Jake Allen