St. Louis Blues: 4 Things the Team Must Do to Win Central Division
The St. Louis Blues have just 33 games left in the regular season and they better make them count.
The team heads into its first contest Friday night since January 24th. St. Louis fell in overtime to the Pittsburgh Penguins, ending the first half of the season on a two-game losing streak.
Awaiting the club is a surging Los Angeles Kings team. The Kings have won two straight and find themselves back in the playoff race.
There really couldn't be a better opponent than Los Angeles for the Blues to start the second half of this season against.
A home win to start things off would be a huge boost for St. Louis as it approaches the toughest string of games any team in the NHL has seen or will see this year, featuring many road trips and tough opponents.
However, the road trips and matchups aren't the only things standing in the way of a Central Division title for St. Louis. The team must click together and seize every opportunity it has.
Here are four things the St. Louis Blues must do to reach the postseason as Central Division champs for the first time in over a decade.
Be Horrible Guests
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There isn't a more daunting task for St. Louis in the coming months than to win on the road.
The Blues play 20 of their final 33 games out of town, including three visits to the hated Chicago Blackhawks, who are also vying for a top playoff spot and the division title.
While St. Louis has been the NHL's best home team, it has also struggled on the road. The squad has won just once on the road against a division opponent (Nov. 27th) and has tallied a total road record of 8-10-3.
It's pretty simple. The Blues must start winning more games outside of Scottrade Center and not be a team opposing fans would like tickets to see when in town.
Keep Andy McDonald on Ice
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At times this season, the St. Louis offense has been anemic. It happens more times than not.
Andy McDonald will certainly help when he returns to the team from a concussion he suffered back on October 13th in Dallas.
Recently, the veteran center shed his red no-contact jersey in practice and it looks as if No. 10 will be back in no more than a few weeks.
McDonald has made a living setting up teammates near the crease, and there is nothing more the Blues need now than that. St. Louis has been too passive while in their opponents' zones.
Once returned, McDonald must be a big priority for his teammates.
This is not his first go-around with a concussion, and the viciousness of hockey could grab him again if he is not careful. The Blues must do what they can to protect the health of one of their leaders.
With Ryan Reaves, David Backes and Chris Stewart, that should be no problem for St. Louis.
Continue the Halak-Elliott Battle
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Whether the team sees it or wants to admit or not, there is a definite battle going on between goalies Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak.
The team currently goes with whoever has the "hot hand," but allowing both players consistent opportunities in the net will only help St. Louis as the season weighs on.
Both Halak and Elliott were drafted in 2003. Halak was drafted by Montreal just 20 spots before Ottawa took Elliott.
Both goalies are 26 and are having career seasons. Elliott has arrived and has been a total surprise in hockey, while Halak is looking like the netminder St. Louis expected nearly two years ago.
There is some kind of competition going on there that no one except the two would understand. They're fueling each other and pushing each other to be better each night.
All the Blues can do is give both goalies enough chances and then enjoy the ride. It doesn't matter who comes out on top.
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As talented as St. Louis is, the team must still rely on hope for the rest of the season.
The Blues can only control what they do each night and how they play. What is equally important is how the Detroit Red Wings play.
Detroit is currently the NHL's best team with 71 points, six more than the Blues' total.
The Red Wings have been on fire at home and have looked unbeatable at times, but in order for St. Louis to win the division, Detroit must fall off.
With just one game against Mike Babcock's boys left (April 4th), the fate of Detroit is something that Ken Hitchcock and his Blues can't really control.
Instead, the team must hope the rest of the league has the same motivation to see the juggernauts of Detroit fail.
If Detroit slides, the path is clear for St. Louis. The Blues will have chance after chance to slow down the Nashville Predators and Chicago Blackhawks.
Start putting those hands together, Blues fans.
Steven Conklin is a contributing writer for the Bleacher Report and a student at the University of Central Missouri. He joined B/R in October 2011 and is currently a B/R intern. Any comments, questions or suggestions are more than welcome.