Season opener nearing; projected opening night lineup
By LOUIE KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- With the Blues taking off Wednesday, there was a longer than usual workout at the St. Louis Mills on Tuesday.
With the opening of the 2011-12 regular season against Nashville just four days away, the Blues will have two more full practices before finally unveiling a lineup in a game that matters.
And according to coach Davis Payne, it's time to be fine-tuning a little bit of everything before facing the Predators.
|Blues coach Davis Payne|
"We want to touch upon all of the structure we've talked about all camp long," Payne said. "Obviously you want to spend time on special teams, special situations ... whether it's 6-on-5 or 4-on-3, whatever comes your way ... some 4-on-4 stuff. When you're at that point in overtime, it's a big factor when you start getting down to the end of the season.
"A lot of the stuff in our game, these guys have been well-versed and we just want to make sure that there's a lasting imprint here this week."
The Blues were 10th in the league on the power play last season at 18.6 percent but they were only 18th on the penalty kill (81.7 percent) after being No. 1 in 2009-10 (86.8 percent).
* Depth already tested -- Blues general manager Doug Armstrong has reiterated many times the need to acquire depth. After seeing the Blues go through so many injuries a season ago, Armstrong felt like it was critical to make sure that the team doesn't go into this season shorthanded.
With the injury to B.J. Crombeen (shoulder) heading into the season that will see the Blues' fourth-liner sidelined indefinitely, the Blues feel like they can now get through the time without missing Crombeen's physical play.
"Yeah, but we didn't want to have to use that depth so quickly," Armstrong said. "I feel for B.J. In a game that wasn't going our way, I thought he was one of the few bright spots (in Saturday's 4-0 preseason loss to Dallas) that we had with his competitive level.
"... It's something that we'll deal with. We have the depth to deal with (it) and right now, I just want B.J. to recuperate as quick as possible. But it does provide someone like Ryan Reaves as excellent opportunity as well as (Chris) Porter and (Evgeny) Grachev."
* Bishop/Allen to split time in Peoria -- With Brian Elliott winning the backup job behind Jaroslav Halak, it's Ben Bishop on his way back to Peoria ... not where the homegrown Bishop wanted to be.
But with Bishop going back to Peoria, look for him to split time there with Jake Allen.
"I think they're going to have very good competition," Armstrong said of the two goalies. "I know that Ben Bishop, if he wants to be the guy called up, he has to be the best goalie down there. So he's going to have to go and command that net. I know Jake wants to further his career, so he is going to command that net. It's a great competitive situation that their team is going to have."
* Reaves, Porter ready to make an impact -- Now that Porter and Reaves -- along with Grachev -- were the last players standing in the camp-long battle for the extra slots at forward, now's the time to enhance the reasons the Blues chose to keep them.
Reaves offers the power and physicality the Blues lost when they chose to let Cam Janssen walk as a free agent and now it becomes even more important with Crombeen shelved for an extended period.
Ryan Reaves becomes the Blues' new enforcer.
"It's one thing to have people say they think you're going to be here, but you've still got to prove yourself," said Reaves, who had two goals and two assists in 28 games last season. "God knows how many forwards were here. It seemed like there was endless amounts, so if you don't perform, there's somebody else champing at the bit. I think I had my best camp in St. Louis since I've been part of this organization. Hard summer for me, I trained really hard and it paid off.
"I like to think that I can be a third- and fourth-line player, just crashing the net, energy, chipping in some points when I can. I try not to be strictly a fighter because there's limited minutes in this league now. You've got to be a well-rounded player and I'm striving for that."
Porter, who had three goals and four assists in 45 games a season ago, said it's all about making an impact now and not just being happy to be here.
"I feel like I had a pretty good camp," he said. "I still feel like I can improve and add to this team. I'm happy to be here and the next goal is getting in the lineup and making an impact.
"Last year was get your foot in the door and show (Payne) what you can do. Now it's add to that and bring that every night and contribute to wins."
* Projected lineup -- The Blues have tinkered with line combinations throughout much of camp. But unless a difference of opinion or injury occurs, expect this to be the lineup that takes the ice Saturday:
Andy McDonald-David Backes-Jamie Langenbrunner
T.J. Oshie-Patrik Berglund-Chris Stewart
Alex Steen-Jason Arnott-Matt D'Agostini
Vladimir Sobotka-Scott Nichol-Ryan Reaves
Carlo Colaiacovo-Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk
Kent Huskins-Roman Polak
Extras: (forwards) Chris Porter, Evgeny Grachev, (defenseman) Nikita Nikitin and (backup goalie) Brian Elliott.