Two first-place teams aim to carry their form into the season's unofficial second half when the St. Louis Blues visit the Vancouver Canucks on Monday night.
After welcoming the league's biggest stars to St. Louis for Saturday's All-Star Game, the Blues hit the road as the regular season resumes.Monday's date in Vancouver begins a four-game road trip for the Blues through Canada, concluding with a visit to the division rival Winnipeg Jets on Feb. 1.
Perhaps the toughest challenge will come right away as the Blues face a Canucks team that recently has been unbeatable in its own building.
Vancouver is 8-0-0 in its past eight home games. A Canucks victory on Monday would tie the fourth-longest regular-season home winning streak in franchise history and put Vancouver closer to the team record of 11 straight home wins.
The recent home ice dominance has carried Vancouver to an 11-3-0 record over its past 14 games overall. The Canucks enter the second half of the season on a two-game winning streak.
St. Louis already has notched one win in Vancouver this season, emerging with a 2-1 overtime victory on Nov. 5. The Canucks also hold a road victory over the Blues, earning a 4-3 shootout win on Oct. 17. Monday's game is the third and final regular-season meeting between the two teams.
The Blues hold a six-point lead over the second-place Colorado Avalanche in the Central Division. St. Louis entered the All-Star break on a down note, however, going 0-1-1 in its last two games.
"Our goal is to be playing our best hockey going into the playoffs," Blues forward Ryan O'Reilly told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "There's still a lot of work left. We just have to keep taking it one game at a time coming out of the break."
O'Reilly joined teammates David Perron, Alex Pietrangelo and Jordan Binnington in the Central Division's all-Blues starting lineup in Saturday's All-Star Game. The home-ice advantage didn't help as the Pacific Division team -- which included Vancouver's Jacob Markstrom, Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson -- routed the Central 10-5.
The Pacific team went on to beat the Atlantic Division to win the All-Star mini-tournament. Hughes played a particularly big role in the Pacific's triumph, scoring a goal and five assists in the two 20-minute games. Pettersson had two goals and an assist.
While the All-Star success was a fun sideline for the Vancouver trio, Markstrom was ready to resume the regular season.
"After this weekend we've got to go back to work. Our division is tight," the goalie said.
The Canucks hold a one-point lead over four teams in the tightly compacted Pacific Division. Neither the Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Vegas Golden Knights or Arizona Coyotes play Monday, giving Vancouver an opportunity to create some much-needed space atop the standings.
Vancouver forward Bo Horvat has 14 points (six goals, eight assists) in his past 10 games.
Perron has nine points (five goals, four assists) in his past seven games.
Sammy Blais (wrist surgery) and Colton Parayko (upper-body injury) could be available for St. Louis. Blais has been out of action since Nov. 19. Parayko has missed the Blues' past seven games.
--Field Level Media