CHICAGO -- The Blues, trying to snap a two-game losing streak, will go into tonight's battle with Chicago looking at a slightly different Hawks lineup.
Slightly different but with a major subtraction.Marian Hossa, who has torched the Blues for 12 goals and 19 points in 24 career games against the Blues which includes a plus-12, will miss the next 2-3 weeks for Chicago after sustaining what the Hawks are calling a lower-body injury following a collision with teammate Nick Boynton Monday in practice.
Hossa scored two third-period goals here on Oct. 16 during Chicago's 3-2 overtime victory, a game in which the Blues led 2-0.
The Blues are no strangers to injury and do not change anything tactically as far as a game plan is concerned.
"It's still a dangerous hockey club," Blues coach Davis Payne said. ... "He's a very dynamic player, a big body, big skill. He's a world-class player, but they've still got a lot of firepower."
Added defenseman Eric Brewer, "He's clearly a big part of their team. Every team's got injuries. You just kind of deal with it. They'll be fine. They've got lots of offense."
Chicago still boasts a lineup that features Patrick Sharp (15 goals, 27 points), Jonathan Toews (10 assists, 19 points) and Patrick Kane (15 assists, 24 points), to name a few.
"(Hossa's) a world-class player, one of the best in the league," forward B.J. Crombeen said. "Any time he's not playing is a big plus for us. But that's not something we worry about or try to change our game plan around one guy. We've just got to focus on playing our hockey for a full 60 and getting two points."
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The Blues will alter their defensive pairings, with Nikita Nikitin returning to the lineup after sitting out Saturday's game and Tyson Strachan taking a seat in the press box tonight.
Nikitin will be paired with Carlo Colaiacovo, two lefties. Colaiacovo will play on the right side, the off-pairing.
"There's some trusting, there's some gaps," Payne said. "In our system, it's a little bit different to trust where you can be and what you're going to face. We'll get him back out there tonight and get him more familiar with it."
As far as getting Nikitin back in the lineup?
"Niki's a little cleaner play coming up the ice," Payne said. "We feel that he's got a real strong stick. He plays his angles well. Strach does as well. When Strach turns up ice, he can be pretty effective as far as joining (the rush), and at the offensive blue line, Strach does a good job of getting pucks through. Niki too. Very similar player. We're looking at a situation where we're trying to get that group in there that's going to get us a win. Not a lot of differences between the two."
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Matt D'Agostini, who has been struggling to put up points with no goals and two assists in the previous eight games and one goal in 12, will center the fourth line tonight.
There was some thought D'Agostini could be a healthy scratch but Payne has him in there, feeling the right-handed shot can get back to where he scored six goals in the first 14 games.
"He's again in a situation where if he's playing his game, he can contribute to us," Payne said of D'Agostini. "The thought there is we recognize internally there's more there. The responsibility on him now is to get in there and give us the type of hockey we've seen out of him the first part of the year."
The Blues will also go with Andy McDonald at center on the top line and David Backes on right wing on the second line. Alex Steen will move up to the top line as well.
Payne on McDonald, "Right now, I think he's most affective on the ice. Not a lot of difference between the position he's playing. He's getting some good low coverage, he's getting some good wide-speed opportunities. He's playing to the inside and around the net. We'll see what matchups we're going to be facing, but if he can get the job done and draw even in our own zone, we feel that a little more puck possession on his stick coming into the neutral zone is a good thing for us right now. Moving David back into the middle is an option as well."
Payne on Steen moving up to the top line, "We see him as a guy that's got a great all-around game. I think we see this year be a little bit different than last year in that the power play production isn't happening quite as much. He's obviously a guy that teams have targeted as an option to make sure they take away. From the standpoint of him playing with skill guys, he's still got to play in the right areas. ... We've got to make sure he's playing the right game. If we're getting the chance to use that type of skill against different defensemen, then it should be effective for us as well. A large number of his points last year came in that exact same situation playing with Jay Mac (Jay McClement) and Beener."
Vladimir Sobotka will also move into a scoring role, playing left wing on the second line.
"You look at his numbers in the American League, he's got great numbers there," Payne said of Sobotka. "He wasn't in a role last year that wasn't called upon that. We feel his poise with the puck, his decision-making, his willingness to go into tough areas ... he's got the ability to separate quickly. Playing with those big bodies in Bergy and Backes, it could be something that gives them the opportunities to get to the right areas, get available based on Sobie's ability to handle the puck and get to certain areas quickly."
The Blues were a little caught off-guard to see line changes but not totally shocked.
"It's about winning hockey games. We're struggling to score," McDonald said. "The idea is to shuffle things up and generate some more offense.
"It's about generating more changes and how you go about doing that, whether it's transition through the neutral zone or attacking the net in the offensive zone. We seem to control the puck well on the outside, but it's getting that puck to the inside and generating those quality scoring chances in the slot that we need to get better at."
Added Boyes, "We're looking for offense. We haven't scored a lot in our last couple of games, so we're mixing it up a bit. We'll see how it goes. I think that's still an option to go back to ...something we can do at any time. But right now, we need goals from anybody."
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The Blues, who rolled out their new-look lines in practice Monday, will go with the following:
Alex Steen-Andy McDonald-Brad Boyes
Vladimir Sobotka-Patrik Berglund-David Backes
Brad Winchester-Jay McClement-B.J. Crombeen
Chris Porter-Matt D'Agostini-Cam Janssen
T.J. Hensick will be a healthy scratch for the fourth straight game.
The d-pairings, with Strachan as a healthy scratch include:
Eric Brewer-Erik Johnson
Barret Jackman-Alex Pietrangelo
Nikita Nikitin-Carlo Colaiacovo
Ty Conklin, who is 7-4-0 with a 2.85 goals-against average and .906 save percentage for his career against the Blackhawks, will get the nod tonight in goal for the Blues.
Although Payne never confirmed it, it's expected that Jaroslav Halak will start tomorrow's home game against the Washington Capitals, a team Halak helped upset in the first round of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals a season ago with the Montreal Canadiens when the Canadiens were the eighth seed and the Caps the top overall seed.
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The Hawks (13-11-2) were 4-2-0 on their recent circus trip and have recalled forward Jeremy Morin from Rockford of the AHL to take the place of Hossa.
"Things happen like that," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "It’s all part of it, you deal with it, it’s an opportunity for (Morin) to come up. Hopefully he can take advantage of the chance and the challenge and we’ll go from there."
Chicago will roll out the following lines minus Blues-killer Hossa:
Viktor Stalberg-Jonathan Toews-Patrik Kane
Troy Brouwer-Patrick Sharp-Jeremy Morin
Bryan Bickell-Dave Bolland-Tomas Kopecky
John Scott-Jake Dowell-Jack Skille
Their d-pairings, including Hawk fans villain Boynton include:
Duncan Keith-Brent Seabrook
Brian Campbell-Niklas Hjalmarsson
Nick Boynton-Jassen Cullimore
Corey Crawford, who is 0-0-1 in his career with a 4.62 goals-against average and .853 save percentage against the Blues, will make his third straight start for the Blackhawks tonight.