The St. Louis Blues hit town for tonight's game against the Sabres leading the Western Conference with 42 points, and a big reason has been their ability to play on the road.
The defending Cup champs are 10-3-3 away from Enterprise Center – even though they almost always play in front of whipped-up crowds and opponents looking give them their best shot.
"You notice that everyone starts fast against us. Those no teams kind of easing into the game," former Sabres center Ryan O'Reilly said today after the Blues' pregame skate in KeyBank Center. "You know it's going to be a team coming at you with their best right away. Everyone's sharp and they're kind of using it as a measuring stick there. It's tough in the sense that we know we have to be on."
The Blues (18-7-6) were on a 6-1-1 run until the last two games, when they were blanked at Pittsburgh (3-0) and drubbed Saturday at home by Toronto (5-2).
"Just mental breakdowns, mental errors in the games that cost us," said coach Craig Berube. "We got behind in the games and couldn't fight back."
"If we're not on like these last two games and try to feel it out, it hurts us," O'Reilly said. "They score a few early and we're back on our heels."
The Blues have stayed at the top of the league even in the face of the shoulder injury to leading goal scorer Vladimir Tarasenko, who has been out since Oct. 24 and figures to miss much of the regular season.
"Mentality is it's a team game and they all understand," Berube said. "Players get injured. It happens to every team and we just keep going. We try to focus on playing a real good team game. Other guys have stepped up. We need everybody to contribute and we've gotten contributions from other guys."
David Perron leads the Blues in assists (17) and points (29) while Brayden Schenn leads in goals (14). O'Reilly has just six goals -- including none at home -- and 21 assists. He has seven points in his last seven games and is second in the NHL in faceoff wins (376) while winning 56.5% of his draws.
Stanley Cup hero Jordan Binnington got pulled in the first period of the Toronto game and Jake Allen will play goal tonight. Allen has super career numbers against the Sabres -- 6-1-1, 1.58/.942 -- while Binnington did not face Buffalo is his whirlwind rookie season last year.
The Blues are 12-1-1 against the Sabres in their last 14 games and 5-1-1 in the last seven trips to KeyBank. St. Louis was in the height of its second-half flourish last season when the Sabres posted a 4-3 shootout victory over them on March 17.
Incredibly, a win over a team three months away from taking home the Stanley Cup was the Sabres' only one in a 16-game stretch (1-13-2) that ultimately led to the firing of coach Phil Housley.