Monday, November 17, 2014

(11-18-14) BLUES NOTEBOOK

Lehtera feeling good after winning star of the week; 
Butler's patience paid off; Blues begin four-game trip even-keeled 

By LOU KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- The early-season -- and career -- success for Blues center Jori Lehtera continues to shine.

After fellow "STL Line" mate Vladimir Tarasenko was selected as the NHL First Star of the Week two weeks ago, Lehtera was picked as the First Star of the Week, announced on Monday.

Lehtera tied for the league lead in goals (four) and points (six) and posted a plus-5 rating as the Blues (12-4-1, 25 points) went 3-0-0 last week and moved into first place in the Central Division. 

Lehtera began the week by recording his first career hat trick in a 6-1 win against the Buffalo Sabres. He recorded two assists in a 4-3 victory over the Nashville Predators and closed the week by scoring one goal in a 4-1 win against the Washington Capitals, the Blues' 10 win in 11 games. 

Lehtera extended his point streak to seven games (five goals and six assists) and the "STL Line" of Lehtera, Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko has combined for 33 points in its past eight contests. Tarasenko won the Third Star of the Week last week.

"I have to thank my linemates about it and my team," Lehtera said. "They give me unbelievable passes and I think we played well this week.

"It went well. We won the games. It feels good."

Lehtera, 26, is in his first season in the NHL and third on the team in scoring with 17 points (behind Tarasenko's 21 and Schwartz's 18). He's second on the team in plus/minus at plus-12 (behind Tarasenko's plus-15) and is making believers out of the Blues and their fans that his two-year, $5.5 million contract is more than a worthy investment.

"I always knew I could play here, but now I can play with real good guys, which makes it easier," Lehtera said. "... It feels better every game. I'm getting used to the style," Lehtera said. "I still have a lot of things to learn.

"Everything's still new. I'm still learning."

Lehtera has quickly adapted to the "200-foot game" coach Ken Hitchcock craves from his players. The evolution has transformed Lehtera into a complete player thus far.

"When I played in Finland, I just played offense," Lehtera said, "but then when I went to Russia, I started to learn more to play in (the) d-zone."

When asked if it's helped him, Lehtera said, "A lot."

Now that two-thirds of the "STL Line" won a first star award, it's up to Schwartz to complete the trifecta, or hat trick.

"I hope so," Lehtera said with a smile.

* The Butler did it -- Kirkwood native and Blues defenseman Chris Butler was back on the ice and now is firmly entrenched as the team's seventh defenseman after  being recalled from the American Hockey League's Chicago Wolves on Saturday.

Butler, who led the Wolves' defensemen with nine points (eight assists) in 14 games after spending his first six seasons (three each) with the Buffalo Sabres and most recently, the Calgary Flames, 

"It was a great," Butler said of his stint with the Wolves. "We have a really good team there. We were really deep. I got a chance to go down and play a ton, play in all situations trying to help some younger guys as much as I could. It was a lot of fun. It's a first class organization, a very NHL-like organization.

Butler, who has 10 goals and 75 points in 349 NHL games, hasn't been in the AHL since playing 27 games for the Portland Pirates in the 2008-09 season.

"Maybe it was a little humbling at first," Butler said. "I'd been in the NHL six years in a row there, to kind of go back to where you started. It was a chance to work on my game and try to work on the offensive side of things, make sure I was playing well defensively, just a chance to kind of maybe get a little bit of confidence back and feel good about myself again. It was fun. I'm happy to be back."

Now that he's with his hometown team, the goal is for Butler to remain here. 

"It's nice to be here, nice to be part of a team that's got a good thing going right now," Butler said. "My goal is to just come in and blend in and then go from there.

"... Your job is to stay ready and stay focused, make sure you're game-sharp when you're called upon. It's a long year. A lot of strange things can happen during the course of the year. I've been fortunate to stay healthy for a while. You just (have to) be ready when called upon."

Butler, 28, knew what situation he was getting himself into when he signed a two-way contract this past summer. He knew there was the chance he'd not make the team out of camp but would have to work his way into the lineup if he remained patient.

"That was kind of something that we talked about in the summer time and that part of the decision to come here and knowing there maybe was this opportunity," Butler said. "You would have to be a little patient. Sometimes it seems like it's Groundhog Day a little bit when you're kind of hoping and wanting to get back here, but now that I'm here, I'm going to continue to work hard and keep working on my game."

Blues defenseman Barret Jackman said adding an experienced veteran only helps.

"I really like the way he plays," Jackman said of Butler. "... He's got experience. He's played very well in this league and he deserves to be in the NHL and he's got the opportunity again."

* Taking the act on the road -- The Blues, who have played the fewest road games this season along with the New York Rangers (six), begin a four-game swing beginning Tuesday night in Boston against the Bruins (11-8-0), where they haven't lost since 2000-01 and are riding a six-game winning streak at TD Garden.

But winning 10 of 11 and being on the hottest streak in the NHL currently, the Blues aren't jumping through hoops at the recent surge in success and keeping an even-keeled attitude.

"Seems like it," said associate coach Brad Shaw, who was speaking on behalf of coach Ken  Hitchcock, who has not spoken to the media the past couple days dealing with a family matter. "Even the guys that have gotten individual awards like Lehtera and Tarasenko, guys that have really contributed offensively, they seem well-grounded. You can probably point to the leadership in the room for that, keeping guys in check and making sure that everything's about the team and everything is about the long journey that we're on here. It's not a sprint. We realize there's a lot more big games on the horizon, so we're trying to sort of keep things in perspective."

The trip will take the Blues through Eastern Conference teams in Boston, Montreal (Thursday) and Ottawa (Saturday) before a Sunday afternoon Central Division clash with Winnipeg. As far as Shaw is concerned, the Blues shouldn't alter anything.

"I think just sticking to the game plan," Shaw said. "I think we've got a lot clearer identity as to how we have to play. You get that luxury in playing at home, getting the matchup that you want. I don't think much of that changes as we head out on the road and lose the matchup availability. I still think we have to stick to what gives us success, which is a real good checking game, which opens up ice for our offense.

"... We're not sneaking up on anybody anymore. We're aware of how good we are, so are other teams. I think it's made us a better team. I think we're adjusting to it still. I think there's some growth there obviously. I think that adversity of having to play through a little better competition night after night should help us at the end of the year as well."

Hitchcock accompanied the Blues on the trip to Boston but there was the chance that Shaw and assistant coach Kirk Muller, who both have experience as head coaches in the league, could coach the team.

* Allen, Elliott impressing -- Part of the even-keeled mentality comes from the Blues goalies, where Brian Elliott and Jake Allen are posting some impressive numbers among the league stats.

Allen (1.67) and Elliott (1.87) are Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, in the NHL in goals-against average, while Allen (.933) is third in save percentage and Elliott is fourth (.930).

"We take pride it in a little bit, but there's still a long way to go," Allen said. "Great start is key, but guys have helped us so much. We play great as a team. 

"For me personally, to be around the guys, they make me feel at home and comfortable, which helps a lot. It's a team effort. We're off to a good start, but we still have a ways to go. ... Our job is to make the key saves. We need to make that save. That's our job. We're doing an alright job so far."


Sunday, November 16, 2014

Leopold was locker room favorite

Blues move on after trade, Butler next in line to add to defensive depth

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Jordan Leopold wasn't just any teammate. He was a teammate well-liked in the Blues' locker room.

So after the most complete victory Saturday night, a 4-1 victory against the Washington Capitals, there were enough well-wishers offering up kind things to say about the 34-year-old Leopold, who was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets Saturday morning for a 2016 fifth-round pick.

By day, Leopold, who has 66 goals and 210 points in 660 NHL games including one goal and eight points in 49 games with the Blues, was a Blue at the morning skate Saturday. By night, he was a Blue Jacket that helped his new team defeat the San Jose Sharks 2-1 by playing 17 minutes, 11 seconds.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Jordan Leopold (33) spent parts of three seasons with the Blues before
he was traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday.

"Hopefully, Leo gets some playing time there," Blues left wing Jaden Schwartz said. "We're going to miss him. He was a great guy for us. Hopefully, he does well there."

It's never easy losing a teammate, especially one so well-liked, but Leopold was a healthy scratch seven straight games and would have been for an eighth consecutive one Saturday night had he been with the Blues.

"Really tough," Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "He's a guy who brings a lot of experience to the locker room. More than anything, he brings a likeness to the locker room. He comes in with a smile on his face every day and gets everyone cheered up. 

"It's tough. That's the worst part of this. This whole business is seeing guys go. Obviously you only wish the best for him and now it seems like he'll have an opportunity to play. That's great for him. ... A guy that's been around it a while, it's tough (to sit out). Everyone wants to play. When you were younger, in the lineup and a big part of it. He comes in this year and he kind of gets put in a seventh role. He took it like a real veteran and a real professional."

"Awesome teammate," Blues captain David Backes said of Leopold. "A guy who was here for three years. Very good character guy. I just think he wasn't playing much and a guy that's 34 and wanting to show that he's still got game left. Columbus has had a lot of injuries and he'll be able to go there and play." 

It was just a case where the Blues had no room for Leopold, who was acquired from the Buffalo Sabres for 2013 second- and fifth-round picks. The emergence of Ian  Cole, plus the steady play of Barret Jackman, who Blues GM Doug Armstrong said is playing better than he has in the most recent past few seasons, made Leopold expendable. And the fact that it gives the Blues some flexibility with the salary cap doesn't hurt either.

"Ian's showed us that he wants the job," said Blues associate coach Brad Shaw, who works with the defensemen. "He's done enough good things. Still lots of learning to do for him, but he's really come a long way since he's been with us. He's a real functional piece for us right now. We've tinkered with him on the power play, I know he can kill penalties in a pinch if we need him. We've played him in a lot of different roles already this year. He's been successful at most of them. He's where we'd like him to be. He's a guy that looks like he's got a real good future going forward, and he's helping us win games right now as well."

Chris Butler, a Kirkwood native who the Blues signed to a two-way contract from the Calgary Flames, was recalled from the Chicago Wolves and will join the Blues at practice Monday and be the seventh defenseman moving forward.

"He brings pace," Shaw said of Butler, who had nine points in 14 games in the American Hockey League. "He brings a guy with a lot of games under his belt in that seven-role that he's going to have when he gets here. It's tough when it's a guy who's only got a handful of games. He's played a bunch of years at this level. With that comes a little bit of wisdom that there's not a lot of surprises on the ice. 
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Chris Butler (right) and Ryan Reaves were opponents last season. They
will be teammates moving forward after Butler was recalled from the AHL.

"I talked to (Wolves assistant coach) Mark Hardy in Chicago who said he's playing night and day from when he got there at the end of training camp to now. He's said he's by far their best defenseman on their team, playing in a bunch of situations down there, which builds your confidence and allows you to sort of get back to the 'A' game that you'd like to have."

The emergence of Petteri Lindbohm also gives the Blues flexibility. Lindbohm could find his way to the NHL sooner than expected after strong training camp, the most surprising of any player.

"We'll have Chris Butler, Lindbohm, whoever it is ... 'Buts' for now that are very capable players," Backes said. "We've got great depth. The next man's got to step up and fill that role. We feel that 'Buts' is a heck of a guy, heck of a player and great to have him here."

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Complete team effort propels Blues to 4-1 win against Capitals

Backes, Berglund, Schwartz all chip in goal, assist; 
shut down potent Capitals offense for 10th win in past 11

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The Blues have received what coach Ken Hitchcock called some great individual play throughout the young season. Somebody new steps up at the most opportune time, whether it's the "STL Line" providing a big goal or the goaltending or a key defensive play that's sparked this recent Blues surge.

The veteran coach said the Blues are still waiting for that consistent effort from the group.

On Saturday night, they got it, and if this is a sign of things to come, these Blues are going to be a handful the rest of the way.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Jaden Schwartz (17) had a goal and an assist to extend his point streak to
six games in the Blues' 4-1 win against the Capitals.

Healthy, confident and vibrant, the Blues got efforts up and down the lineup in a 4-1 victory against the Washington Capitals at Scottrade Center to finish a five-game homestand 4-1-0.

All three members of the "STL Line" seem to be taking turns helping the Blues (12-4-1) win games. Jaden Schwartz made his presence felt with a goal and an assist. But top-line players David Backes and Patrik Berglund also got in on the scoring with a goal and assist each.

Although Vladimir Tarasenko saw his seven-game point streak end, Schwartz got his ninth and 10th points during a six-game point streak (eight assists), and fellow "STL Line" member Jori Lehtera extended his point streak to seven games (11 points) with his fifth goal for the Blues, who have won 10 of 11. The "STL Line" has combined for 33 points in the past eight games.

Goalie Brian Elliott earned his sixth win in his past seven starts by stopping 24 shots. Kevin Shattenkirk had two assists to give him five in three games.

"I think it came down to Backes' line," said Shattenkirk, who is the NHL leader among defensemen with 15 assists. "They had to face the [Alex] Ovechkin line all night, and they did a great job keeping them in their defensive zone. I think that was the most important thing, shutting them down and then the other three lines were able to get free and play good hockey

"Everyone played really well tonight from three defensive pairings to all four lines and obviously Brian."

Washington (7-7-3), which lost its second game in as many nights, got a goal from Joel Ward. Justin Peters stopped 30 shots.

"I think it was a good example; I think St. Louis, you have to consider them a contender in the (Western Conference)and you get measured up by them and you see the level of play and the level of physicality and the level of commitment that's needed to be successful," said Capitals coach Barry Trotz of the Blues, who knows them well from his days coaching the Nashville Predators. 

"There's a reason they've won ten of eleven games," Trotz added. "They play a pretty solid game."

Capitals defenseman Nate Schmidt agreed.

"They were just all over us," Schmidt said of the Blues. "We didn’t have a lot of speed hitting the blue line. We need to get pucks deep and their defensemen played really well. 

"We can learn a lot from this game, see a lot of things we can work on, take some things from their game. They do some things especially well, take what we learn and use it in our next couple of games."

The Blues smothered the Capitals for much of the game. They held Washington's third-ranked power play without an opportunity and limited Ovechkin, who came into the game as the NHL leader in shots with 75, to three.

"That doesn't happen very often because he loves to get that puck on his stick and let 'er rip," Backes said of Ovechkin.

From top to bottom, the Blues perfected their game plan.

"I thought we had the game with the most contributors," said associate coach Brad Shaw, who subbed for Hitchcock in the coach's press conference on Saturday.

"It was probably our most compete game of the season, 60 minutes, all facets," Backes said. "... We played a good game against a tired team where we were getting pucks deep, not letting them transition and fly the way that they like to stay on the move and turn it into a track meet. They've got tons of skill that will make you pay."

Lehtera scored his seventh goal when he converted Schwartz's flip pass from the slot with a quick shot past Peters 9:11 into the first period for a 1-0 Blues lead. Schwartz's initial shot was blocked, but he stayed with the puck and made a quick pass. 

Ward tied the game and snapped Washington's streak without a goal at 91:59 when his wrist shot from the top of the left faceoff circle eluded Elliott and trickled over the goal line 6:38 into the second period. It was Ward's first goal in four games after he had a three-game goal-scoring streak. 

Schwartz gave the Blues the lead again at 2-1 when he was able to backhand in a rebound off Shattenkirk's wrist shot from the right point, outmuscling Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner in front of Peters at 12:36 of the second period. 

The Blues then got a gift from Peters early in the third. Peters misplayed a puck behind his net, and Berglund was able to reach and tip a pass to Backes, who found an empty net 12 seconds into the third period to give the Blues a 3-1 lead. 
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Ian Cole (right) tries to win a puck battle with Capitals
forward Troy Brouwer Saturday night.

"I told you guys this morning he's been working his butt off doing a lot of the little things that haven't been on the scoresheet all year," Backes said of Berglund. "Tonight he got on the scoresheet a couple times. Awesome effort by him to take the puck from the goalie. I had the empty net." 

It was the second night in a row a turnover by a Capitals goalie cost Washington a goal. On Friday, Braden Holtby's giveaway to Mike Cammalleri in the third period enabled the New Jersey Devils to win 1-0. 

Berglund took a cross-ice pass from Oshie and beat Peters with 3:19 remaining to give the Blues a 4-1 lead.

"He's driving hard down the far side, (Oshie) makes a great patience play and finds his tape and he makes no mistake," Backes said of Berglund's goal. "... Great to see him get the rewards."

(11-15-14) Capitals-Blues Gameday Lineup

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The Blues wanted to accommodate veteran defenseman Jordan Leopold and did so early Saturday afternoon. 

Needing some cap relief and wanting to give a veteran player ice time he wasn't going to get here, the Leopold to the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The Blues acquired a 2016 fifth-round from the Blue Jackets for the rights to Leopold, who played in seven games this season but with the recent return of Carl Gunnarsson from a hip injury and the steady play of Barret Jackman and Ian Cole on the blue line, Leopold, 34, was a healthy scratch for seven straight games and eight of the past nine. So the Blues accommodated Leopold by dealing him to a Blue Jackets team that's been decimated by injuries and where he will step right in and play.

The Blues, who host the Washington Capitals on Saturday, have recalled defenseman Chris Butler from the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League. 

The Blues will retain $500,000 pro-rated of Leopold's $2.25 million salary that's in the final year of a two-year, $4.5 million contract.

"In the situation that we're in right now and where Jordan is, he wants to obviously continue to play and as a seventh defenseman, his ice time was going to be predicated on injuries and I think it's a difficult time obviously for Jordan to be moving, but I think it's going to help him get back on the ice on a regular basis in Columbus," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said. "It's going to also relieve some cap space moving forward. 

"We've kept $500,000 pro-rated in the salary. ... What it's going to do is create $1.1 million pro-rated cap space for us moving forward and that obviously grows as you get closer to the deadline. We've been very close to the salary cap this year and this creates a little more room for us moving forward if we want to try and do some other things to improve our team from this day forward. Our cap space is a little greater."

Butler, who makes $650,000 NHL salary, puts the Blues at roughly $2.35 million under the cap.

Armstrong identified the play of Butler, Petteri Lindbohm and Brent Regner with the Wolves as reason to believe the depth of the organization on the blue line enabled them to move the veteran Leopold, who is expected to make his Blue Jackets debut Saturday when Columbus hosts the San Jose Sharks. 

"I talked to (Wolves assistant coach) Mark Hardy today and Chris has played very well," Armstrong said of Butler. "We believe in the depth there, and also Lindbohm that came over from Finland wasn't really on our radar screen in the summer. 

"In talking to the guys last night, (Lindbohm) played his best game as a pro [against] Utica. There's some positive things there and Regner's played well down there. We believe we have some depth. If we get pushed and taxed, we also have the cap space to do other things if we need to."

Leopold, who has 66 goals and 210 points in 659 NHL games, never requested a trade.

"We talked over the summer," Armstrong said. "You try and have that relationship with the guys. We said Ian Cole's going to get a big opportunity this year. Leo said, 'I love St. Louis, I want to be a Blue but I also have a career to worry about.' It never got into 'I demand this.' 

"I understand where he's at. He loves the game and he wants to play. The way you get contracts is to be on the ice and prove people that you're a contributing player. I think he's going to get that opportunity in Columbus. Right now, he wasn't getting that here and he most likely wasn't going to get that here unless there were injuries." 

Lindbohm's impressive training camp and ascension up the organization's depth chart made this a win-win for both sides. 

"Yeah it did, and Regner quite honestly," Armstrong said. "He's played very good for us down there. 

"We have six healthy guys now; Butler will be seven. I do like the depth that we have down there. We don't do things just to make players happy, but I also understand that Jordan at this part of his career needs to play to extend his career. Hopefully this works out for everybody. Obviously we are not as deep as we were, but we have gained what is important in this era is cap space."

Butler had nine points (eight assists) in 14 games with the Wolves.

"He's played very good," Armstrong said. "Mark said that he's been their most consistent player. His skating, his physical play ... what they have told me is he's playing in the wrong league in the American Hockey League, and what we saw from him the last few years as an NHL player was he got caught in a numbers game in a situation  where a lot of guys cleared waivers at the start of the season. We view him as an NHL player and he's going to get that opportunity to get back up here as part of our seven. I hope that we stay healthy. 

"I like our group of six right now. I think Barret Jackman is playing some of his best hockey of recent over the last three or four years since I've been here. I really like the way he's playing right now. We saw Gunnarsson take a huge step forward the other night. His ice time got up into that 17-18 minute range. Obviously the goal and the helper's always nice, but I just like his steady play. I think the depth and the quality of the way our guys are playing right now has made this something that we feel we can do.

"I think if you look at Ian's minutes, his plus-minus ... all his stats are turning in the right direction. He was told he was going to get an opportunity this year to come in and play, and he's had some really good games. He's had some games, I guess the best way to describe it is the valleys aren't nearly as low as they may had been in the past, which means he's become a steady contributor that we know what we're going to get. We always like those upside nights, but we also know as a coaching staff, I'm sure Brad and Ken want to know what the downside's going to be. A much more competent, a much more level player than in the past and we only expect him to get better."

Butler is expected to arrive in St. Louis Sunday evening and be on the ice for practice Monday.

"Go to Chicago, pack up, be happy about that move, get in the car and drive down the highway tomorrow and he should be here for Monday's practice," Armstrong said.

- - -

The Blues (27.1 percent) and Capitals (25.9 percent) rank 2nd and 3rd respectively in power play percentage this season. St. Louis’ power play has converted in five of their last six games (8 of 20, 40 percent), while they are 8-1-0 when scoring on the power play this season.

- - -

The Blues' probable lineup:

Patrik Berglund-David Backes-T.J. Oshie

Alexander Steen-Paul Stastny-Joakim Lindstrom

Jaden Schwartz-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko

Steve Ott-Maxim Lapierre-Ryan Reaves

Jay  Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Carl Gunnarsson-Kevin Shattenkirk

Barret Jackman-Ian Cole

Brian Elliott will get the start in goal. Jake Allen will be the backup.

Healthy scratches include Chris PorterMagnus Paajarvi and Chris Butler.

- - -

The Capitals' projected lineup:

Alex Ovechkin-Nicklas Backstrom-Jay Beagle

Marcus Johansson-Andre Burakovsky-Troy Brouwer

Jason Chimera-Eric Fehr-Joel Ward

Liam O'Brien-Evgeny Kuznetsov-Michael Latta

Brooks Orpik-John Carlson

Karl Alzner-Matt Niskanen

Nate Schmidt-Mike Green

Justin Peters is expected to start in goal. Braden Holtby, who stopped 27 shots in a 1-0 loss Friday against the New Jersey Devils, would be the backup.

Jack Hillen is the expected healthy scratch. Brooks Laich (shoulder), Tom Wilson (lower body), Dmitry Orlov (wrist), John Erskine (neck surgery) have been out with injuries, but Wilson could return to the lineup tonight. O'Brien also sustained a lower-body injury Friday and is a game-time decision.

Friday, November 14, 2014

(11-15-14) BLUES NOTEBOOK

Oshie's minutes high; Blues successful in tight games, can get more; 
Berglund's game more than just scoring; Tarasenko's fists; Gunnarsson's best

By LOU KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Ken Hitchcock knew when T.J. Oshie returned to the Blues' lineup, there would be no holding back.

With Oshie's style of play and does not exhibit any sort of easing into his game, the Blues' coach would have no restrictions.

Little did Hitchcock know after he sat down at his desk following a 4-3 victory against the Nashville Predators on Thursday night that he used Oshie as much.

Oshie scored a goal, his first of the season and second point, and played 22 minutes, 58 seconds, which was tops among forwards and trailed only Alex Pietrangelo (25:56) overall.

"I was surprised that I played him that much," Hitchcock said of Oshie, who had two shots, one hit and one takeaway. "I didn't know I played him that much to be honest with you. I didn't think he was ... I don't know why I didn't think that. I didn't think he played as much as I saw on the sheet, so I can't argue with the NHL, but it didn't feel like I was playing him that much. But then that's probably why he was a little bit tired in the last 10 minutes of the third period, because we did play him a lot."

When Oshie received clearance from team doctors Thursday afternoon and got the green light, he knew there was no stopping him. And that meant playing with a relentless motor.

"I wanted to make sure that when I came back, that I was ready to play my full game," Oshie said. "You hate seeing a guy come back and then shy away from hits or shy away from contact. I waited until I was ready to come in and just play my normal style of game. That's what I tried to do out there (Thursday). A couple turnovers; they do a good job. Clean those up and get better on Saturday."

Of Oshie's 22:58 time on ice, 20:09 was played at even strength.

"I think I was just still excited to be playing hockey," Oshie said. "The goal was just a little bit of a bonus.

"I was excited. I went through the whole day preparing like I was going to play. If there was a setback, I was going to stay out. The day went good, good nap, good meal and came in ready to go."

* Cutting it close -- There's a fine line between winning and losing in the NHL. As Hitchcock puts it, "Seventy-five percent of your wins are one-goal games and you're going to have to collect those points every time."

The Blues have been on the cutting edge 10 times in 16 games during one-goal games, including shootouts.

And a large reason why they're 11-4-1 thus far (good for 23 points and first place in the Central Division) is their 7-2-1 record in one-goal games.

"To win one-goal games, you've got to have a conscience on your team to play the game the right way," Hitchcock said. "It's kind of not what you get, it's what you give up. I think for us, there's been a conscious buy-in from really the day I got here. I think there were a lot of things in place with (former coaches) Andy (Murray) and Davis (Payne) with a lot of the younger guys to get them to play the right way. If we have a one-goal lead halfway through the hockey game, we're comfortable managing the game properly. I think that's the reason that you win one-goal games, because that's what the league is.

"For me, I think a big part of it is because we don't try to poach to get the next goal. We're willing to buy and have the confidence that we can continue down this path and wear out the opposition. I think that just comes from the work ethic that was established before I got here and what we've kept going."

* More is better -- Even with the best stretch in the NHL during the past 10 games (9-1), even climbing to or near the top of the division, conference and overall standings, the Blues, who host the Washington Capitals Saturday night (7 p.m. on FSN, KMOX 1120-AM) to close out a five-game homestand, feel they have more to give.

The "STL Line" has given them plenty to go with, collecting 30 points in seven games (4.28 points per game) and 38 points (16 goals, 22 assists) in 10 games (3.80 points per game); goaltending from Brian Elliott (6-3-1, 1.96 goals-against average and .928 save percentage) and Jake Allen (5-1-0 with a league-leading 1.67 GAA and .933 save percentage) has been rock-solid, but the total team concept of winning collectively has yet to reach its peak.

"There's lots more, lots more," Hitchcock said. "I think there's a consistent level that we can arrive at throughout our group. 

"I think we've had some awesome performances from individuals. I think we've had really good goaltending at the right time, timely saves. Look at (Thursday) night, game's on the line (and) Jake makes three big saves. I think we've had that going all year, but I think collectively as a group, we can play better. We're going to need to play better, especially against some of the top teams. A team like Washington coming in, they've got depth as deep as we do. We're going to need more participants than we've ever had to beat a team like that, and then you go on the road, you're going to need everybody participating. Our record is good, but we've got another gear that we can all play at. It's not we need a special performance from this guy or whatever. I just think the collective push from our team can be better than we've got so far. We've gotten some great individual performances and different heroes kind of every night, but that collective response is what we're going to challenge the guys to come up with."

* Berglund's play -- If there's one Blues player that has drawn the ire of fans is that of Patrik Berglund.

Berglund, who has shifted from center to wing, back to center and now back to wing again, was signed to a three-year contract worth $3.7 million per season. By those standards, it's natural for fans to expect strong numbers to back up such an investment, especially since there were serious discussions over the summer regarding Berglund (who was a restricted free agent) and whether his tenure as a Blue would end since the Vasteras, Sweden native was rumored to be involved in talks regarding the Blues and Ottawa Senators regarding Jason Spezza, who ultimately was traded to the Dallas Stars.

Berglund is off to a slow start numbers-wise, with only one goal and two points in 15 games. Berglund has never scored less than 25 points in a season, and that was the 2012-13 strike-shortened season. 

Over the course of 82 games, Berglund would be on pace for just under 11 points (10.92). But Hitchcock feels there's more to just scoring to Berglund's game this season.

"If you just look at numbers, you're going to say, 'Well gee, he should do more,' but there's a process involved in this," Hitchcock said. "I think that it's the role he plays in, it's what we use him for. You go through evolutions. 

Even during the season, he's a guy for us that we use in checking roles, we use against top players. Look, he had every shift (Thursday) night against James Neal and it wasn't a lot of fun, but he negated a good player for most of the night based on his own play. There's real value in that for us. I see a guy that's really starting to play a strong role on our hockey club and if he continues to emerge from this ... the scoring is the last part that gets taken care of, not the first part. Now he's starting to create separation, which is allowing him to get his shot away. This is very similar to where he was before he got hurt last year, so he had about seven or eight really good quality games before he hurt his shoulder last year. This feels very similar to where he was at that period of time."

Berglund kills penalties, he's getting limited power play time and has been asked to defend against the opposition's top players. While it may be taking away from the scoresheet, it's not taking anything away on the back-checking, the defensive responsibilities and the small stats that don't necessarily show up on a scoresheet.

"Determination, speed. He's got better tempo on his game," Hitchcock said of Berglund. "He's got more determination, he's got the puck more because he's hanging onto it and skating. I think the thing we like the best is his first touch, he's really moving his feet. I like a lot of the things he's doing right now. He's got some real heavy, hard play with the puck now. If he continues down this path, it's going to lead to some real good scoring opportunities every night.

"I think he's just starting to create his own individual space on the ice. His first move in the offensive zone early in the season was to stick-handle the puck and I think he was getting checked and covered over because of it. Now his first move is to skate. He's creating separation all the time now, and I think that's going to lead to more and more scoring opportunities. I like the fact that he's staying with it longer. I think at the end of the day, that's going to really help us."

* Halting Tarasenko's fists -- When Vladimir Tarasenko was checked high around the head/neck area by Nashville's Eric Nystrom in the second period Thursday, and after teammate Kevin Shattenkirk came on to defend his teammate, Tarasenko wasn't going to take what would ensue lying down.

Tarasenko made a dart towards Predators defenseman Ryan Ellis, who came on to bump Shattenkirk while he was dealing with Nystrom. Tarasenko and Ellis would wind up throwing down the gloves, Tarasenko's first fight that eventually resulted in a Gordie Howe Hat Trick.

But in the grand scheme of things, Blues brass and coaches had to be holding their collective breath seeing their rising star throwing fists, which prompted Hitchcock to answer the question of whether the coaches talked to Tarasenko to scale back in that situation.

"Not really," Hitchcock said. "That's just snap judgment. It's a little bit like you get those moments and you're standing on the bench and you're thinking Connor McDavid right there, and you're going, 'Let's get out of this thing alive.' You're nervous about that as a coach, but for the players, it's an emotional sport. It's pretty volatile. I'm more concerned with ... cutting across the middle is OK as long as you do it with tempo. When you do it slow, you open yourself up, and that's what I was concerned with. 

"I said this (Thursday) night that the line didn't have the tempo in their game, and they got covered over because of it. Making the plays they make, as long as it's done at top speed is going to always end up being more successful than not, but when you do it slowly, people are going to get on top of you and they're going to cover you over. That's what happened."

* Gunnarsson's best -- His first two points (one goal and one assist) as a Blue and plus-3 rating in 17:22 was exactly what the Blues thought they were getting out of defenseman Carl Gunnarsson when they traded for the Orebro, Sweden native at the NHL Draft in June with the Toronto Maple Leafs for Roman Polak and a fourth-round pick.

It was Gunnarsson's ninth game after missing seven to begin the season recovering from off-season hip surgery.

"That's the guy we thought we were getting," Hitchcock said of Gunnarsson. "He was really good (Thursday) night. He was really strong on the puck, he was really smart. He makes a lot of little plays that really help. That's the guy we thought we were getting. 

"Hopefully if that's the jumping off point where he feels good, that's a real good jumping off point for us. If that's the game we're going to get from him every night, that's going to really be helpful."

* Scouting the Capitals -- The Blues were not very successful with the Capitals, who played at home Friday night against the New Jersey Devils before making the two-hour trek west to St. Louis to face the Blues, in recent memory.

Washington, which was 7-5-3 heading into Friday, won a pair of 4-1 games against the Blues last season, including the most recent meeting April 8 in St. Louis. Alex Ovechkin scored his 50th goal of the season that night and Nicklas Backstrom scored twice.

"Speed, skill, transition ... they got three lines that can come at you," Hitchcock said of the Barry Trotz-coached Capitals. "They've got a fourth line that's got tempo, they've got five of their six defensemen are all puck-movers. They create a lot of space on the ice and they really play with tempo. It's going to be a really good challenge for us. I think in the past, they've needed the power play to create their numerical advantage on the scoreboard. The power play is really good, but the way they're playing right now, they don't need the power play to win games. That to me is what's going to make them dangerous for the next level."

* Blues partner with Pepsi and Schnucks for 'Operation Food Search Canned Food Drive' -- The Blues are partnering with Pepsi and Schnucks to host a canned food drive for Operation Food Search on Saturday before the Blues host the Capitals.

The first 10,000 fans to bring a canned food item to Scottrade Center will receive a free Blues t-shirt courtesy of Pepsi and Schnucks. Cash donations will also be received at the door.

Fans are encouraged to bring canned food items of light tuna, canned chicken, canned pasta with meat, soup/chili, and other protein based foods, as well as canned vegetables, canned fruit and personal hygiene supplies.

Operation Food Search, has been fighting hunger by collecting and distributing food throughout the St. Louis community, as well as providing nutrition education programs and organizing several environmentally-friendly green initiatives since 1981. Operation Food Search helps 190,000 area St. Louisians per month. The Blues would like to congratulate Schnucks on their 75th anniversary, and thank them and Pepsi for their partnership and helping to feed in-need St. Louisans through Operation Food Search.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Oshie's return, Stastny's game-winner help Blues top Predators

Goal with 5:54 remaining was difference in 4-3 
victory; STL Line contributes another five points

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- After having success to begin the season, Paul Stastny was derailed by a shoulder injury that sidelined him for seven games.

He's been back for four games, including Thursday against the Nashville Predators, and prior to the game, he had no points.

The Blues have relied on the "STL Line" for their scoring for much of the season.

Although Jaden Schwartz, Vladimir Tarasenko and Jori Lehtera combined for five points Thursday in a 4-3 victory against the Nashville Predators, the Blues got key contributions from some of their other top players.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Paul Stastny (26) gets congratulated by teammates after scoring in the
third period to help the Blues defeat the Nashville Predators 4-3.

The result thrust the Blues back into first place in the Central Division.

Stastny's tiebreaking goal with 5:54 remaining in the third period helped the Blues defeat the Predators. 

Tarasenko had a goal and an assist, and Lehtera and Schwartz combined for three assists. The line has 30 points in the past seven games, but Stastny's first point in four games since returning from a shoulder injury proved to be crucial.

"I'm just trying to help the team out," Stastny said. "It's been a weird start for me with the first game taking that knee and then I kind of hurt my shoulder. I knew before the season it was going to take a while to kind of get used to guys, get used to systems and sometimes, you tend to overthink out there instead of playing. That's part of it, and I've got to take more responsibility for stuff like that.

"It's a win. That's the most important thing, especially first place. I know it's early. That's a good team over there. We battled out a win, which was huge for us." 

Stastny's second goal of the season, a redirection of a Kevin Shattenkirk wrist shot from the right point between the pads of Predators goalie Pekka Rinne, broke a 3-3 tie after Stastny won the faceoff in the Nashville zone. 

"You just try to take a better angle and come a little higher for reasons like that just because even if I do tip it, it's going to create a rebound if it doesn't go in," Stastny said. "Sometimes you get too caught up in just trying to get in front of the net. These D-men are so big, if you try to get too close to the goalie, it just takes away your complete angle. 

"When you have shooters like that with Gunny and Shatty, they take that snap shot and are just looking for a stick instead of taking a slap shot. You've got to give them credit."

T.J. Oshie, who was activated from injured reserve after missing seven games with a consussion, scored his first goal of the season for St. Louis, and Gunnarsson had a goal and an assist. 

Jake Allen made 22 saves for the Blues (11-4-1), who won for the ninth time in the past 10 games and avenged a 2-1 loss to the Predators (10-4-2) here Saturday. 

Oshie was cleared earlier in the day by doctors to resume playing after being injured Oct. 28 against the Dallas Stars. He was slotted on a line with David Backes and Patrik Berglund and played 22 minutes, 58 seconds.

"I felt good," Oshie said. "Once I got the first couple shifts under me, it felt better but it was good. Both teams played hard [Thursday]. It was a good battle; I think it was a good game to come back in. Improve from here and keep getting better."

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock felt Oshie's insertion in the lineup was a big boost.

"He really helped us tonight," Hitchcock said. "He came back in, it was a hard game. He played a lot of minutes and came back in and gave us what we needed. It was a big help for us.

"I know he kind of tired towards the end. I don't blame him for that because he really hasn't had many game practices. He'll be a little tired (Friday), but it was good to see him help. I thought that line was outstanding for us."

"Bergy had his best game I've seen for a long time," Hitchcock added. "He was really controlling things and he was a real good player. This was two or three games in a row where Bergy moved up another level. It's a good sign."

Nashville's Filip Forsberg had a goal and two assists to extend his point streak to seven games (13 points), Roman Josi had a goal and two assists, and Shea Weber had a goal and an assist. 

Rinne made 23 saves for the Predators, who had a three-game winning streak end despite rallying from 2-0 and 3-2 deficits. Coach Peter Laviolette was trying for his 400th NHL victory.

"Our guys played hard, but we didn't win the game," Laviolette said. "They competed and they fought but we came out on the wrong side. 

"Any time you come back from a deficit, it's difficult and we did it a couple of times."  

Oshie put the Blues ahead 1-0 when his wrist shot from the point beat a screened Rinne 3:25 into the first period. Tarasenko and Lehtera got the assists, each extending his point streak. Tarasenko has five goals and 11 points in a seven-game streak, and Lehtera has nine points in a six-game streak.

"That was nice; first one of the year," Oshie said. "It was good. 

"I'm in a new spot on the power play. I'm on the point. I played there in the past and felt pretty good. Good screen by Schwartz in front of the net and then a great play by Tarasenko to get me the puck up top."

Gunnarsson's first goal with the Blues needed video review after 1:47 ran off the clock. After officials reviewed the play, it was evident his shot from the left point was good at 12:45 for a 2-0 lead.

"I didn't think it was in, but after a review, I'll take it," Gunnarsson said. "... From my angle, I didn't think it went in. It kind of just bounced right back out. We looked up on the big screen and saw it was in by an inch or two. It was good.

"It was kind of weird sitting on the bench and ... what do you do, celebrate? It was kind of weird and then they pulled the clock back. It's what happens. We'll take it."

Gunnarsson, who's still working his way into a new team and a lineup catching up to others after missing seven games to begin the season rehabbing from off-season hip surgery, played 17:22 and arguably his best game as a Blue.

"I thought he was one of the guys that gathered this thing in in the third period because we played a great first period; they gave us a big push in the second and we took some poor penalties, but I thought we came back and played with real focus in the third," Hitchcock said.

It was the first time this season that the Blues played a game with their entire lineup in tact.

"There's lots of options," Hitchcock said. "It's probably tough for some players because you're sharing ice. Some guys probably don't play and it gives us more options than we've ever had." 

Forsberg, who has a goal in six straight games (seven total), got the Predators within 2-1, scoring 36 seconds after Gunnarsson's goal with a wrist shot from the right circle.

The Predators erased the Blues' two-goal lead when Weber's one-timer from the slot beat Allen high stick-side 3:41 into the second period to tie the game.

"I don't know if I could have stopped it either way," Allen said. "I didn't even really see it. 

"(Weber's) had one of the hardest shots in the league for a long time for a reason."

The Blues led 3-2 on Tarasenko's team-leading 10th of the season; he cut into the middle of the ice and took a wrist shot through a set of legs and off Rinne's glove with 4:42 remaining in the period. 

The goal completed the Gordie Howe Hat Trick for Tarasenko, who fought Ryan Ellis 6:46 into the second period. Schwartz got an assist to extend his point streak to five games (eight points). 

The Predators finally converted on their fourth power play, with Oshie in the box for delay of game. Josi's slap shot from the right point past a screened Allen at 19:59 of the second tied the game 3-3.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues' T.J. Oshie (left) battles Nashville's Shea Weber for the puck in
Thursday's game. Oshie returned to the lineup after missing seven games
with a concussion and scored his first goal of the season in the 4-3 win. 

"It's always tough," Allen said. "You give up a goal in the last minute, it's tough to go into the locker room like that, but we rallied. It was a zero-zero game going into the third period. That didn't matter anymore. The guys pulled it out in the end. Paul had a great tip there and got a good goal."

Allen came up big in the late going, making big saves on Neal with 3:09 left and another on Forsberg, vying for a fourth point, with 23 seconds left.

"I was a little late reacting to it, but I knew he was in the slot," Allen said of Neal's shot. "He hangs out there; that's sort of his forte and he got it off quick. It just hit me and I just dropped it didn't squirt out anywhere. He got it of quick and it sort of just got me in the stomach.

"They've got a dangerous offensive crew and Forsberg's pretty hot. I played against him last year in Milwaukee. I sort of seen what he's done before. Once I heard that "last minute," I just tried to battle to the end."

(11-13-14) Predators-Blues Gameday Lineup

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- T.J. Oshie is optimistic. Coach Ken Hitchcock was not so sure.

Turns out Oshie's optimism won out.

Oshie, who sustained a concussion Oct. 28 against the Dallas Stars, skated again Thursday prior to the Blues facing the Nashville Predators and the team announced today that Oshie was activated from injured reserve and will return to the lineup. Oshie, who has one assist in eight games and has missed the past seven games, skated for a fifth straight day without any setbacks and said he feels physically fit.

"I think so," Oshie said after the morning skate. "I've skated the last five, six days in a row now. I feel good out there. I've been riding the bike in here, I've been getting my workouts in. 

"Whenever I do go, it's probably going to take me a couple shifts. It's usually a period to kind of get your lungs going and get everything back in. I'm as ready as I will be."

Oshie needed medical clearance from team doctors before being activated from injured reserve and placed on the active roster and got it. 

"They need me to be 100 percent healthy," Oshie said of team doctors. "If I feel like I'm 100 percent healthy.

"... We're on the same page. That was a miserable first week that I had. If there's any chance that I'm at a higher risk of re-injuring my head or another concussion, I won't come back. But if I feel 100 percent ready and they feel 100 percent that I'm gonna come back and not be at any higher risk than any other player, then I'll be back in."

Hitchcock played the cautious role.

"Well, he's been good for about three or four days," Hitchcock said. "... If he gets a call, we'll put him in. If not, then we'll just keep going until somebody tells us. It's got to come from the doctors and the medical people before there's approval."

Oshie will be back where he started the season with a pair of familiar faces.

"With (David) Backes, right where they were before," Hitchcock said. "Backes and (Patrik) Berglund, the way we were the first two or three games at the start of the year back to where we started the season and lets just go from there."

Oshie, who sustained a concussion late in the season last year against the Minnesota Wild following an elbow to the head from Mike Rupp, knows better than anyone when to come back and when not to come back too early.

"Last time we didn't rush it, but I think I maybe could have waited one or two more days," Oshie said. "This time, everyone's been very clear and very up front about me waiting until I'm ready. The only way that I'll be playing tonight or Saturday night or whenever is if I feel that I'm 100 percent ready and I give them the go-ahead."

With the Blues (10-4-1), who host the Predators (10-3-2) at 7 p.m. (FSN, KMOX 1120-AM), winning eight of their past nine games, there was no need to rush.

"This has nothing to do with rushing," Hitchcock said. "This has to do with he's got to be ready. But as far as physical conditioning and as far as everything, he's been up to speed for three or four or five days now. Until we get the approval, he's not going in. If we get the approval, then we'll just put him in and play him as a normal player. Until we get that call, we're not doing anything."

- - -

After testing out the ankle he injured on Monday when he was hit with a shot during practice, right wing Ryan Reaves will return tonight after missing a 6-1 win against the Buffalo Sabres on Tuesday.

Reaves, who missed out on all the extracurricular fun during the game with the Sabres, will replace Chris Porter in the lineup.

The Blues were looking to see if Reaves could take part in an optional skate Thursday. All went according to plan.

"I've had to modify a couple things in there," Reaves said. "Got a little padding in there. It feels pretty good.

"... As long as everything goes well during the day, yeah, I'm hoping to (play)."

Added Hitchcock: "Revo's in tonight. He's the one guy that's playing."

The Blues missed Reaves' toughness and grit Tuesday. When Hitchcock was asked if the Sabres were more aggressive than teams would be without Reaves in the lineup, he replied, "Yep ... yep. I would, too." 

- - -

Since being drafted 18th overall in the 2007 NHL Draft, defenseman Ian Cole has patiently waited his turn to ascend up the ladder on the Blues' defensive corps.

Some seasons, Cole has been thrust into a prominent role -- largely because of injuries to veteran players -- and has had his ups and downs.

But so far this season, the Ann Arbor, Mich. native has seen the ice more prominently and on a more regular basis than in any of his previous four seasons.

Cole, who hasn't hit the score sheet yet through 15 games, is averaging a career-high 15 minutes, 35 seconds of ice time average per game. He's been paired with Barret Jackman on the Blues' third defensive pairing after starting the season with Alex Pietrangelo and can finally come to the rink feeling good and not having that unknown factor of whether he's playing on a game by game basis. That distinction has been placed on veteran Jordan Leopold, who will miss a seventh consecutive game tonight.

"It's probably been the most consistent that I've been playing, which is great," Cole said. "There's always going to be mistakes in the game for everyone. For every team, there's always going to be mistakes. I think trying to limit the big ones and making sure that they're small, minor and nothing happens because of it is what you want. But I think it's been good. We've obviously won a lot of games. Personally, I think it's been a good stretch. Has it been perfect? Absolutely not. There's still obviously stuff to work on. ... But I think I've been playing much more consistently. I'm really trying to give the coach someone they can rely on. Jax and I can go play against lines one through four."

Blues coaches have been hesitant to use Cole, who played in a career-high 46 games last season, on a more consistent basis because of mistakes that have been made in the past but feel

"He's a guy for us that has tremendous upside still," Hitchcock said of Cole. "This is the first time that he's been in the lineup on a regular basis night in and night out. I think the thing that I see is he's managing his game better and better every night, which is allowing him to get more minutes. There's a real confidence that he's real good on the penalty kill. There's a real confidence that he's a trusted guy in our own zone and stuff like that. I think it's allowing him to not force issues offensively. When you play occasionally, you're trying to hit home runs. Now he's just comfortable playing. The big errors are getting fewer and fewer and now he's starting to manage the game and the ice in a much better fashion. It's a good sign."

Would Cole consider himself a risk-taker? No, but playing with risk is a better option than playing with hesitancy in his game.

"I don't ... I really don't," Cole said. "I think everything I do, I'm trying to make the right play. I wouldn't consider myself a risk-taker. Some things work, some things don't. I just try to catalog that and learn from it. ... I'm not rushing up making backhand sauces through the zone or anything like that. I'm not going to try it or even attempt it. But you do try to make the right play. I try to keep it as simple as possible. Make the best day while limiting mistakes. It is a tough balance between those. There's an inherent risk in every play."

- - -

With Oshie's status settled, the status of Magnus Paajarvi was also settled.

Paajarvi, who had arguably one of his best games Tuesday since joining the Blues following the trade with the Edmonton Oilers, was supposed to skate with Backes and Berglund tonight if Oshie was declared unavailable. But he will be a healthy scratch.

Hitchcock pointed to the fact that Paajarvi grasped the concept of playing "through people" as the reason for his strong game.

Paajarvi agreed.

'That's what they want everyone to play like," Paajarvi said after the morning skate. "It was a good game for me the last game and for the team, so yeah, I'm glad they're happy.

"It's the way we play. It doesn't necessarily mean that you should kill every person and knock everybody down. It's more like stick-work and other stuff. To play through people, it's get the puck and win the battles. Hopefully I can keep it going. ... I felt like I created more space, and I think that's key."

The Blues know they can rely on Paajarvi now, as long as he can continue to play with that "play through people" mentality.

- - -

The Blues have launched a commemorative brick program allowing fans to purchase bricks that will help build the foundation of the Blues Hall of Fame Plaza. Personalized memorial bricks will be featured outside Scottrade Center, surrounding the Blues Hall of Fame statues, with installation of bricks taking place during the summer of 2015.

"We invite our fans to add to our rich heritage and be included in our most prominent display of Blues history,” Blues CEO Chris Zimmerman said in a statement. "Our fans are the cornerstone of this team’s history and future and it’s time their memories, tributes, and messages be included as part of our story."

Three brick sizes are available for sale and vary in price from $165-$375, with a premium brick option being offered at $1,000 (plus tax). For each brick bought, purchasers will receive a replica brick and a certificate of ownership to proudly display in their home or office. Those that buy before Dec. 5 will also receive two free tickets to the Dec. 8 or Dec. 11 Blues game.

Fans are able to purchase commemorative bricks and gift certificates online at www.stlouisblues.com/bluesplaza or by phone at 1-844-BLUES-PLZA (844-258-3775). To purchase a brick and receive a certificate of ownership in time for the Christmas holiday, buyers should place their order by Dec. 5. Gift certificates may also be purchased to allow a recipient to craft his or her own personal message.

- - -

The Blues' probable lineup:

Patrik Berglund-David Backes-T.J. Oshie

Alexander Steen-Paul Stastny-Joakim Lindstrom


Jaden Schwartz-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko

Steve Ott-Maxim Lapierre-Ryan Reaves

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Carl Gunnarsson-Kevin Shattenkirk

Barret Jackman-Ian Cole

Jake Allen will get the start in goal. Brian Elliott will be the backup.

Healthy scratches include Jordan Leopold, Chris Porter and Magnus Paajarvi. Brace yourselves -- the Blues have no current injuries/sicknesses.

- - -

The Predators' probable lineup:

Filip Forsberg-Mike Ribeiro-James Neal

Matt Cullen-Derek Roy-Craig Smith

Olli Jokinen-Calle Jarnkrok-Gabriel Bourque

Eric Nystrom-Paul Gaustad-Taylor Beck

Roman Josi-Shea Weber

Mattias Ekholm-Ryan Ellis

Anton Volchenkov-Seth Jones

Pekka Rinne will get the start in goal. Carter Hutton will be the backup.

The healthy scratch will be Victor Bartley. Mike Fisher (Achilles tendon), Viktor Stalberg (lower body) and Colin Wilson (lower body) are out with injuries.