ST. LOUIS -– It’s been more than a calendar year since the Sharks and Blues have seen one another. That’s probably why Logan Couture couldn’t recall the results of the past two meetings between the clubs, both lopsided 7-2 wins for St. Louis on Jan. 3 and Jan. 8, 2015.
It’s a new year, of course, so those past results probably don’t mean a whole lot. But Couture does know full well what it’s like to battle St. Louis, a perennial playoff contender that’s once again in the thick of the Central Division race.
“When you come into St. Louis and you play this team, it feels like there’s no space on the ice,” Couture said. “You just feel like you have to make a play right away, and they’re on top of you. They’ve got two or three guys, and they outnumber you.”
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Pete DeBoer said: “Typical Ken Hitchcock-coached team. You know they’re going to be tight. They’re going to be detailed. You’re going to have to earn your ice. It’s that time of year.”
The game marks the first of three straight in Central Division buildings for the Sharks. Nashville, which was playing some of its best hockey just before the All-Star break is up on Thursday, while a journey to Chicago against the first-place Blackhawks will close out the Sharks’ four-game roadie next Tuesday.
“It’s a great challenge, a great measuring stick to see where we’re at,” DeBoer said. “I think the guys are excited about it.”
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Couture enjoyed the week off due to the NHL All-Star break, but admitted on Thursday morning that he still has good and bad days in his return from a pair of first-half injuries.
Still, his on-ice responsibilities are increasing, as evidenced by his getting one minute and 10 seconds of time on the penalty kill in Tuesday’s 3-2 loss in Anaheim. The Sharks went 4-for-4 on the PK.
“When I look back at his career and his impact, he was one of the best penalty killers here last year,” DeBoer said. “That’s an area we’ve missed him. I’ve started to ease him back in. I talked to him prior to the All-Star break. I got him in a few shifts on the PK last game, and we’re going to keep increasing that work load as we go forward here.”
Couture said there are some changes to the Sharks’ penalty-killing systems this season, so mastering it could take a bit.
“Felt comfortable last game, got a couple shifts doing it. It’s a little different system than I’m used to in the past and it takes a little bit to learn it, but felt comfortable doing it,” he said.
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The Blues have only scored four goals over their last four games, but have allowed two or fewer goals in five straight. They are coming off of a 1-0 shutout of Nashville at Bridgestone Arena on Tuesday.
Hitchcock didn’t seem too panicked about his team’s offense.
“I think we’re just going through an unlucky phase,” he said. “We’ll get lucky here in the next week or so and start scoring. I think we’re playing well.”
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The longtime head coach indicated he’s plenty familiar with the Sharks' personnel despite this being the first of three meetings between the teams.
“It seems they’ve got those good players that have been in the league a long time, and keep playing well,” Hitchcock said. “Every year it’s the same four or five guys leading their team, and they have one of the best road records in the league because they know how to play the game the right way and they know how to manage the game the right way.”
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Martin Jones will face Brian Elliott between the pipes.
Since starter Jake Allen went down with a lower body injury on Jan. 8 in Anaheim, Elliott is 6-2-2 with a 1.77 goals-against average and .944 save percentage. He’s gotten just 2.09 goals per game in support.
Jones took the loss to the Ducks on Tuesday, but is still 7-1-1 with a 2.08 GAA and .925 SP in his last nine starts.
The Sharks didn’t take line rushes on Tuesday morning but their lineup appears unchanged, meaning Mike Brown and Matt Tennyson will likely remain the healthy scratches.