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Cruisin' for a Blues-in'

Jets gear up for what could be their biggest physical test of the year

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Big. Bad. Bruising.

These are all commonly used words to describe tonight's visitors at the MTS Centre, the St. Louis Blues.

Pre-season projections -- of great interest this fall with the Winnipeg Jets' move to the unfamiliar Western Conference -- constantly painted St. Louis as possibly the most punishing opponent the Jets could face this season.

Some have even suggested that any western road to the Stanley Cup final goes through St. Louis.

In the new Jets' era, the teams have exactly one game of history, that a Blues' shootout win in February 2012.

So far this season and heading into a Thursday night game in Chicago, St. Louis is wasting no time.

Winnipeg-born centre Alex Steen is off to a great start with four goals and eight points in five games. Captain David Backes also has four goals, along with slick Russian Vladimir Tarasenko.

The give-no-inch defence is sparked by minute-heavy Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester, and nobody's usually messing with the Blues based on the toughness of another Winnipegger, Ryan Reaves, and former Dallas captain Brenden Morrow.

Based on their recent seasons, descriptions and regard shown by opponents and pundits alike, the Blues may be as welcome and as scary tonight as goalie-masked Jasons everywhere.

"They're obviously a tough team," said Jets right-winger Devin Setoguchi, who had plenty of time against the Blues last season in Minnesota. "I'd say the word to describe them is they're just well-structured.

"Everyone plays the same way. The structure of their game is almost 100 per cent attention to detail. That makes it tough. If you're making mistakes and turning pucks over, they're structured to go the other way. They pressure the puck. They are a big, strong, fast team. So that's what we're going to have to be ready for.

"You know exactly what you're going to get when you play a lot of these good teams out west.

Jets right-winger Michael Frolik, as a member of last season's Cup-winning Chicago Blackhawks, is also Blues savvy.

"They're a team who plays good defence and they don't give up that many goals," Frolik said. "Always against them, it was low-scoring games. They play a hard game. Obviously they've got (coach Ken) Hitchcock and he knows about defence.

"We have to make sure we have good defence, too, and beat them."

The must-do list for the Jets tonight is lengthy. It's one of the reason Jets centre Olli Jokinen is looking forward to this game.

"I think it's a good challenge, a good test for our team to play against a team like St. Louis," Jokinen said Thursday. "They probably feel they're close to winning the Cup. Every year, the last two or three years, they've been right there.

"It's a hard team to play against, a lot of big guys. So tomorrow we'll kind of see where we are as a team."

Already, there is some separation. St. Louis had won four of the first five, the Jets have dropped four of the last five.

"We're learning," Jokinen said. "We want to be one of those teams that no matter what day it is... you bring the same type of game, same type of effort every night. That's what the good teams in this league do.

"That's the only way to get in the playoffs. You can't have nights off."

The Jets seem to know they're the only mystery entering tonight's divisional game.

"We know St. Louis, they're playing (Thursday) and they're going to be ready to come in here," Jets coach Claude Noel said. "They gave up six against San Jose (Tuesday) so they're going to be a team that's hard to play against. They check very well. They don't give you much.

"Offensively, you're going to have to earn every inch of ice. They've got a good team game so it's going to be a lot of work. No lighter than L.A., some of those games."

Setoguchi described all that as little room for error, which is a pretty good mentality and a high bar to work toward.

"It's attention to detail against these good, structured teams," he said. "It's one puck you don't get deep and it's in the back of your net. It's one missed pass that's a turnover that's going the other way. It's a bad penalty that leads to a good power play for them. Stuff like that, the good teams capitalize on that. It's what you need to be ready for."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 18, 2013 C3

History

Updated on Friday, October 18, 2013 at 8:41 AM CDT: adds video

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