By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- It's amazing what a change from one month to another can do for the Blues.
A forgettable January in which the club went 2-8-1 had taken a 180-degree turn into a 5-1-2 February thus far after the Blues won their third in a row Saturday in a 9-3 blasting of the Anaheim Ducks.
The last two wins came in the heels of a makeover management has done with the trade of Eric Brewer (Tampa Bay) that was followed by a mega deal with Colorado that sent 2006 top overall pick Erik Johnson and veteran Jay McClement to Colorado.
The Blues (27-21-9), who entertain the rival Chicago Blackhawks (30-23-6) in a 1 p.m. President's Day matinee today (FSN, KMOX 1120-AM), still have a climb on their hands -- they sit five points out of a playoff position -- but they have games in hand on all the teams they're chasing, including the Blackhawks.
The Blues are getting healthy, they've added key pieces in Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk in the trade with the Avalanche and are reaping the rewards for what they say has been hard work despite a rough weekend recently against Minnesota.
"We've always been a hard-working team," winger Alex Steen said. "Now, it's starting to click lately. The hard work that we've put in is starting to pay off and I think guys feel that.
"A (9-3) win, it doesn't matter. It's two points and that's all it was. Now we've got Chicago and Colorado, another two tough games back-to-back. We're in a tough schedule right now. It was a good game, but we've got to win the next one."
While the sentiment is that the Blues are still a long-shot to make the playoffs, that's not the message being tossed around in the locker room.
"I still think this team can and will make the playoffs," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said. "We need to continue to play the way we've played recently. We’re excited about where we are today, but more importantly I’m excited about where we are and where we are moving forward."
- - -
Even though they were a combined plus-7 in the victory over Anaheim Saturday, even the top line of Andy McDonald, David Backes and Stewart are not taken off the hook when the coaching staff feels like mistakes are being made.
For instance, Backes played a season-low 12 minutes, 54 seconds, was a plus-4, and had a goal and two assists in the game.
But as Blues coach Davis Payne likes to put it, all players are accountable, and the line was momentarily benched in the second period.
"There's a shift there in the second period that enabled Anaheim to come back towards our net a little bit too easy that we weren't entirely pleased with," Payne said.
But, the fact that the game was out of hand so quickly enabled the Blues to take away some minutes to top players in the middle of a heavy schedule of games.
"They're a group that's going to continue to play high-pressure, high-quality hockey for us," Payne said of his top unit. "As that game wound down, we were in the middle of a busy stretch (of games). Any time we can pull some of those minutes down works for us going forward."
- - -
Ben Bishop, who got the win -- his second career victory -- in relief of Ty Conklin, by making 20 saves in Saturday's 9-3 victory over Anaheim, could get another start this afternoon, which would be his first-ever against Chicago.
Payne was not ready to commit to a starter after Sunday's practice.
"I know what my role is when I'm up here, so I don't try to change anything," said Bishop, 2-1-1 in his NHL career. "If I get the nod, I get the nod. If not, I'll be backing up and ready just in case."
Conklin, after shutting out Buffalo Friday night, was lifted Saturday after allowing three goals on five shots. But he is 1-1 against Chicago this season.
- - -
The Blues could insert Philip McRae into the lineup today, but after winning their third in a row, Payne may not alter what's been working the last few games.
In case they do, here is the projected lineup:
Andy McDonald-David Backes-Chris Stewart
Alex Steen-Patrik Berglund-T.J. Oshie
Brad Winchester-Vladimir Sobotka-Brad Boyes
B.J. Crombeen-Philip McRae-Matt D'Agostini
That would mean Cam Janssen would sit out. If Janssen plays and McRae sits, Slide D'Agostini into the fourth-line center slot and Janssen on right wing.
The d-pairings likely won't change from Saturday:
Barret Jackman-Alex Pietrangelo
Nikita Nikitin-Roman Polak
Carlo Colaiacovo-Kevin Shattenkirk
Tyson Strachan will likely sit out again.
Ben Bishop is the projected starter this afternoon.
- - -
The Blackhawks, who are 0-2 here at Scottrade center this season, sit three points ahead of the Blues in the standings with the Blues having two games in hand, come in off a Sunday 3-2 shootout victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins in a battle of the last two Stanley Cup champions.
The Hawks will once again play without their head coach, as former Blues coach Joel Quenneville was admitted to the hospital with gastrointestinal bleeding. However, he is home and getting better and is close to returning.
The team is being led by assistant coach Mike Haviland, with a helping hand from another former Blues coach, Mike Kitchen.
The Hawks' probable lineup includes:
Patrick Sharp-Jonathan Toews-Patrick Kane
Michael Frolik-Dave Bolland-Marian Hossa
Bryan Bickell-Tomas Kopecky-Troy Brouwer
Viktor Stalberg-Ryan Johnson-Jake Dowell
Duncan Keith-Nick Leddy
Niklas Hjalmarsson-Brent Seabrook
Brian Campbell-Jordan Hendry
Marty Turco, who was sensational here the last time these teams met (a 3-1 Blues victory), could get the start today after Corey Crawford stopped 24 shots in Sunday's win over Pittsburgh.