By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- There seems to be this perception among fans and those outside the Blues locker room that Alex Pietrangelo has to make the Blues roster this season. As a top pick, it's absolutely imperative, right?
And there are those that feel there is added pressure for the 20-year-old King City, Ontario native and that maybe Pietrangelo hasn't shown his best thus far this preseason.
Pietrangelo, the No. 4 pick of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, understands a spot on the big club is not a given. He continues to battle with the likes of Ian Cole, Tyson Strachan and Nathan Oystrick for two, possibly three open slots on the defensive unit.
But if there's pressure, it's coming from within himself and not from anywhere else.
"I don't hear that stuff. You can't feel that pressure," Pietrangelo said Saturday morning at Scottrade Center. "The same as every other guy here, we're all trying to earn the same spot. I've just got to do my part. I worked hard this summer and my goal's to make this team."
Pietrangelo, who has the experience of partaking in the previous two camps here, has played in two preseason games and will go for the Blues tonight. It's the last time some of these guys get to make a lasting impression on the coaching staff.
"I've worked hard, but I think I can take it to the next level, too," Pietrangelo said. "That's what preseason's for. You kind of gear yourself up for the season. I'm starting to feel a lot better here with my game going into these final two games."
There is another opportunity for these defenseman to make that impression with injuries to Carlo Colaiacovo (hip-flexor) and Nikita Nikitin (broken right wrist).
"You can look at it as an opportunity, but at the same time, I don't think anything's changed," Strachan said. "It's the same jobs that are open and you have to come with the same mindset every night. You just have to show that you can play hockey.
"At the end of the day, all you can control is what you do out on the ice. You can't live in fear anymore. You kind of just have to go out there and take care of your own job."
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Players such as Strachan and Oystrick, while they don't have an abundance of NHL experience, they have played more games in the league than both Pietrangelo and Cole.
A decision based off that is something the players feel is worth noting.
"The experience is always important," Strachan said. "It shows that we've been here and have adjusted to the pace of things. There really is a difference whether it's coming from college or junior or from the AHL. It's a step up every time you're coming up here. Obviously we've shown on a nightly basis we can come in here and do our jobs. I think at the end of the day, it gives coaches and management a little bit more piece of mind about us and they know what we've been involved in."
However, Blues coach Davis Payne is not so much focused on who's experienced and who's not but another element.
"I think performance is more important than experience," Payne said. "Experience can play poorly, too. Can it help? Sure. There's lots of things in this league that can come at you that make it difficult, especially on the blue line. ... Experience is a very vital tool in that area, but with that said we've got to make sure we've got the best team possible in the lineup October 9th."
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Payne also said on Saturday that Nikitin broke the pisiform bone, known as the small knobbly pea-shaped wrist bone in his right wrist and it will not require surgery.
A minimum of four weeks will be needed for healing time, which at that time, will then be reevaluated. Payne did not know whether the injury occurred on the fall or the contact on the play against Chicago in the third period of Thursday's 4-1 preseason victory.
When asked if Nikitin, 24, had a realistic shot at making the team, Payne replied, "Impossible to say. It would be an incomplete. If I were a college professor, it would be an incomplete but we're certainly pleased with the progress. It's unfortunate but impossible to predict."
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The Blues (4-2) will play their final preseason home game tonight against the Dallas Stars (3-2). The teams met a week ago today in Big D, with the Stars grabbing a 5-2 victory, scoring four times in the first period.
The Blues will go with the following forward lines:
David Perron-David Backes-Brad Boyes
Andy McDonald-Patrik Berglund-T.J. Oshie
Alex Steen-Jay McClement-B.J. Crombeen
Brad Winchester-Matt D'Agostini-Chris Porter
Scratched forwards include Nick Drazenovic, Dave Scatchard and Cam Janssen.
The D-pairings will feature:
Barret Jackman-Erik Johnson
Eric Brewer-Tyson Strachan
Nathan Oystrick-Alex Pietrangelo
Scratched defensemen include Roman Polak and Ian Cole.
Jaroslav Halak in goal. Ty Conklin will back up tonight and will likely play Sunday in Chicago to get one final tune-up himself.