ST. LOUIS -- Davis Payne was back in his old stomping grounds this past weekend, getting acclimated with the sights and sounds of the American Hockey League once again.
But this was no feel-good trip for the Blues' coach. He was on a scouting mission to see one of the Blues' up-and-comers that fans will grow accustomed to seeing in a Blues uniform in the very near future.
Payne was at Carver Arena taking in the Peoria Rivermen's game Saturday and he was there to see Ian Cole, the Blues' first-round pick (18th overall) of 2007.
Cole, 21, just recently signed a amateur tryout contract after foregoing his senior season at the Notre Dame.
And so far, the reviews are right on par, as Cole has tallied a goal and three assists in four games for the Rivermen.
"I thought he handled himself very, very well," Payne said. "I thought his read of the game, his gap and spacing was very good. His crispness with his puck decisions ... it was a guy who was coming out of college off for two weeks stepping into the American (Hockey) League and looked very comfortable in his reads, trusting his feet, trusting his abilities to make plays. I thought he played a very poised hockey game, which is good to see."
It seems that the sky's the limit for Cole, all 6-foot-1, 220-pounds of him. But Payne says it's still too early to tell.
"You're asking me to scout off one game. That may be a tough task," Payne said. "I think when you look at his physical attributes, he's certainly got the body and the strength and drive. To see that poise show up, now all of the sudden that poise has to start translating into a bigger, faster pace.
"Obviously, it's a higher level of opponent when you step up into this league. There's work to be done, but there's certainly plenty to work with."
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The Blues (36-30-9) had a brisk but light skate this morning at Scottrade Center.
Payne said that center Patrik Berglund, who was benched for Sunday's game for missing practice on Saturday, will be back in the lineup tonight. Also, defenseman Roman Polak, who is nursing a sore right shoulder sustained March 20 in New Jersey, will play.
So it appears that line combinations will revert back prior to the Edmonton game:
Paul Kariya-David Backes-T.J. Oshie
Andy McDonald-Patrik Berglund-David Perron
Alex Steen-Jay McClement-Brad Boyes
Cam Janssen-Keith Tkachuk-B.J. Crombeen
Matt D'Agostini, who's been battling the flu bug, Brad Winchester and D.J. King are healthy scratches.
The D-pairings will remain the same:
Eric Brewer-Erik Johnson
Barret Jackman-Roman Polak
Carlo Colaiacovo-Mike Weaver
Darryl Sydor will be the healthy scratch.
Chris Mason, who's 26-21-8 with a 2.53 goals-against average and .913 save percentage, will make the start. He's 1-1-0 with a 2.02 GAA and .938 save percentage in two starts against the Hawks this season.
"Typical, close, hard-fought games," Mason said when asked of the games against Chicago this season. "We've had a couple of stinkers with them, but for the most part, we play them hard, kind of down to the wire, especially the last two."
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The Blues announced Tuesday that they have signed 2009 second-round pick Brett Ponich to an entry-level contract.
Ponich, 19, will remain with his junior club, the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League where he's played the past four seasons.
Ponich, who is 6-foot-7, 215-pounds, was the 48th overall pick in last summer's draft. He has one goal and 13 assists in 66 games this season.
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Payne was in his media briefing and asked by the panel of Chicago reporters as well as the reporters from Versus, who will be doing the national telecast tonight, about what makes the Blues go and what drives this team in its success.
"We can define our game with the momentum routes that we run through the neutral zone," Payne said. "We're not a team that wants to take a lot of time and pace ourselves coming through there kind of working our way through the neutral zone. We've got guys who play good hockey on their toes and we have ways to define getting ourselves moving in that direction, being predictable and defining that momentum into the offensive zone and allowing forechecks to work. The quicker we get through, the less time and more support we have coming through the neutral zone, we feel that it fuels our forecheck, it fuels the type of game we want attempt through definition get that ice tilted in our own direction."
Payne was also asked about the Blues' slim playoff hopes, as they have 81 points and trail eighth-place Colorado by eight in the Western Conference.
"We've talked a lot about the standard. We understand where we sit, we understand we need some help, and we're not happy about that," Payne said. "We've played some decent hockey lately, but the standard has to be as such that we're playing at a high level that instead of worrying about consistent play, we're worrying about finding ways to win, and that's what has to happen right now.
"We need some help, but we also have to take care of our business and make sure that we're posting a number. If other teams do their job, then we might be in a tougher situation than we want to be. But we want to force them to have to take care of their business as we do ours. ... Small, narrow focus each day, and that's all that we can take care of."
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The Blackhawks (46-21-7) come into Scottrade Center tonight in their worst slump of the season, going winning just three games in their previous 10 (3-5-2).
The goaltending has been at the forefront of the discussions as to reasons for the downhill turn, but the Blues, who are 1-3-0 against the Hawks this season including 0-2-0 here, will not take a 99-point team lightly.
"With the talent pool that they have and the way they've played this year, I wouldn't say they're a wounded duck," Mason said. "Every team we play at this point of year is desperate one way or the other, whether they're going for the top spot in the west or fighting for playoffs or pride.
"They're one of the best skating teams in the league. Their depth makes them dangerous throughout the whole game. They have a lot of good depth scoring, they obviously have a lot of high-end talent on their top two lines. Good goaltending and solid D, so they're pretty a well-balanced team."
When the Blues play their best against the Hawks, Mason said it's a simple formula.
"We're physical, but we're not going too far out of the way where it's getting us out of position," he said. "Just being physical on the guys when we have an opportunity and just making smart plays because if you turn the puck over against a team like this, they make you pay."
The Hawks, coming off back-to-back losses against Columbus, have been tinkering with their line combinations in recent games and will likely go with the following combinations:
Patrick Sharp-Jonathan Toews-Marian Hossa
Dustin Byfuglien-Kris Versteeg-Patrick Kane
Andrew Ladd-Dave Bolland-Troy Brouwer
Ben Eager-John Madden-Adam Burish
Defenseman Brian Campbell (broken clavicle, broken rib) is still sidelined, as is defenseman Kim Johnsson (concussion). D-pairings will feature the following:
Duncan Keith-Brent Sopel
Niklas Hjalmarsson-Brent Seabrook
Jordan Hendry-Nick Boynton
Antti Niemi (20-6-3, 2.25 GAA, .910 save percentage) will be in goal.