(SportsNetwork.com) - Outstanding Novembers have the Minnesota Wild and St. Louis Blues right in the thick of things in a crowded Central Division.
The new division rivals meet for the first time this season as the Wild conclude their road trip looking to deal the Blues a rare loss at home.
Minnesota, formally of the Northwest Division, joined St. Louis in the new- look Central Division following realignment and both clubs are showing signs of being major contenders this season. The Blues are second in the division with 35 points, one back of the first-place Chicago Blackhawks, while the Colorado Avalanche and Wild are just a single point back of St. Louis.
The Blues have gone 8-1-1 over their last 10 games, while the Wild have gone 9-1-1 in November and overcame the loss of goaltender Josh Harding on Saturday in a 3-2 shootout win over the Winnipeg Jets.
Harding, who is second in the NHL with 1.48 goals against average and tied for second in the league with 13 wins, suffered a lower-body injury during warmups and was replaced by Niklas Backstrom.
Backstrom himself had just been activated from injured reserve prior to the game and made 37 saves before stopping three of four in the shootout. It was his first game action since getting hit in the head by Toronto's Nazem Kadri during a collision on Nov. 13.
"(Backstrom) was the difference in the game for us. I mean obviously I give our players a great deal of credit for dealing with the adversity with what happened at the beginning of the game," said Wild head coach Mike Yeo. "It's a little bit easier to deal with it when you see your goalie go out and play the way that he was."
Nino Niederreiter and Zach Parise scored for the Wild in regulation, while Charlie Coyle's fourth-round shootout tally was the winner.
Minnesota improved to 4-1-2 in its last seven games on the road and its 34 points (15-5-4) on the season marks the club's best start in franchise history, surpassing the 31 points posted in 2008-09 and 2011-12.
The Wild were also without forward Mikael Granlund on Saturday due to an upper-body injury. His status is unknown for tonight, while Harding's availability is also in the air despite an MRI coming back negative.
Regardless, Backstrom should get the start tonight after improving to 2-1-2 with a 3.03 GAA and .892 save percentage in eight games (7 starts) this season. He is 6-8-1 with a 2.86 GAA in 15 career matchups with the Blues.
St. Louis plays its second straight home game tonight and routed the Dallas Stars 6-1 on Saturday. The victory improved the Blues to 10-1-2 on home ice this season.
Brian Elliott had 34 saves in just his fifth start of the season, while Derek Roy, Chris Stewart and T.J. Oshie capped a balanced scoring attack with third- period goals.
"What was impressive for me is that we got better as the game went on. In other games, we started off strong and then let up a little, but this time we were playing better at the end than we were at the beginning," said Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock, who passed Bryan Murray for eighth on the all-time wins list with his 621st victory.
Vladimir Sobotka, Vladimir Tarasenko and David Backes also scored, while Alex Pietrangelo picked up a pair of assists in St. Louis' third straight win.
The Blues did lose forward Ryan Reaves to a broken right hand following a first-period fight and he is expected to miss four weeks of action.
Elliott is 4-0-1 with a 1.79 GAA in seven games this season, while Jaroslav Halak is 12-3-2 with a 2.34 GAA in 17 starts. Halak could get the start tonight, though he is just 1-2-3 with a 2.46 GAA in seven lifetime meetings with the Wild.
The Wild lost all three of their matchups with the Blues last season and have dropped five in a row in this series overall. Two of those setbacks have come beyond regulation.
Minnesota has also dropped three straight and seven of its past nine trips to St. Louis.