Panthers-Blues Preview

The Associated PressOctober 5, 2013

After setting the tone early in a season-opening victory, St. Louis Blues center David Backes might be able to provide a similar lift when his team faces the Florida Panthers, whom he's produced against in the past.

The Blues will try to open with their second straight home win Saturday night versus the Panthers, who are looking for their first 2-0 start in eight years.

Backes recorded a goal and an assist in the first period as St. Louis scored three times in the first 9:45 of a 4-2 win over Nashville on Thursday.

"I thought that the players that have been here a while really put their best foot forward," coach Ken Hitchcock said. "This gives us a chance to build on some things."

Backes totaled 55 goals and 61 assists during the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons but managed only six goals during lockout-shortened 2013, though he did have 22 assists. The captain now looks to continue a strong start for St. Louis, and facing Florida may help.

Backes has five goals in his last four meetings with the Panthers (1-0-0), including a pair of two-goal performances.

Jaroslav Halak stopped 28 shots Thursday for his first win since March 23. Halak dealt with a pair of groin injuries that limited him to six victories in 15 starts last season.

These teams will be meeting for the first time since the Blues' 4-1 home victory Nov. 17, 2011. St. Louis has won the past two games between the clubs by a combined 6-2, both with Halak in net, and he's 7-1-0 with a 1.86 goals-against average versus Florida.

Tim Thomas may be in goal again for the Panthers after making 25 saves in a 4-2 season-opening win at Dallas on Wednesday, the veteran's first game in 17 months after being signed Sept. 26 following a season off.

Florida rallied with three third-period goals. Rookie Aleksander Barkov, the second overall pick in the 2013 draft, tied it before Marcel Goc scored twice.

The Panthers scored four or more goals 11 times last season, when it tied for the fewest goals in the league.

"It had a lot of aspects to it," coach Kevin Dineen said. "Our young players coming through and making a difference, a really nice goal. Our veteran guys stepping up when they needed to."

Although Goc has five goals in his last six road games, he's scored once in 12 career contests in St. Louis.

Florida, which had the worst record in the league last season at 15-27-6, last won its first two games in 2005-06.