By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Before Davis Payne took over behind the Blues bench, it was as good as anyone's guess on a game-by-game, practice-by-practice basis what line combinations would look. The process makes it difficult to develop any type of chemistry.
And Payne was thinking along those lines as well, simply because he was in the process of getting to understand what his personnel was and what he had.
But in recent weeks, the Blues' 39-year-old coach has taken the approach of putting guys together and sticking with it. And the Blues are getting solid production from a particular unit each and every game.
Payne understands it's a necessity to get guys on the same page.
"I think so (but) it takes some time," Payne said Saturday morning before the Blues played host to the Chicago Blackhawks. "There's two different ways of looking at it. One, we don't have the picture put together correctly or two, it is put together correctly and you've got to put the onus on a group of three or you've got to put the onus on a D-pairing to make sure that they understand that their performance is a collective one. The more you can do that, I think the more you get a collective buy-in as to that understanding of that level of play.
"You give guys a chance to correct things, you give guys a chance to get together and watch video and make sure they're addressing certain things whether it's forward lines or D-pairings. We've also got lots of options coming out of the gate and if things aren't going well early, we're apt to change and manage energy and look at who the puck's following around that night."
What the Blues have seen in recent games is Paul Kariya, David Backes and T.J. Oshie on the ice together, Andy McDonald, Keith Tkachuk and Brad Boyes and then seeing Alex Steen, Patrik Berglund and David Perron together. Even Jay McClement is seeing more of Brad Winchester and B.J. Crombeen -- although hurt right now -- mixed in with Cam Janssen or D.J. King.
And the D-pairings have stayed consistent with Barret Jackman and Roman Polak playing together, Eric Brewer and Erik Johnson seeing time together and either Carlo Colaiacovo and Darryl Sydor with Mike Weaver.
"Each game's been different," Payne said. "Obviously, we liked what the Berglund group brought us the last game, we liked what the Backes group brought us up in Chicago (Wednesday). We feel that Walt and Andy and Boysie are on the verge. Chances are there for them, but we just have to stay faithful in that process that something's going to click. I thought even McClement, Winchester and Kinger had some great shifts in the offensive zone, were physical and were very effective (Thursday). It didn't get us results, but there was some play there that we liked and would like to repeat."
The players could never get a grasp from day-to-day who they would be partnered with or matched up with on a forward line. This way, the transition is smoother and they're cognizant of one another.
"It helps you on the ice in the games," McDonald said. "I think you learn players' tendencies. It becomes less about guessing where they're going and just reacting and knowing where they're going to be. The more you play with a player, you learn those tendencies and it makes things easier on the ice.
"In saying that, when things don't go well and you don't win hockey games, especially when you have trouble scoring goals, the idea is mixing the lines up to generate some kind of offense. It's a fine line, but you certainly have to find a balance between letting guys develop that chemistry but also be productive and finding combinations that work."
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The Blues (23-25-9), who beat the Blackhawks 3-2 Wednesday in Chicago, will make one lineup change from Thursday but the lineup they used in downing Chicago. Janssen will be back in for King, who will be a healthy scratch.
Crombeen (lower-body) was on the ice and participated in practice on a limited basis but will miss his third straight game.
Paul Kariya-David Backes-T.J. Oshie
Andy McDonald-Keith Tkachuk-Brad Boyes
Alex Steen-Patrik Berglund-David Perron
Brad Winchester-Jay McClement-Cam Janssen
* On a side note, congratulations to Perron, who played in his 200th career game Thursday and became the youngest Blues player in franchise history to reach 200 games. He is 48 days younger than Bob Hess, who accomplished the feat in 1977.
The D-pairings will stay the same, despite a report that Colaiacovo would be a healthy scratch tonight. That is not the case. Sydor will be scratched for the third straight game.
Barret Jackman-Roman Polak
Eric Brewer-Erik Johnson
Carlo Colaiacovo-Mike Weaver
Chris Mason, who stopped 32 of 34 shots in beating the Blackhawks, will take a 17-15-8 record with a 2.50 goals-against average and .912 save percentage into his fourth start in five games.
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The Blackhawks (37-15-5) are in a bit of a funk after losing their third straight Friday night in a 2-1 shootout loss at home to Phoenix.
The Hawks, who have beaten the Blues two of three times this season, are 0-2-1 in their previous three games, a season-worst.
The Hawks had an optional skate Saturday morning, with only goalies Cristobal Huet and Antti Niemi taking the ice.
Chicago has some tweaking from last night's fourth forward line against the Coyotes, with Tomas Kopecky replacing Ben Eager in the lineup.
Troy Brouwer-Jonathan Toews-Patrick Kane
Andrew Ladd-Dave Bolland-Marian Hossa
Dustin Byfuglien-Patrick Sharp-Kris Versteeg
Tomas Kopecky-John Madden-Colin Fraser
The D-pairings will also stay the same, which means Jordan Hendry will be a healthy scratch.
Duncan Keith-Brent Seabrook
Niklas Hjalmarsson-Brian Campbell
Brent Sopel-Cam Barker
Niemi was taking pucks on goal from his counterpart and is expected to start tonight after missing the start Wednesday against the Blues because he was sick.