By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Think back to last season when Alex Pietrangelo was going through another season of were his maximum limit for games played was nine before the Blues had decide to send him back to his junior club or not.
Pietrangelo went through the disappointment for the second season in a row of being told he had to go back and improve his game.
But the Blues' top pick in 2007 (fourth overall) took the news in stride, matured on and off the ice.
Look where he is now.
The evolution has not only made the 21-year-old a key component and franchise-type player for this franchise, but Pietrangelo was bestowed with an alternate 'A' on Thursday.
The Blues began the season with Eric Brewer as their captain and David Backes, Alex Steen, Barret Jackman and Erik Johnson with A's. All but Backes are gone. Brewer and Johnson have since been traded, Steen and Jackman injured.
"You look at who had the A's on — Andy McDonald and Petro — two guys that have done nothing but provide great examples for the work ethic and the play that's necessary moving forward," Blues coach Davis Payne said. "The voice inside the room and the example on the ice are two different things, but I think (the team) responded very well to the guys who wore them."
The Blues are testing their young lineup who will step up and grab a leadership role. Pietrangelo has epitomized leadership from every angle.
"It's an honor at any level," Pietrangelo said Saturday morning. "It's special, especially this one. I'm just going to try and be a leader on the ice and help this team win. ... I'm going to take the opportunity and use it, to be able to represent this room in that way is special for me."
Pietrangelo admitted the disappointment of being told he wasn't ready to be an everyday NHL player. But how quickly things have changed over the course of a year was well worth the wait.
"It's a quick turnaround from what I've went through the last couple years," Pietrangelo said. "It shows how hard I've worked and how patient they've been with me. Obviously they knew it was the right decision for me to go back for a couple years. Things are coming along."
"You're looking for leadership and unfortunately in hockey, that's the best way you find it ... during adversity," Jackman said. "We're going through it right now with injuries, but it can do nothing but help the franchise. There's definitely a locker room full of guys that will flourish in the environment."
"This is a room that anybody can have a letter," he said. "We all get along so well and it's fun to be a part of.
"The team has gotten younger. With all those guys leaving and with Jax and Steener out now, it is a young team. It's not so much about age but in terms of experience."
Pietrangelo said there's no need to be someone who holler’s or screams. Just lead by example and his teammates will follow suit.
"I'm not going to change the way I play," Pietrangelo said. "I'm not going to change the way I act. They gave it to me for a reason, so I'm not going to change the way I carry myself."
- - -
McDonald is not only leading by example off the ice, but his play on the ice has been stellar since returning from injury.
McDonald, who missed 24 games with a concussion, has 21 points in 19 games since his return, including seven points in the last four games.
"He's come back with a renewed determination to make a difference," Payne said of McDonald. "He's really setting an example, and from a preparation standpoint, he's a guy that does all the right things and is ready to go.
"He's found some situations on the power play that have fueled some of this. Point-per-game guys are not only able to produce 5-on-5, but the power play is an area that's he's been very, very sharp. ... His decision-making and abilities to finish when the opportunity to attack presents itself. He's obviously at the top of his game right now."
McDonald's quickness and bursts of speed really seem to highlight what he's trying to accomplish.
"It's always been his calling card to get into the right areas at the right time," Payne said. "I think he's making quality reads on not getting into position too quickly. His production last game was a result of being on the right side of the puck, his linemates doing their job and finishing when you get the chance. That's successful hockey. Skill guys create chances through the structure, through effort and finish on top of it because they have those abilities. Andy's a guy right now that's playing into those areas, playing to the tough spots using his speed to drive against people. His intention to shoot the puck's strong as well, so I think these are all areas that are paying off."
- - -
The Blues (31-28-9), who play host to Detroit (40-20-8) tonight, won't make any lineup changes:
Andy McDonald-David Backes-Matt D'Agostini
T.J. Hensick-Patrik Berglund-Chris Stewart
Chris Porter-T.J. Oshie-B.J. Crombeen
Cam Janssen-Adam Cracknell-Ryan Reaves
Carlo Colaiacovo-Alex Pietrangelo
Ian Cole-Kevin Shattenkirk
Nikita Nikitin-Roman Polak
Jaroslav Halak, who's 1-2-1 with a 4.48 goals-against average and .866 save percentage in his career against Detroit, gets the start tonight. It will be Halak's third consecutive start since returning from injury.
David Perron (concussion), Alex Steen (ankle), Barret Jackman (finger) and Vladimir Sobotka (foot) remain sidelined with injuries.
- - -
The Red Wings are coming off a 2-1 overtime victory Friday at home over Edmonton.
The Blues are 1-2-1 against Detroit this season, including 1-0-1 here.
"We have to take the imprint that we laid out against Montreal and continue forward with that," Payne said. "It was probably our most complete decision and positional game in quite some time. That's the kind of game you have to play against skilled opponents and opponents that can counter quickly and can make things happen. Detroit's obviously one of those."
The Wings were expected to make lineup changes for tonight. Wings coach Mike Babcock told Detroit reporters that he will split up Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk in road games and keep them together at home. Here was their lineup from Friday, with the exception of Kris Draper in for Drew Miller.
Johan Franzen-Pavel Datsyuk-Tomas Holmstrom
Todd Bertuzzi-Henrik Zetterberg-Dan Cleary
Mike Modano-Valtteri Filppula-Jiri Hudler
Darren Helm-Kris Draper-Justin Abdelkader
Nicklas Lidstrom-Jonathan Ericcson
Niklas Kronwall-Brad Stuart
Jakub Kindl-Ruslan Salei
Jimmy Howard, 5-2-1 with a 2.70 GAA and .914 save percentage in his career against the Blues, starts again tonight for the Wings.
Detroit is without Brian Rafalski (back) and Patrick Eaves (lower-body) will not play and are listed as day-to-day. Miller and Jan Mursak are expected to be healthy scratches.