ST. LOUIS -- It's one of the top teams (the Blues) against the worst team in the NHL (the Arizona Coyotes) at Scottrade Center today (7 p.m.; FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM).
Conventional wisdom says the Blues should win this one going away, but these tend to be the games that a team has to be wary of.
The Blues (12-3-1) can record their 13th win in the first 17 games, which would be a franchise record. They can also match the 2013-14 team for most points (27) through 17 games with a victory of any kind and they're 8-1-1 the past 10 games, as hot as any team in the NHL.
But Arizona (2-13-2) is 2-3-1 the past six games after starting the season 0-10-1. The Coyotes are loaded with young players, including a pair of area kids Clayton Keller (Swansea, Ill.) and Dakota Mermis (Alton, Ill.), and trying to grow on the fly.
That's why coach Mike Yeo is making sure his players are aware that these two points on the line are just as valuable as ones playing against the top teams in the league.
"You say it, but if we think that they're not going to come in here and play hard, and play with speed and play with skill and do everything they can to try and win this game, it would be a huge mistake," Yeo said. "I think that we have more sense than that to look at their roster and see the NHL players they have, see the skill that they have and be ready to go. The record is one thing, but you look at their play of late and they're much-improved. I don't think they got the goaltending early in the season. I think that that took a little bit of time to adjust to not only a new system, but even a new style of play. It appears that that's starting to take hold and they're playing much better hockey."
And in knowing that, the players won't take this game lightly and will have to wipe away Arizona's record.
"It's always a little mentally tough," defenseman Carl Gunnarsson said. "If you have a rival and if you're playing a team for first place in that division, whatever it might be, it's easier to kind of get up for those games. But (tonight) is going to be a challenge. We know they're a good team, we know they work hard and they've got a lot of skill and speed. We can't come into the game thinking it's going to be an easy night just because of their record because that's just going to bite you in the (tail) somehow. ... We're just going to turn our brains on and be ready."
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Tonight will mar the battle of the Schenn brothers, Brayden Schenn for the Blues and Luke Schenn for the Coyotes.
It will mark just the sixth time the two have gone head-to-head, and Brayden has the bragging rights over Luke, having won all five meetings.
"Obviously we're both very fortunate, lucky to be playing in this league, playing against your brother is a pretty cool feeling," Brayden said. "Obviously got together last night, and it's a weird feeling playing your brother out there. At the same time, obviously you're going to play hard but there's room for him to do well at the same time.
"It's kind of a weird feeling playing your brother. You watch him on the ice to see how he's doing out there, I watch his games all the time, to be playing him, maybe you're on the bench watching him to see how he's doing. It's a different feeling worrying about someone else during the game. At the same time, it's a cool experience."
Luke agreed and is happy to see his younger brother thriving in St. Louis.
"He seems like he's fitting in pretty well here," Luke said. "Obviously playing with (Jaden) Schwartz and (Vladimir) Tarasenko, their line is playing great hockey now. They're helping each other out, he get a few goals going to the front of the net. I think right now he wants to credit his linemates.
"It's really fun. I've been thinking that for the last five years that he should be playing center. He's been a centerman growing up and for whatever reason in Philadelphia, I don't think he was given an opportunity to play a lot of center. They've aways had different guys in mind who they'd want to play center and when he did, it was just a couple games here and there, he never got the full opportunity. We were talking this offseason it would be nice for him to get a chance to play center and when St. Louis traded for him I thought personally it was a perfect fit, knowing their forwards, knowing their centermen, I thought he could slide in here and do a job. So far he's done well and he'll continue to keep it going and have great team success."
The two were teammates with the Philadelphia Flyers for three-plus seasons from the 2012-13 season to the 2015-16 season when Luke was traded to the Los Angeles Kings.
"It was awesome," Brayden said. "It was a cool experience. (Flyers general manager) Paul Holmgren bringing in Luke, just after me a year later, I said before we were fortunate and lucky to be playing in the NHL, a childhood dream, and then you get a chance to lace them up with your brother for 3-4 years, that's a cool experience. You're living in the same condo building, you're driving to morning skates together, you're driving to the game and you've got your brother in the passenger seat with you, it's a pretty cool experience. We're super lucky and fortunate to do what we're doing."
Schenn's parents, Jeff and Rita, were both supposed to be in attendance tonight but were not able to get a flight in from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
"Don't even get me started on that one," Luke said, with a hint of disappointment.
"An unfortunate situation," Brayden said. "They were actually coming yesterday. They were supposed to leave at 6:30 a.m. and they were on the plane for an hour, a mechanical problem, then it turned into 9 a.m., 11 a.m., and the flight wouldn't have left till 7 p.m., so they ended up cancelling, and they'll hopefully see me in the Alberta swing (next week), then go to Phoenix the week after.
"They were planning to come in, but Saskatoon to St. Louis isn't the easiest place to get to, when you miss one connector, you get in trouble. Getting out of Saskatoon after 3 o'clock …"
With Brayden being a center and Luke being a defenseman, they're bound to run into each other on the ice tonight.
It won't be the first time and the hits will come.
"In junior he did actually," Brayden said. "Our first game. I was with the (Brandon) Wheat Kings, he was with the (Kelowna) Rockets. He got me and my linemate within 2 seconds of each other, hit us both. Had a good laugh afterwards. It wasn't a crazy hard hit, but enough to put us on our butt."
"I remember the game actually," Luke said. "It was our first game playing against each other in the Western Hockey League. He was in Brandon and I played in Kelowna. The game was in Kelowna and it was the first shift, the high point of the game was us playing each other, it was one of those things, the opportunity was there. He was in my corner, I finished him off. I don't think mom was too happy with that one after."
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Carter Hutton will make the start for the Blues tonight, just his fourth this season and first since Oct. 27.
Hutton is 3-0-0 on the season with a 1.67 goals-against average and .950 save percentage but is a stranger to home starts.
It will be just his second start at Scottrade Center his past 13 games and first since starting against the New York Islanders on March 11.
"First time this year. Played a bunch last year," Hutton said. "It's just frozen water, right? It doesn't matter where it is. Just do my job, compete, try to help the team win.
"... I think all my starts are kind of spread out. Obviously playing back to backs are the way it started, now finding a start here at home is nice."
Yeo said it's important to get Hutton some work behind Jake Allen, who's been razor-sharp this season at 9-3-1 with a 2.36 GAA and .921 save percentage.
"You look at last month and we had a lot of back to backs and we wanted to make sure we didn't put Jake in a bad spot," Yeo said. "And then you look at this month and we don't have a lot of back to backs. The things is we have confidence in 'Hutts' and 'Hutts' has done a great job for us every time he's come in. We wanted to make sure we didn't have 'Hutts' sitting on the bench for three weeks and all of the sudden throw him into a game and ask him to play at his highest level. Get him in here tonight and a rare home start for him, but he's a competitor. He'll be ready to go."
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Mermis will play in his fifth NHL game tonight and first in St. Louis.
Mermis, 23, played for the Alton High School club team and coach Mike Edwards for two seasons and worked his way through Green Bay and finishing high school in Wisconsin. He played a season at University of Denver before going to the Ontario Hockey League and playing for the London Knights and Oshawa Generals.
Mermis, who was undrafted, worked his way through the American Hockey League with the Coyotes' farm team, the Tucson Roadrunners, after signing a three-year entry-level contract in 2015 and will live out a dream tonight.
"Yeah, this past week has been such a whirlwind, but this is a game I've had marked on the calendar since I signed with the Coyotes," Mermis said. "Great to have my first one in St. Louis and my first week in the NHL's pretty much a dream-come-true.
"Yeah, huge day for family friends there from a small town of Alton. There will be a lot of people here, a lot of family for sure. I'm just really looking forward to it.
"We had the day off yesterday. We got in from Pittsburgh late Tuesday night. Had the day off yesterday so I actually got some time to go home, had a nice home-cooked meal. That was a lot of fun. I didn't necessarily plan on getting this trip this early in the year, but it's good to be here."
(I'll have more on Mermis in a story in the Alton Telegraph)
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The Blues' projected lineup:
Vladimir Sobotka-Paul Stastny-Alexander Steen
Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-Vladimir Tarasenko
Dmitrij Jaskin-Oskar Sundqvist-Magnus Paajarvi
Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Chris Thorburn
Carl Gunnarsson-Alex Pietrangelo
Joel Edmundson-Colton Parayko
Vince Dunn-Robert Bortuzzo
Carter Hutton will get the start in goal; Jake Allen will serve as the backup.
Heanthy scratches include Nate Prosser and Beau Bennett. Jay Bouwmeester (ankle), Patrik Berglund (shoulder) and Zach Sanford (shoulder) are out indefinitely. Robby Fabbri (knee) is out for the season.
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The Coyotes' projected lineup:
Clayton Keller-Derek Stepan-Brendan Perlini
Max Domi-Christian Dvorak-Christian Fischer
Jordan Martinook-Brad Richardson-Nick Cousins
Zac Rinaldo-Tobias Rieder-Anthony Duclair
Oliver Ekman-Larsson-Jason Demers
Alex Goligoski-Dakota Mermis
Kevin Connauton-Luke Schenn
Antti Raanta will start in goal; Scott Wedgewood will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Mario Kempe, Michael Sislo and Joel Hanley. Jakob Chychrun (knee) and Niklas Hjalmarsson (lower body) are out.