Blues-Devils matchup features early-season front-runners

NEWARK, N.J. -- The Tuesday night game between the New Jersey Devils and the St. Louis Blues at the Prudential Center not only pits two of the league's top teams so far this season but is also an intriguing matchup between one club that consistently scores a lot and another known for its stout defensive play.

The Devils (9-3-1) average 3.62 goals per game, and they have scored four or more eight times already this season.

While Brian Gibbons leads New Jersey with seven goals, Taylor Hall has the team's hottest hand right now. Hall has four goals and eight points in his past five games, giving him a team-high 17 points in 13 games this season.

"The way we've played, with different guys stepping up in the lineup, has been a lot more fun this year," Hall said. "For us, we trust what we have in our locker room. It's been a fun start to the year."

Providing the stiff counterpart Tuesday are the Blues (11-3-1), who surrender goals at a paltry 2.40 per game pace and sit atop the Western Conference standings.

St. Louis allowed two goals or fewer in five consecutive games before giving up four Saturday in a wild 6-4 home victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Not only have Blues defensemen been solid in their own end this season, they've been major contributors offensively.

The Blues have a league-high 17 goals from their defensemen, including three on Saturday. Alex Pietrangelo had two against the Maple Leafs, giving him six this season.

"They're doing a great job of playing with instincts," St. Louis forward Jaden Schwartz said of the Blues' defensemen. "They're finding open areas, jumping into the play. It's tough for defenders when opposing defensemen are moving like our guys are."

Getting a defensive commitment as well as offensive contributions throughout the lineup are key components of the Blues' strong start, especially with how injury-riddled their lineup is.

St. Louis' Robby Fabbri is out for the season, fellow injured forwards Patrik Berglund and Zach Sanford are out for the next several months, and defenseman Jay Bouwmeester has yet to play this season.

Vladimir Tarasenko, who is second on the team with seven goals, left practice early Monday with an upper-body injury and is questionable to face the Devils.

"It started last game, he aggravated something in the first period, but he was able to get through the game," Blues coach Mike Yeo said after practice. "He was a little sore (Monday), so we sent him off the ice early. We'll monitor it and see how he is."

The Devils have their own injury concerns, though they, too, like the Blues, have been able to persevere in the face of adversity this season.

New Jersey went 1-1-1 on a just-completed road trip to western Canada with its top goal-scorer the past two seasons, Kyle Palmieri, resting a lower-body injury back home.

Then Marcus Johansson sustained a concussion in the opening game of the trip, a 2-0 victory over the Vancouver Canucks last Wednesday. He did not play the following two games and is questionable to return against the Blues.

Defenseman Steven Santini is also questionable after missing New Jersey's 5-4 shootout loss to the Calgary Flames on Sunday because of an upper body injury, an absence that was felt by his team.

"(Santini) is playing with confidence in his game," Devils defenseman Damon Severson told NorthJersey.com. "He's just hard to play against. He's a good player in his own zone. He's gotten a lot better (this season)."

The Blues have not lost to the Devils in their last seven meetings, dating to January 2014. In that stretch, the Blues outscored the Devils 24-8.

Blues goaltender Jake Allen owns a 5-0-0 record with two shutouts and a minuscule 1.20 GAA in five career appearances against the Devils.

Updated November 6, 2017

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