NHL: St. Louis Blues Continue Up-and-Down Season against San Jose

Michael WagenknechtContributor IDecember 17, 2010

David Backes is knocked down by Douglas Murray
David Backes is knocked down by Douglas MurrayDilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

A month and a half ago, the St. Louis Blues were riding a high point in their season when they welcomed the San Jose Sharks to town. At the time, a 2-0 victory over the high powered Sharks was something to be celebrated. Little did the Blues and the city of St. Louis know what that game would cost them.

Joe Thornton's elbow to the head of David Perron sparked a firestorm of trash talk, and the resulting concussion has left Perron out of the lineup since. Three games later, the Blues lost TJ Oshie for potentially the year with a broken ankle and earlier this month lost Andy McDonald to a concussion as well.

The rash of injuries sustained has led the Blues on a roller coaster of a season. After starting off 9-2-1, the Blues currently sit at 15-10-5, which is good for third in the division. In the last five games, though, the injury-riddled Blues have collected points in four of the five games.

Perennial favorite San Jose has had as up-and-down season as the Blues have had. With a 16-11-5 record, the Sharks are third in the Pacific and are fighting for a playoff berth at the bottom of the conference. Unfortunately for the Sharks, their problems can't be blamed on injuries but on a lack of scoring from the top players.

While Joe Thornton, Ryan Clowe and Dany Heatly have had down but solid seasons, Patrick Marleau has fallen sharply from his bounce-back season last year. In the 32 games he has played this season, Marleau has 11 goals and 12 assists, a point per game average of .71, which is a far cry from his more than a point per game average of last year.

Alex Steen will look to conitinue his five-game point streak and add to his point total against San Jose. During his streak, Steen has notched four goals and three assists including the game winner in the Blues 6-4 victory over LA on Thursday night. While he has only scored one goal against the Sharks, Steen has been having a strong season and shown he can be a leader with three top forwards out.

Brad Winchester has scored a goal in each of the last two games and has made himself a presence in front of the net a la retired winger Keith Tkachuk. Winchester has netted three goals in his career against the Sharks, but all have come against Evgeni Nabokov who is no longer with the team.

Jaroslav Halak stopped all 25 shots he faced in his one and only game against San Jose this year, but he will have his hands full yet again with this explosive Sharks team.

In 13 games against the Blues, Ryan Clowe has six goals and six assists and is having a solid season overall with nine goals and 20 assists. Rookie Logan Couture leads the team with 15 goals and has been a very pleasant surprise for Todd McClellan.

The goal tending duo of Antti Niemi and Anero Niittymaki have been like two sides of a coin. In 17 games, Niittymaki is 10-3-3 with a 2.46 GAA while Niemi is a disappointing 6-8-2 with a 3.16 GAA. Niemi is not exactly what San Jose expected when they signed him after leading Chicago to the Cup last season.

In the last three seasons, St. Louis holds a 4-3-1 edge in the season series but never has a game affected the standings more than this game. In previous seasons the Sharks have been near the top of the standings when these teams met. This year only two points separate the Blues from the Sharks and seventh place.

The Blues will continue without most of their key players and will need to play with the intensity they displayed on Thursday against LA in order to hang with the talent-ladened Sharks.