By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- For those that were wondering who that was wearing the No. 9 Blues sweater Wednesday night in Chicago, it was the same guy that everyone came to expect to see when he signed a free agent contract three years ago.
Yes, it was Paul Kariya, the same Paul Kariya who Blues fans were thrilled to see sign on the dotted line.
But Kariya's tenure has been marred by inconsistent play and injuries that set the 35-year-old back some a season ago with a pair of hip surgeries.
But that looked like the old Kariya flying around the United Center ice, and he was a key contributor to the 3-2 victory over the Hawks, who rarely lose on home ice (21-6-1).
"Good reads, good speed on the forecheck," Blues coach Davis Payne said Thursday morning regarding Kariya's play. "We spent some time last week on where we're trying to get our forecheck and the positions we're trying to put ourselves in. I thought he did a much better job of reading what's available to him, what's there to take away. When he had opportunities, he used his speed advantage. I thought he did a great job with that. It's about putting yourself in the right place at the right time and that takes a little bit of thought process and I thought he was on in that regard last night."
It's no secret that when Kariya is flying, the offense has jump, and he adds a certain element noticeably missing at times.
Kariya set up the first of David Backes' two goals by reading a poor decision by Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith.
That's the Kariya everyone has come to expect to see. It'll be interesting to see how he follows up that game tonight when the Blues (25-22-9) play host to San Jose (36-11-9).
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As many of you are probably aware, forward David Perron has a Twitter account, and you can follow him here: @DP_57.
But after some deliberation with his agent, Allan Walsh, Perron is donating $1 to the Haiti relief effort for each follower he picks up on his Twitter account. This generous act by the Blues' winger will go through the end of February, and the phenomenon is growing by the second.
"It's been good so far," Perron said Thursday, noting that he's collected 2,500-3,000 since announcing his plans. "It's a way to help the world and we do whatever we can. ... I really didn't know what to expect. The first day, I was like, 'Oh my God! It's a lot.' The first week would probably be the best one.
"It's a big topic in the world right now. A lot of people are trying to get together and trying to help them. I'm trying to do the same."
If you don't have a Twitter account, it's free to sign up and just join in as a follower of @DP_57.
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The journey back has been challenging to say the least, but 'King Kong' will return to the Blues' lineup tonight.
Enforcer D.J. King will return to the lineup tonight, replacing Cam Janssen.
King, who has played in two games in the last two seasons -- including a four-second stint this season before breaking his hand in a fight with Dallas' Krys Barch Oct. 24 -- has been itching to get back into a lineup that has been taxing both physically and mentally.
"The physical part was pretty easy to see, but the mental part was probably the struggle," King admitted this morning. "But I feel pretty good and now I'm ready to go. ... A lot of work coming towards this point. Pretty anxious, that's for sure."
King went down to Peoria on a two-week conditioning stint and has been working out with the team on a regular basis. He deems himself 100 percent ready to go.
"You can do as much as you can in practice, but you can't condition like a game," King said. "Just to get in a game-like situation, it's very helpful for me."
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Last night's win was the Blues' seventh one goal game in the previous eight. Nobody ever said this was going to be easy.
It appeared bleak when the hawks scored first on Patrick Kane's breakaway. Why? Because Chicago was a robust 30-4-3 when scoring the first goal this season; they're 30-5-3 now.
How good are the Blues when Jay McClement tallies a point? The team is 23-2-3 since Jan. 19, 2008 when McClement gets a point. Needless to say, his goal with 22 seconds left in the second period was big. It turned out to be the game-winner.
Backes' two-goal game Wednesday marked the seventh multi-goal in his career.
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With the exception of King, the Blues' forwards will remain the same for tonight:
Paul Kariya-David Backes-T.J. Oshie
Andy McDonald-Keith Tkachuk-Brad Boyes
Alex Steen-Patrik Berglund-David Perron
Brad Winchester-Jay McClement-D.J. King
Janssen will be a healthy scratch along with B.J. Crombeen (lower-body).
The D-pairings will remain the same:
Barret Jackman-Roman Polak
Eric Brewer-Erik Johnson
Carlo Colaiacovo-Mike Weaver
Darryl Sydor will be a healthy scratch.
Ty Conklin gets the start in goal after Chris Mason stopped 32 of 34 shots in Chicago Wednesday.
Mason was given consideration, but will likely get the nod again Saturday when the Blackhawks visit. Conklin is 4-2-0 with a 1.70 goals-against average and a .941 save percentage against the Sharks in his career. He is 1-0-0 this season.
"His ability to step in at a moment's notice and give you a great performance, we saw it in Montreal, we saw it in Calgary," Payne said of Conklin. "His ability to make some plays with pucks, disrupts some forechecks, just his solid performance as a way of calming things down when the stuff hits the fan. That's what good goaltending does."
With six more games in the final 10 days leading into the Winter Olympics, the Blues have carefully planned for their goaltending situation.
"We've looked ahead to plan day-by-day," Payne said. "We see the schedule, we see the workload, we see the travel. We see the opponents, we know historically what guys have done. We also know that both guys are playing pretty well right now. We'll adjust each situation with new information."
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The Blues get no rest for the weary, after playing the second-best team in the Western Conference Wednesday, the Blues get the top team in the Sharks tonight.
San Jose is beginning a six-game trip tonight, which takes them to Nashville Saturday.
The Sharks are without some key components in their lineup, most notably defenseman Dan Boyle (upper-body), who will miss his sixth consecutive game tonight.
"We'd like to be healthier, but it's no different than the other 29 clubs in the league," Sharks coach Todd McClellan said. "Everybody has bumps and bruises. The playing field is pretty level so there's no excuses."
The Blues will have their hands full with San Jose's top line of center Joe Thornton and wingers Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley.
The trio has combined for 82 goals and 110 assists in 56 games and a plus-59 rating on the season.
The Sharks' forward lines will have:
Patrick Marleau-Joe Thornton-Dany Heatley
Manny Malhotra-Joe Pavelski-Devin Setoguchi
Ryane Clowe-Scott Nichol-Jed Ortmeyer
Jody Shelley-Torrey Mitchell-Brad Staubitz
The D-pairings, which are also without Marc-Edouard Vlasic (lower-body injury) for the third consecutive game, is mixed with experience and youth:
Douglas Murray-Rob Blake
Kent Huskins-Jason Demers
Jay Leach-Derek Joslin
Thomas Greiss will get a rare start in goal, giving Evgeni Nabokov a rare day off. The start for Greiss, who will play in the Olympics for his native country Germany, will be his ninth.