Blues’ Yeo on tough Central Division battles: ‘We have to expect that’

ST. LOUIS — After going more than a month without a game against a Central Division opponent, the St. Louis Blues will play their second in as many nights when they host the Minnesota Wild on Saturday night.

Goalie Jake Allen is well aware of how important the games within the division are for not only the Blues, but for every team in the division.

“I think we probably have, if not the toughest, one of the toughest divisions in hockey,” Allen said. “And just to make the playoffs, it’s hard for any of us. It’s going to be a real test.”

Allen got the night off Friday night, when the Blues turned to backup Carter Hutton against his former team, the Nashville Predators. Hutton stopped 26 of 27 shots but the Blues were shut out by Pekka Rinne and lost 2-0, snapping their three-game winning streak.

Allen will start Saturday night, looking to build on his 12-5-1 record. Coach Mike Yeo said it was planned in advance for Hutton to play Friday, followed by Allen.

“We’ve got to factor in what’s best for Jake, and I think maybe an extra day between games for Jake and then he can come back and play against Minnesota, a team that he’s had strong performances against,” Yeo said. “That was our thought process here.”

Hutton could not have played much better, but the Blues got a reminder from Rinne and the Predators just how good the Central Division competition will be all season.

“That’s what we’re going to face all year,” Yeo said. “We have to expect that.”

One of the areas where the Blues know they need to improve is on the power play. They were 0 for 3 on Friday night when they came into the game ranked 24th in the league in that category, despite having the best record in the Western Conference.

The Wild also played Friday, needing a shootout to defeat the Colorado Avalanche 3-2. Nino Niederreiter extended his goal-scoring streak to six consecutive games as the Wild improved to 6-1-1 in their last eight games.

Wild forward Mikko Koivu said the team is not looking at the game against the Blues as a way to measure where they stand in the division.

“I think it’s more important the way we play, especially this time of the year,” Koivu said. “I think there are parts of the game that we’re doing good and I think we’re getting better. At the same time, obviously there’s things that we need to do better in order to get where we want. I think they (the Blues) have always been good ever since I’ve been in the league. They have that core group that’s been there for a while now, so every time we go in their building we know it’s going to be a tough game.”

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