By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- After a game to forget in Toronto on Thursday, one could make the argument that defensemen Erik Johnson and Carlo Colaiacovo played their best game since being paired together.
Blues coach Davis Payne paired the duo Dec. 28 against Chicago, to when the Blues lace up against the Phoenix Coyotes at 8 p.m. today (FSN, KMOX 1120-AM), it will be their sixth game together.
But needless to say, the game against the Leafs was not one to store away in the archive bank.
"One of our strongest games together was last game," Colaiacovo said. "We generated a lot, we created a lot. There's no reason why we can't do that every game. I think we both compliment each other well, we're both good puck-moving defensemen, we like to get up on the rush, we like to get up in the offense. That's something that we should have no problem doing again for the rest of the season. I think we're out there together for a reason. We've got to try and do our best to generate those chances, try to get pucks into the forwards hands, try to create but at the same sense, play good, solid defense.
"Coming from Toronto where we feel like we didn't play our best to having a really strong game last game (Saturday) ... just finding a way to carry that momentum through to the rest of the games. Last game is a real point of emphasis that we can really build off of."
"That's a real good stepping-off point for both of those guys," he said. "If you take that two games back in Toronto, probably not very difficult to look at the next game and say there was progress there just looking at how Toronto was for them. I thought both guys had good intent, they were communicating better, which is always a step. I thought EJ was moving his feet. He was looking to make plays through the neutral zone, a couple times into the offensive zone. Just good reads being on his toes, ready to move when the play allows it.
"We feel they can make a difference playing against and with the guys they're playing with. We're going to need some more of that tonight."
It's no secret that the pairing would fit like a glove. They played a number of games last season and makes it easier to build chemistry.
"Last year we played well together and had a lot of opportunities to put the puck in the net," Johnson said. "We haven't played as much together this year so it's about finding that balance again. There's no reason we can't take over games offensively and remain the same and disciplined in our own zone."
Colaiacovo, who partnered with Mike Weaver much of last season, has shared the ice this year with Alex Pietrangelo, Roman Polak, Tyson Strachan and now Johnson.
"For a while there, I was rotating partners almost every game," Colaiacovo said. "It was tough to find that sort of sync and that comfort level with the person you're with. Last year, I found a comfort zone playing with Weaver. The more you play with a guy, the more you know him, the more comfortable you are, the more aware you are of the things he does and stuff like that.
"I've played with EJ before, so I know what to expect. But it's been almost a couple weeks now where we've stuck together. I think the more we stick together, the more we're going to get better together."
Johnson has13 points in 39 games and Colaiacovo has 16 points in 33 games, and both are looking to exploit the opposition the more they play together.
"It's about knowing who you're up against," Johnson said. "Right now, we're playing against every single line on every single team. It's about finding that balance. Maybe when you're out there against the other team's fourth line, it's a time you can take some more chances and maybe take a few more liberties offensively. It's about recognizing when that appropriate time is to jump in the play and remain responsible in your own zone at the same time."
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A couple areas the Blues (20-14-6) want to make sure they flush out of their system is the three offensive zone penalties they took in the 2-1 loss to the Rangers along with getting nailed for too many men on the ice during a power play, which also happened Saturday.
"That is a breakdown that is probably one of my biggest pet peeves as far as guys not knowing, guys not paying attention," Payne said. "If you don't know, err on the side of we'll figure it out. Two guys made a mistake, ended our power play. You usually don't get that on a power play situation. ... It was a big mistake, but that said, we have to go past it. Guys have to learn from it."
Patrik Berglund, Brad Boyes and David Backes all took cross-check penalties in the offensive zone. Backes' came with under a minute to play and the Blues with a sixth attacker on the ice.
"To me, it's trying to use a different avenue to gain a chance or to gain a puck possession when the right play is stick-on-puck, body-two hands, body-through-body," Payne said. "To go cross-check on a guy is a statement of, to me, a shortcut. You gain an edge doing it that way, but you also risk that penalty. We got zinged three times. You've got to move your feet, you've got to apply your stick in the right way, you've got to apply your body in the right way. We took shortcuts in all three of those plays."
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The Blues will go back to what they were using prior to starting Saturday's game:
Vladimir Sobotka-David Backes-Matt D'Agostini
Alex Steen-Patrik Berglund-B.J. Crombeen
Brad Winchester-Jay McClement-Brad Boyes
Chris Porter-T.J. Hensick-Cam Janssen
D-pairings won't change:
Eric Brewer-Roman Polak
Barret Jackman-Alex Pietrangelo
Carlo Colaiacovo-Erik Johnson
Jaroslav Halak, who beat the Coyotes here on Dec. 31, will start tonight for the Blues.
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The Coyotes (19-13-9) are coming off a shootout loss at home to Buffalo and have the most overtime/shootout losses this season.
Their tentative lines include:
Ray Whitney-Martin Hanzal-Radim Vrbata
Scottie Upshall-Eric Belanger-Shane Doan
Lee Stempniak-Vernon Fiddler-Taylor Pyatt
*Wojtek Wolski-Kyle Turris-Lauri Korpikoski
With Janssen in the lineup for the Blues, enforcer Paul Bissonnette could be slotted in, with Wolski a likely target to sit out. Wolski was a healthy scratch when the teams were last here.
*UPDATE -- Wolski was traded this afternoon to the New York Rangers in exchange for defenseman Michal Roszival.
The d-pairings include:
Derek Morris-Keith Yandle
Adrian Aucoin-Ed Jovanovski
Sami Lepisto-Oliver Ekman-Larsson
Jason LaBarbera, subbing in for Ilya Bryzgalov (illness), is the likely starter for Phoenix tonight. He's 5-5-3 with a 3.02 goals-against average and .914 save percentage on the season. He's 2-2 with a 2.80 GAA and .907 save percentage career-wise against the Blues. Bryzgalov started here on Dec. 31, a 4-3 Blues victory.