Red Wings like challenge of playing one of best

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Detroit — During the long, grueling NHL schedule, there are some games that stand out as milestones, as good tests to see just where a team is at that point.

The Red Wings encounter one such stiff test Thursday in St. Louis.

This old Central Division rivalry has been clipped somewhat since the Red Wings were realigned to the Eastern Conference.

The two teams now play only twice per season.

But Thursday's game, the first between the teams, will be a significant test for the Red Wings, who'll be ending a six-game road trip (3-2-0) against a Blues team that's won five consecutive games.

"That's a good way to look at it," defenseman Kyle Quincey said. "We'll take it as a test. A very good test. If they're not one of the best teams in the league, they're the best team. They have no holes in their game.

"They're just pumping teams right now."

What makes this edition of the Blues (27-13-3, 57 points) a bit different from past seasons is their ability to score.

Only Tampa Bay (146 goals, 3.22 per game) has scored more goals than St. Louis (140, 3.16) this season, and the Blues remain a strong defensive team (eighth at 2.44 goals-against, the Red Wings are fifth, 2.33).

Young players such as Vladimir Tarasenko (24 goals, 46 points), Alex Steen (13 goals, 35 points) and Jaden Schwartz (15 goals, 35 points) are developing rapidly and give the Blues ample depth.

"They're built to win," coach Mike Babcock said.

Said Riley Sheahan: "They're always a strong, physical team with a lot of skill, too. They have a bunch of amazing offensive talented players. Obviously some strong d-men, but overall they're strong. We can't lack in any areas."

For the Red Wings, earning a victory would be a good way to end a long road trip in which they've played better than the overall results have showed.

Losses in Vancouver and Washington were actually two games in which Babcock felt the Red Wings played well enough to earn points.

This will be their last road game before a three-game home stand sends them into the All-Star break next weekend.

"Going into the All-Star break, we have to put the pedal to the medal," Sheahan said. "This will be a good challenge."

One that Babcock is excited about.

"I'm excited for us to have an opportunity at them, they're a good team," Babcock said. "It's an opportunity to play them in their building. We've had a lot of success there, a lot of fun, and some hard games. We've gotten thumped a few times, too.

"Let's go play."

'Special thing' with Hasek

It was Babcock who nudged goalie Petr Mrazek out toward Dominik Hasek on Tuesday to shake Hasek's hands just before Hasek's No. 39 was raised to the rafters at First Niagara Center.

Mrazek is a native of Czech Republic, as is Hasek, although the two had never met.

Mrazek grew up idolizing Hasek, who starred for the Czech Republic in the Olympics and won two Stanley Cups with the Red Wings.

"I said, 'Pete, you better get on the ice and shake his hand before he starts, talk to him in Czech," Babcock said. "Dom's had a significant impact on the game, especially in his country. I thought it would be a thrill to make sure that (Mrazek meeting Hasek) would happen.

"I'm sure someone took a photo. He'll have that (memory)."

Babcock felt the ceremony was well done and paid tribute to Hasek's vast accomplishments with the Sabres. "It was a great honor for Dom and for us to be here is a special thing," Babcock said.

Ice chips

The Red Wings originally were going to skate in Detroit on Wednesday but changed their plans and went directly to St. Louis to practice.

Darren Helm's shorthanded goal Tuesday was the Red Wings' first shorthanded goal this season. Florida is now the only team without a shorthanded goal.

Red Wings at Blues

Faceoff: 8 p.m. Thursday, Scottrade Center, St. Louis

TV/radio: FSD/97.1

Outlook: This is the first of two games this season between the teams. … The Blues have won five consecutive games and are 16-4-1 at home. ... D's Kevin Shattenkirk, Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester are the nucleus of a deep, talented unit.