By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The Blues hope that practice can make perfect tonight when they face the New York Rangers at Scottrade Center.
After recalling forward T.J. Hensick from Peoria and optioning Adam Cracknell back to the Rivermen, the Blues are going to give the versatile Hensick a role among the top six forwards -- at least at the outset -- to see if he can produce offensively.
Hensick, a center by trade, will start the game off with Alex Steen and Patrik Berglund on the Blues' second line, with B.J. Crombeen dropping down to play center on the fourth line with Chris Porter and Cam Janssen.
"He's got a ton of skill, very versatile," Porter said of Hensick. "You can put him on a fourth line as a center and he can play on the top two lines as a winger. In Peoria, he was obviously involved in a lot of the scoring. Coming up here, he has a chance to provide a lot of spark on the offensive side."
Blues coach Davis Payne says the combinations but improvisations could be made.
"It may mean mixing up some as far as what it looks like on d-zone face-offs and that type of thing," Payne said. "We're going to give that group a chance to push forward.
"T.J.'s a guy who has got some skill, has got some ability to make plays. We're going to need to see some solid play on both sides of the puck. ... It's a good challenge, good opportunity for him."
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With the minor tweaks in the lineup, the Blues (20-13-6) will go with these combinations:
Vladimir Sobotka-David Backes-Matt D'Agostini
Alex Steen-Patrik Berglund-T.J. Hensick
Brad Winchester-Jay McClement-Brad Boyes
Chris Porter-B.J. Crombeen-Cam Janssen
The d-pairings will stay the same:
Eric Brewer-Roman Polak
Barret Jackman-Alex Pietrangelo
Carlo Colaiacovo-Erik Johnson
Tyson Strachan will be a healthy scratch for the ninth straight game.
There was a sense that maybe Ty Conklin, who came on in relief of Jaroslav Halak Thursday, would get the start tonight since he blanked the Rangers 2-0 Nov. 7 at Madison Square Garden. But Halak will get the nod, and Payne is confident his ability to bounce back will kick in again tonight.
Halak was pulled one other time this season, Nov. 10 at Columbus after allowing four goals on 15 shots and came back the next night to stop 24 of 26 shots in a shootout loss against Nashville.
"Every goalie does. A situation whether it's a goaltender or a forward who's had a bad night, we ask ourselves to have some internal assessment and get back out there and be better," Payne said. "You take (Halak) out after the fourth goal (Thursday), it's not a heck of a lot he could have done on some of those. There's a lot of stuff going on in front of him before the puck got to the goal line. This is a message to him that, 'Hey, get back in there and get back on the horse.'"
Halak is 5-3-0 with a 2.99 GAA and .903 save percentage against the Rangers in his career.
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The Rangers, 24-15-3 on the season and 7-2-2 in their last 11 games, were 3-2 shootout winners Friday night in Dallas.
The Blueshirts, who have not beaten the Blues in regulation since Nov. 22, 2000, did not skate today. They're likely to roll out the same lines as Friday:
Brandon Dubinsky-Derek Stepan-Mats Zuccarello
Sean Avery-Artem Anisimov-Marian Gaborik
Ruslan Fedotenko-Brian Boyle-Brandon Prust
Alexander Frolov-Chris Drury-Dale Weise
Darren Pang told me this morning that Zuccarello, a free agent signing by the Rangers, played on the Norwegian Olympic squad in Vancouver on a line with Tore Vikingstad. Remember that name? Vikingstad was a sixth round draft choice by the Blues back in 1999. Let's just say he never made it up here.
D-pairings for the Blueshirts include:
Marc Staal-Dan Girardi
Steve Eminger-Mike Sauer
Matt Gilroy-Ryan McDonagh
McDonagh, who made his NHL debut Friday night, is expected to once again play for the injured Michal Rozsival (ribs). Ryan Callahan (broken hand) continues to be out for the Rangers.
Henrik Lundqvist, who played Friday in Dallas, could get the start again on back-to-back nights, but Martin Biron, who played well against the Blues in losing 2-0 earlier this season, is likely to start tonight.