With the Blues' season opener in the rearview mirror, the pomp and pageantry will be put aside Saturday night at Scottrade Center. But while a game against Florida won't be the first on the club's calendar, it will mark the return of hockey in one manner.
The Western and Eastern conferences are back battling each other again.
The Blues have not faced an East opponent in the regular season since a 3-1 victory over Tampa Bay on March 17, 2012. That's a span of 20 months and a stretch of 73 games, including the playoffs.
The NHL lockout last season limited the league to a 48-game schedule, and when the puck finally dropped in January, there was only enough time left for intra-conference play. The first meeting between the West and East came in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals between Chicago and Boston, a series eventually won by the Blackhawks.
Now, following an offseason of realignment, the two conferences are ready to renew acquaintances in the regular season. In fact, teams are guaranteed to see each other twice in 2013-14, once in each other's arena.
"To have a year off from playing them and then play everybody home and home, it changes it up a little bit," Blues defenseman Barret Jackman said. "It's a fresh look at the rest of the competition and the other side of the NHL."
With 16 teams in the Eastern Conference -- Detroit and Columbus have left for the East and Winnipeg has joined the West -- the Blues' 32 matchups outside their conference will be a marked increase from the 18 played each season from 2008-12. That number had dipped to just 10 from 2005-08, when the league emphasized division rivalries.
"A few years back, you were playing teams in your own division like eight times a year and it was just too much," Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester said. "Then they cut it down to six and you played the other teams a little bit more. But as a player, you like playing everybody and you like going to different buildings.
"I think it's good for fans, too. There's marquee players on a lot of different teams all over the place, and if people don't get to see (Pittsburgh's) Sidney Crosby, I don't think that's a very good way of promoting your game. I think it's good for everyone."
Florida has a couple of the game's top young talented players in forward Jonathan Huberdeau, who was the No. 3 overall pick in 2011 and rookie of the year last season, and forward Aleksander Barkov, who was the No. 2 overall pick last summer. Barkov scored in the Panthers' 4-2 win over Dallas on Thursday.
"I know Dallas is fast but they got outskated (by Florida) and that was really surprising to me," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "Then when you look at the (Panthers') personnel and the way they've built their team, their forwards are quick. They transition the puck really quickly and they've got speed. Controlling their speed is going to be the challenge for us."
In recent years, the East has been considered the speedier of the two conferences, with teams playing a more free-wheeling offense. In the West, clubs are known to play a tighter-checking game with more physicality.
"It's weird because way back, the East was big and strong and kind of wore you down and the West was the Detroits and Colorados ... they were skilled and fast," said Bouwmeester, who once played for Florida. "It's kind of almost changed, where the East is a little bit more open and the West has all these teams that play like us and LA."
New Blues winger Brenden Morrow noticed the difference last season when the career Western Conference player, who spent 13 seasons in Dallas, joined Pittsburgh for the stretch run.
"I didn't play every team, but the experience I did have, it was a lot more kind of puck plays and speed ... always head-manning the puck," Morrow said. "It's a really fast tempo and that kind of plays into this team's hands."
The Blues have enjoyed success against the East in recent years, posting a record of 25-6-5 in 2011-12 and 2010-11 combined. But in the last 11/2 years, rosters have changed and there are new faces, including the one on the Blues' bench.
Hitchcock acknowledged that his club might need to make adjustments when playing against the East, but not until later in the season.
"I don't think it matters early, but if you go long stretches without playing them ..." Hitchcock said. "It's more about the tempo of the games right now."
Perhaps also benefiting the Blues is that not all the faces are new.
Former Blues' 40-goal scorer Brad Boyes, who played in St. Louis from 2007-11, and defenseman Mike Weaver (2008-10) will be in Florida's lineup Saturday night. They stopped in front of the Blues' locker room Friday to greet ex-teammates.
"There's still a lot of guys that I played with here," said Boyes, whom the Blues originally traded to Buffalo. "It's good to chat with them. I loved it here, I had a great time and it's always good to come back."
Now on the other side, though, they'll receive little love in return.
"There's a few guys that we know," Jackman said. "It's going to be fun to play them hard and take two points against them."
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