Ken Hitchcock has done an excellent job of revitalizing the St. Louis Blues. Instilling some toughness in the club has been a big part of the turnaround.
The Blues look to add to their NHL-best total of 18 home wins Monday night when they take on one of Hitchcock's former clubs, the Dallas Stars.
St. Louis (26-12-6) is 20-5-6 since Hitchcock replaced Davis Payne on Nov. 6. The Blues improved to 18-3-3 at home with Saturday's 3-2 win over Minnesota, winning a shootout for the first time in six tries.
"I think this is a big weight off of everybody's shoulders," Hitchcock said. "That's as much joy as I've seen on the bench in a long time."
The chippy game featured a fight less than a minute in between St. Louis' David Backes and Minnesota's Justin Falk, the first two of six fighting majors.
Hitchcock's philosophy clearly helped the Blues handle the physical affair.
"I think when things kind of ramp up in that area, that's kind of what we like," defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "That's what kind of drives us and doesn't allow us to really sit back, and kind of like Hitch always says, let our skill get ahead of our work."
Hitchcock presided over some of the best moments in Dallas' history, leading the franchise to its first Stanley Cup title in 1999, then back to the finals the next season.
These clubs are meeting for the second time since Hitchcock joined St. Louis. The Blues won 5-3 on Dec. 26 after going 0-4-1 in their previous five meetings with Dallas (24-18-1).
Jaroslav Halak made 20 saves in that contest to improve to 1-4-0 with a 3.04 goals-against average in five career starts against the Stars. Halak is 8-1-2 with a 1.96 GAA at home under Hitchcock.
While the Blues are battling a number of teams for the top spot in the Western Conference, the Stars are in 10th place in a tight race to gain a playoff spot. Their hopes were dealt a blow with Saturday's 2-1 home loss to Colorado.
"You gotta get some points in these games, if it's 1-1, 0-0, 2-2 games, you gotta hold that, take it to overtime and try to manufacture points," coach Glen Gulutzan said. "It's really what this league is all about and especially in those last 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 spots, just manufacturing points, put yourself in position to get one of those spots."
The Stars are 3 for 36 on the power play in their last 11 games, and their 13.9 percentage for the season is one of the NHL's worst marks.
"I think that our 5-on-5 play is good," Gulutzan said. "I think our power play has to improve."
That may be difficult without top scorer Jamie Benn, who had an appendectomy Sunday and will miss at least 10 days.
Stars center Mike Ribeiro, meanwhile, could miss his fourth straight game with a knee injury, meaning he wouldn't have a chance to get a point in a sixth straight game against the Blues.
St. Louis defenseman Alex Pietrangelo enters with a career-best, six-game point streak with two goals and seven assists in that span.
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- Ken Hitchcock