By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- When the line of Jay McClement, Brad Boyes and Brad Winchester first took the ice a couple weeks ago, it wasn't exactly the kind of line that said, 'Yeah, that'll work.'
But when Davis Payne assembled a physical player, a defensive-minded guy and a player with a history of offensive capabilities, the mix was perplexing as much as it was enticing.
But the results thus far have been plausible.
Boyes admits that his goal-scoring hasn't been what it was in previous years for a number of reasons, but what is has brought to the table is his desire to be more of a well-rounded player at both ends of the ice.
Playing with this group allows him to do that.
"On the defensive side, not only does it help me playing with those guys, but for me consciously, I think it's been the best I've played defensively in my whole career," said Boyes, who has 10 goals and 25 points in 45 games. "I feel like I can go out there at any time. I've been out there last minutes of games getting jobs done, getting things squared away. Stuff like that gets noticed in the room and that's where it's important. It's that big team game for us."
The trio has eight points (Boyes leads with a goal and three assists) in the six games they've been grouped together, but it's not so much with goals and assists as it is being responsible at both ends of the ice.
"Jay's a guy with defensive responsibility, Brad a guy who has the offensive capabilities, but to be put in a situation to have that responsibility is something that worked for him last year, and Winnie's a guy who's not going to need much," Payne said. "His game's not going to change. He's going to go up and down and be physical and get to the net and give the other two guys space.
"We felt that there were complimentary pieces there. We feel that we've had some success with that group."
Boyes agrees and liked it from the outset.
"I thought it was going to be good," he said. "I think we all bring different aspects to it. It looked like it was going to be a good mix. I think we've played really well since then.
"It's been good and it's been fun, too. We're excited when we get out there together. There was a lot of talk about being more responsible, being more of a complete player. That's the thing I've really been concentrating on. Obviously, my goal-scoring has taken a big hit, but that's why I've got to find a good balance of being able to do both."
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Defenseman Ian Cole's last four days have been a whirlwind to say the least.
Cole, recalled for the fourth time by the Blues Wednesday after fellow defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo (eye) was placed on injured reserve, will be in the lineup tonight when the Blues (22-17-6) host the Detroit Red Wings (28-12-6) tonight.
"I went from Peoria to Minneapolis to San Jose," Cole said. "San Jose to Vancouver, drive an hour and a half to Abbotsford, (B.C.), play in Abbotsford, drive back to Vancouver, get up at 4 (a.m.), go from Vancouver to Minneapolis to here. All in like four days."
Just what the doctor ordered, right?
"Who needs more than two hours of sleep? No big deal," Cole joked.
"Any chance I get to be up here, I'm going to relish that opportunity," he said. "Realistically, there's not much of a chance I'm going to be up here the rest of the year unless something serious happens to somebody. That's kind of how the season is, so I've got to roll with it and make the most of it and hopefully stay up for as long as I can."
Cole was with the Rivermen in Abbotsford when general manager Doug Armstrong filled him in on what was going on. Armstrong was on the trip watching the Rivermen.
"When he came to tell me and said, 'He got hit in the face again.' I was like, 'Again! Come on! You've got to be kidding?' How often does that happen," Cole said. "You can go countless games without getting hit in the face and then two in a row ... bad luck I guess. I feel bad for the guy. That's awful."
Cole, who has no points in 11 games, had a scary moment with the Blues Saturday in San Jose, but wearing a visor saved some serious damage when a puck struck him high.
"It helped me save a few teeth, maybe a nose," Cole joked. "... That puck was coming hard. The defenseman rifled it up.
"If I didn't have (a visor) on, I would have been seriously messed up. It hit my visor and my visor went back and hit me in the nose. Imagine how hard that was coming. That would have done some serious damage. Luckily I had it on. I know Coco isn't a big fan of it, but it kind of opens your eyes a little bit when you get hit in the face -- twice."
Cole will play tonight with Alex Pietrangelo.
"Each time he's come up, another level of comfort in what he's capable of doing, moving his feet, being physical," Payne said of Cole. "Obviously in the San Jose game, he found his way into a fight and handled himself there fine.
"He's a guy that can read plays, move pucks and each step up, you see another level of comfort in that he can play at this pace, he can execute at this pace. That's the development of a young player."
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The 10-inches of snow in the metropolitan area didn't affect any of the Blues or their coaches from making it down to the arena.
"It's nice. A little bit of snow, brushed the car off and get to work," Payne said.
Boyes, a Mississauga, Ontario native, said, "It's no big deal. I've seen a lot worse than this. The worst I've seen (in Ontario) was one time we got a lot of ice, it was so thick you could go skate out on the streets."
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The Blues plan on using the same forward combinations tonight:
Alex Steen-David Backes-Matt D’Agostini
Vladimir Sobotka-Patrik Berglund-T.J. Oshie
Brad Winchester-Jay McClement-Brad Boyes
B.J. Crombeen-Philip McRae-Ryan Reaves
Cole will replace Colaiacovo in the lineup tonight:
Eric Brewer-Erik Johnson
Barret Jackman-Roman Polak
Ian Cole-Alex Pietrangelo
Jaroslav Halak, 17-14 with a 2.50 GAA and .911 save percentage on the season, is in goal for the Blues.
Cam Janssen and Tyson Strachan are healthy scratches.
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The Wings are dealing with a rash of injuries, just like the Blues.
Tomas Holmstrom (broken hand), Brad Stuart (broken jaw), Dan Cleary (broken ankle), Pavel Datsyuk (broken hand), Mike Modano (wrist) and Chris Osgood (sports hernia surgery) are all on injured reserve for the Red Wings.
"We know they're dealing with some of the stuff we're having to deal with," Payne said of the Wings. "I'm sure that they're matching with the same mentality. You've got to keep playing. That's the type of game we're expecting from them. They're coming off a loss in Pittsburgh and you expect a team to respond and we've got to make sure we're ready for that."
The Wings have taken two of three games with the Blues, will go with these combos:
Johan Franzen-Henrik Zetterberg-Patrick Eaves
Jiri Hudler-Valtteri Filppula-Todd Bertuzzi
Kris Draper-Darren Helm-Drew Miller
Tomas Tatar-Justin Abdelkader-Jan Mursak
Nicklas Lidstrom-Niklas Kronwall
Jonathan Ericsson-Brian Rafalski
Ruslan Salei-Jakub Kindl
Jimmy Howard, who missed Detroit's previous two games with a right knee bruise, will mark his return to the Red Wings lineup tonight and start in goal.
Rumors are floating around the Red Wings are close to a contract with former San Jose Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov. But the Wings better be careful what they wish for. Nabokov will have to be placed on waivers before he can join Wings. He left the Sharks in the summer to sign a contract with St. Petersburg in the KHL.