Saturday, January 16, 2010

(1-16-10) Rangers-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- Not only is there a sense of deja vu for the Blues, who went on a tear last season to make the postseason and appear to be geared for another run this year, but leading the way is a hot goaltender.

Chris Mason, who will make his sixth consecutive start tonight when the Blues host the New York Rangers in the finale of a three-game homestand.

Mason, who is 14-13-6 overall with a 2.52 goals-against average on the season with a .911 save percentage, is red-hot in his last five starts, going 3-1-1 with a 1.81 GAA and .937 save percentage.

He's coming off a 1-0 shutout of the Minnesota Wild Thursday, his first shutout of the season and 19th of his career.

Mason said this morning that there was a stretch there that he wasn't feeling well both physically and mentally. There was no rhyme nor reason to it. But he's found a groove and it's revived him in both areas, just in time as well.

"I just feel better. I have a lot more energy," Mason said. "I didn't have a lot of energy, I wasn't sleeping well, I wasn't playing up to the way you feel you're capable of playing. I just feel better and the guys are playing better too. That helps."

I asked Mason if there is something he needed to touch up on as far as his physical game is concerned.

"For us, it's just being sharp and seeing the puck," Mason said. "Sometimes when you're not playing as good, you struggle to find it and you're a split second behind. Your and your anticipation isn't quite as good. The guys with the structure they're playing, it makes it a lot easier. We're playing more predictable, so it's more predictable for me to know what's going to happen."

It was Mason that fueled the Blues' 25-9-7 run a year ago, and Mason played in 38 of the 41 games. As he went, the team went, and more of the same is what his teammates are looking forward to.

"He's been like that all year," defenseman Erik Johnson said. "When you have that confidence in your goalie, it makes a huge difference. We know every night he's going to be on his game. It's up to us to be on ours as well."

Blues coach Davis Payne isn't one to jump on any superstitious notions but is more than happy to give the workload to his No. 1 guy.

"He's shown the ability not only to perform but carry that workload as well," Payne said. "We know that Ty (Conklin) is more than capable as well and itching to play, but everyone is in support of what Chris is doing.

"You see a guy who's reading the play very well, he's aggressive in the right areas and you see a lot of thinks defused in front of him as far as loose pucks and second chances. When a goaltender's tracking a puck in that situation, you realize he's feeling pretty good about the state of his game."

If Mason is given a workload like he received last season, there's an experience factor there that gives him the confidence that he can do it again.

"I do whatever I'm told to do," Mason said. "If that's what I'm told to do, then I'll do it. If not, then I'm here for the team. ... I know now that I'm capable of doing it. It's your level of play that determines if you're able to do that."

The Blues will make no changes tonight, with forward Cam Janssen and defenseman Darryl Sydor being healthy scratches.

The forward lines at practice were the same as Thursday:

Paul Kariya-David Backes-T.J. Oshie

Andy McDonald-Patrik Berglund-David Perron

Alex Steen-Jay McClement-Brad Boyes

Brad Winchester-Keith Tkachuk-B.J. Crombeen

The D-pairings also will stay the same:

Eric Brewer-Erik Johnson

Barret Jackman-Roman Polak

Carlo Colaiacovo-Mike Weaver

The Blues (20-19-7, 47 points) came into Saturday's action eight points in back of eighth-place Los Angeles.

They optioned forward D.J. King (broken hand) to Peoria this morning for a conditioning stint, one Payne said will take up the entire two-week stint.

Oshie will skate in his 100th game tonight.

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The Rangers (22-18-7) come into St. Louis in a bit of a foul mood.

The Blueshirts have been blanked in the last two games -- both at home -- by New Jersey's Martin Brodeur (1-0 in a shootout Tuesday) and 2-0 against Mike Brodeur and the Ottawa Senators Thursday.

They've been held scoreless in 144:23, so there will be a sense of urgency for coach John Tortorella and his squad, who come in with 51 points. However, if history repeats itself, don't count on another shutout here, as the Rangers are one of two franchises the Blues have never shut out in their history. The Rangers stand at 126 games and counting.

But the Rangers, much like the Blues, play better away from their home at Madison Square Garden. They come in 12-7-3, including 6-0-2 in their last eight road tilts. They have not lost on the road in regulation since getting pasted 8-3 at Pittsburgh on Nov. 28.

"I would think they'd take every opportunity to direct play at the net," Payne said of the Rangers. "... We're going to have to be great coming back, we're going to have to be great in front of our own net."

The Rangers have made two changes to their lineup, as both Enver Lisin and Aaron Voros replace Donald Brashear (hamstring) and Ales Kotalik (healthy scratch):

Brandon Dubinsky-Chris Drury-Ryan Callahan

Vinny Prospal-Erik Christensen-Marian Gaborik

Sean Avery-Artem Anisimov-Enver Lisin

Christopher Higgins-Brian Boyle-Aaron Voros

The D-pairings will pit the following:

Marc Staal-Michal Roszival

Michael Del Zotto-Dan Girardi

Wade Redden-Matt Gilroy

The Blues will get a bit of a reprieve and not see stalwart goalie Henrik Lundqvist, as Chad Johnson will get a rare start in goal for the Rangers. It will be Johnson's third appearance of the season (0-0-1).

Lundqvist (20-15-6 in 42 games) gets a rare night off, as the Rangers turn around and fly home immediately after tonight's game to play host to Montreal Sunday.

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