By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The first preseason game can be tough to gauge just what a team is looking for from itself or what the coaches want to see.
For the Blues, who open their preseason slate against Tampa Bay at 7 p.m. today, coach Davis Payne will be looking for the following:
"Pace, execution, some of the details," he said. "We spent a lot of time in some of our d-zone stuff and the structure we get ourselves back into in those areas. Tampa will provide a little bit of different look in the neutral zone. That becomes a pace situation tat we want to play ahead of.
"We don't want to get these guys too caught up in structure to the point where they're not playing their game either. We can fix as we go."
The Lightning will be without some of their stars, including Steven Stamkos, Vincent Lecavalier, Marty St. Louis and former Blue Eric Brewer.
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Defenseman Brett Ponich, the Blues' second-round pick (48th overall) in 2009, is projected to play for the Blues' AHL affiliate in Peoria this season. That's quite a remarkable turnaround after Ponich suffered a torn ligament in his left knee less than a year ago.
"It's probably one of the more interesting things that's happened to me in my career," said Ponich, who will be paired with Kevin Shattenkirk tonight. "The surgery went really well, so it was tough to lose pretty much half the season last year. My team went to the finals of the WHL, so that was really tough, but it feels good now and I'm ready to go.
"I lost a lot of games, but this year, I focused on being on the ice a lot. Since our season ended, I didn't take any time off, I was on five times a week and the cool thing with our season going so long I was able to get back on the ice with my team, too. Now with a couple games under my belt with Traverse City, I feel good and ready to go."
At 6-foot-7, 225 pounds, the Edmonton, Alberta native has added mass and muscle to his frame. He has overcome a lot to get to the level he's at after having a successful time playing for the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League.
"I've definitely tried to put on some strength and some muscle," Ponich said. "With a pretty big frame, filling out's kind of been a goal of mine."
Payne said Ponich has played well, both at Traverse City and here.
"He's very good. That's a tough injury," Payne said. "Not as tough as it used to be with the advances they've had, but you can see that he's put his work in. He's put his work in the rehab, he's put his work into getting ready. I don't know how he feels exactly from timing and all that stuff. He looks pretty good so far."
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Tonight's lineup against the Lightning includes:
Evgeny Grachev-David Backes-Jamie Langenbrunner
Matt D'Agostini-Philip McRae-Jonathan Cheechoo
Chris Porter-Brett Sonne-B.J. Crombeen
Derek Nesbitt-Anthony Nigro-Anthony Peluso
Carlo Colaiacovo-Roman Polak
Brett Ponich-Kevin Shattenkirk
Danny Syvret-Mark Cundari
Brian Elliott gets the start in goal. Jake Allen will be the backup.
Sitting out tonight from Team Blue: Alex Steen, Jason Arnott, Tyler Shattock, Ryan Tesink, Cody Beach and David Shields.
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The Lightning will dress: (at forward) Steve Downie, Carter Ashton, Adam Hall, Dominic Moore, Mattias Ritola, Ryan Shannon, Alex Picard, JT Wyman, Eric Neilson, Dana Tyrell, Nate Thompson and Mike Angelidis; (on defense) Richard Petiot, Mattias Ohlund, Brett Clark, Pavel Kubina, Mark Barberio, Radko Gudas and Victor Hedman; (goalies on trip) Mathieu Garon and Jaroslav Janus.