St. Louis Blues: December's 5 Most Important Showdowns
Last year, the Blues were on a fast start but fizzled out and finished near the bottom of the West.
December will be an important month for Ken Hitchcock and the Blues. The team will play seven of their 14 games against division rivals and play the hated Red Wings three of those times (once at home).
St. Louis will also see the return of young winger David Perron. Perron has been out with a concussion from a vicious hit by San Jose's Joe Thornton in November 2010.
If the Blues can get through December and keep up the level of play they've brought so far, Blues fans couldn't be blamed for getting excited for the playoff race this early.
Here are the five most important games for the Blues in December.
December 3: Chicago Blackhawks
This Saturday, the Blues play their rival Blackhawks at Scottrade.
Chicago is currently one point ahead of the Blues in the West and most certainly still has a bad taste in their mouths from the last meeting with St. Louis.
In Ken Hitchcock's first game coaching the Blues, the team shut out the rival Blackhawks, 3-0. Jaroslav Halak was ridiculous and completely shut down the rival squad.
This game ultimately sets the tone in December for the Blues, and a win would be huge. Starting heavy division play and trailing only Detroit would set St. Louis up in a good position.
David Perron is possibly returning Saturday, and his return alone could spark the Blues to a win.
December 15: New York Rangers
The December 15 matchup against the New York Rangers is the lone game against an Eastern opponent. Luckily, the Blues don't have to travel.
New York is one of the best teams in the East this season. Henrik Lundqvist has been phenomenal in net and will test the Blues' offense, which has been unspectacular lately.
If the Blues can put up goals on one of the league's best goalies and contain the physical offense New York possesses, a win would be easy.
But that's asking a lot.
Ultimately, I believe this game is the true test of St. Louis. This matchup should really give Blues fans an idea of how good the team really is and if they're the real deal.
December 18: Columbus Blue Jackets
Columbus is the laughing stock of the NHL this year.
For that reason alone, this is an important game for St. Louis.
The Blues must absolutely win in this showdown at Scottrade. A loss would be a setback that would be annoying to recover from, given that the Blues are tangled up with Chicago and Detroit right now.
While on paper this looks like an easy night for the Notes, Columbus will end up having a tough time against the Blues, and I wouldn't be surprised to see them come out and fire quickly on Halak or Elliott. Rick Nash will be a pest as usual.
St. Louis won the last matchup in a close 2-1 contest.
December 23: Phoenix Coyotes
The Phoenix Coyotes have been a definite surprise this season. Phoenix currently leads the Pacific division and is playing well on all cylinders.
Goalie Mike Smith has been jaw-dropping thus far and has led the pack. (Sorry for the wordplay.)
This showdown will be a clash of two surprises this year, and the Blues need to come out on top. St. Louis has not faced Phoenix yet, but the Blues have really had their struggles against this division.
A win here would help boost the Blues into a Sunday contest against the pesky Stars and a week featuring two Red Wing sightings.
December 31: Detroit Red Wings
The final of three showdowns with Detroit, this New Year's Eve game will be the biggest of December—and the season.
The Blues and Red Wings have been playing leapfrog in the standings for a while now, but by this game, it shouldn't be so deadlocked. If not, this game becomes even more important.
St. Louis bullied their rivals in a 2-1 contest in November, though the score doesn't reflect the game play that night. If they can click like that again and stop Detroit's possession game, the Blues could leave Motown with a smile.
A win would also set the tempo heading into 2012 and keep the Blues on pace for a strong season.
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 will be a B/R intern starting in January. Any comments, questions or suggestions are more than welcome.
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