By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- With all the hoopla surrounding the game between Philadelphia and Tampa Bay Wednesday night, in which the Flyers and Lightning played a game of patience throughout the first period, now it's up to the Blues to dissect the Lightning's 1-3-1 formation.
The Blues and Lightning will play here Saturday night -- it also marks the return of former Blue Eric Brewer -- and the Blues will be faced with Tampa's different-than-usual system.
But according to the Blues, there's no big storylines when it comes to their matchup.
"I think you make too much of that," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "They play with structures, so how do you counteract the structures? It's like any team. If you allow a team to set up in their structure, they're going to beat you. It doesn't matter if it's 1-3-1, 1-2-2, 2-1-2 ... doesn't matter, they're going to beat you. So you have to attack the structure before they set up.
"It's like any fore-checking system. It's the same thing as an offensive zone fore-check system. You've got to find a way to get by it before it sets its course. So for us, it's about not allowing them to control the tempo of the game. I think the other thing is it's easy to set up in a defensive structure when you've got the lead all the time. So for us, it's get the lead and force the other team to have to open things up a little bit more."
Blues players saw portions of the game or on highlights from Wednesday night and don't think it's that big of a deal.
"It was just a matter of Philly being stubborn," winger Matt D'Agostini said. "I think they were just trying to fluster Tampa, try to get them to come after them a little more than they obviously do."
D'Agostini added jokingly, "We're going to sit behind the net for the whole game (Saturday). ... They play with a D-man back there, so as long as we get good dumps, we can go in and hit their D and like last night, play in their end as much as we can."
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Lightning defenseman Eric Brewer will make his first trip back to St. Louis since the trade last season that sent the veteran to Tampa Bay for a third-round pick and prospect Brock Beukeboom.
The Blues (7-7-1) host the Lightning (8-5-2) at 7 p.m. today (FSN, KMOX 1120-AM).
Brewer, who spent nearly six seasons in St. Louis but was dealt in February and helped the Lightning reach the Eastern Conference Finals last season. He has four assists in 15 games this season after resigning with Tampa Bay in the offseason for four years and $16-million.
"It worked out pretty well," Brewer said. "It could have worked out better, but I can't complain. ... It's been good. They have a very good hockey program. It was something that wasn't tough to say no to. I've liked it."
Brewer, who was the Blues' captain, enjoyed his time here.
"It was good," Brewer said. "I really enjoyed it here. It's comfortable here. I can walk here and know people. I was treated very well. It was nice to see some of the guys that were real good to me."
Brewer also talked about the firing of former coach Davis Payne, who he played under here.
"I'm surprised, yeah," Brewer said. "He was very good when I was there. ... He's going to do well. He's a good coach."
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Newly acquired defenseman Kris Russell was on the ice Saturday morning and will make his Blues debut tonight.
Russell, acquired from Columbus Friday for defenseman Nikita Nikitin, will wear No. 4 tonight -- ironically Brewer's number here in St. Louis -- and will be paired with Roman Polak.
"I heard rumors that I was coming to St. Louis," Russell said. "It was a stressful night for me (Thursday) wondering what was happening."
Russell, who has two goals and an assist in 12 games with the Jackets this season, will be reunited with Hitchcock. Hitchcock coached Russell in Columbus.
"He's actually the only guy I know here. I don't know one guy here," Russell joked. "... You just be yourself. There are a lot of good players in this league. (Jackets) assistant coach Danny Hinote had great things to say about St. Louis. I trained with Chris Mason and he's been here. He had nothing but the best to say about the city and franchise. I'm excited. It's a getting-to-know period.
"(Hitchcock's) a guy that gave me the opportunity to play. I was really fortunate for that. I think he really helped me with my defensive side of the game. Coming out of juniors, I was strictly offense, always up ice and a little lackluster in my own end. But Hitch said you have to be a good two-way player. I feel like I've come a long way."
The Blues will sit Ian Cole, who's played well in his two games since his recall. Hitchcock said it's nothing personal.
"Whether this was Kris Russell or Billy Smith, it wouldn't have mattered," Hitchcock said. "To me, I just know what it is to be a new player. You want to make him a part of it. ... The one thing that Kris Russell brings to us is transition on that left side. I think that we have the transition on the right side. If we can help ourselves on the left side and be better, that's really going to help us.
"That's not to say Ian Cole becomes a seventh guy either. That's not it for sure. To me, it's all about winning the next hockey game and whoever gives you the best chance goes. ... I want to make Kris a part of it. Whoever's the seventh, probably will be sitting out, and to me, that depends strictly on performance."
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The Blues will make a switch with their forward lines, moving Alex Steen up to the top line and dropping Vladimir Sobotka down to the third line.
It's another move Hitchcock says is more about execution and not a promotion/demotion.
"That's a coach's swap because I have this phobia about three lines making one line for power play and two lines making one PK pair," Hitchcock said. "It's not based on, 'Oh, this guy's going to help there.' They're both going to help either line, but it's more just continuity. It ends up for me when you're coming out of special teams, it ends up in massive confusion because you're using three lines on two sets of power play, using two and sometimes three lines on PK and then you're coming out trying to put a line together where all three guys don't even play together. This is about continuity that I want to see."
Hitchcock got Sobotka out on a line with Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner in Thursday's 3-2 shoot out loss against Toronto and liked it.
"They were really good and created the pressure," Hitchcock said.
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It's become a norm today that coaches and executives are vague when it comes to player injuries in the NHL. In today's world, upper- and lower-body injuries are as common as asking a player if he was surprised to get traded.
Consider Hitchcock the No. 1 coach among members of the media after what he had to say about that subject this morning.
"I don't like that," Hitchcock said.
"Because it's stupid," he said. "Because all it does is make you (media) guys do more work and mistrust us.
"What's the big deal? (A) guy has a sore shoulder, he has a sore shoulder. ... I don't like upper-body and lower-body. I can't tell the damn difference. (Detroit coach Mike) Babcock throws out mid-body ... what the hell's that! To me, if a guy's hurt, he's hurt and I'll tell you what it is and go from there."
After the media gathering stopped laughing, Hitchcock was asked about other teams and their players targeting a player's injury and if there's any worry there.
"We're not playing games with this stuff," he said. "To me, there's enough mistrust going on, so if a guy gets hurt and he has an injury, we'll tell you what the injury is, where it is and then if somebody wants to actually think a player is going to actually sit in that locker room and discuss whether the guy has a sore elbow or sore shoulder, God bless him, because they do it every day in football and it comes across the scroll on the bottom and it's no big deal.
"I think it's the obligation of the team. If they're coming after one of your injured players in his injured area, then you have an obligation to do the same thing to him."
How about when it comes to the playoffs? Does that change Hitchcock's stance?
"Not really," Hitchcock said. "I just don't tell you anything."
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The statistics are what they are. They read that the Blues are back on the bottom of the league in power play efficiency, which translates into a 5-for-47 rating (10.6 percent). But under Hitchcock as coach, the Blues are 2-for-7 and even on the ones they didn't score, quality chances have been there.
"We've felt better the last couple games," D'Agostini said. "We've been moving it around and getting closer support to each other, just making things easier for each other ... better entries and stuff like that."
Hitchcock's 1-3-1 with the man advantage allows the Blues to get more pucks on the interior.
"It gives us a little more options, especially with that guy in the middle," D'Agostini said. "It helps the two guys outside get shots to the middle, and you've got that middle guy driving and we get net-front.
"We're just keeping it simple. Getting shots there and trying to go to the net. We've had some good looks."
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Hitchcock relied heavily on his assistant coaches when it came time to execute the shootout Thursday night.
With no knowledge of who's good and who struggles, the veteran Blues coach leaned on his assistants (Scott Mellanby and Brad Shaw were on the bench).
"They gave me a choice of five the day before that these are the guys," Hitchcock said. "And then on the bench, I asked both guys what works.
"It would help if we raise the puck. That would help. We would have scored twice for sure if we would have raised the puck. ... Once we get practicing on that a little bit more, we'll have tryouts and I want to see what guys do in a simulated situation. We put a little pressure on them and see what they can do."
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The Blues' lineup tonight against the Lightning:
Alex Steen-David Backes-T.J. Oshie
Matt D'Agostini-Patrik Berglund-Chris Stewart
Vladimir Sobotka-Jason Arnott-Jamie Langenbrunner
Evgeny Grachev-Scott Nichol-Ryan Reaves
Carlo Colaiacovo-Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk
Kris Russell-Roman Polak
Brian Elliott gets the start in goal; Jaroslav Halak is the backup.
Hitchcock has an interesting take on getting Elliott in goal tonight. Elliott is 5-1 with a 1.72 goals-against average and .941 save percentage.
"As Chief Taylor (Bobby Taylor said to Philadelphia Flyers coach Fred Shero) once said, 'After Bernie (Parent) played 60 in a row, it's his turn,'" said Hitchcock, referring to Parent's 37 consecutive starts as he got a rousing laugh from the media gathering. "It's (Elliott's) turn. ... I gotta tell you, I haven't seen Brian play this year. I want to make him part of the team.
"He's part of the team. He's played well."
The Blues are without defenseman Kent Huskins (ankle) and forwards David Perron
(post-concussion syndrome), Andy McDonald (concussion) and B.J. Crombeen
(shoulder). Along with Cole, winger Chris Porter is a healthy scratch.
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The Lightning's lineup against the Blues tonight:
Steve Downie-Steven Stamkos-Teddy Purcell
Martin St. Louis-Vincent Lecavalier-Brett Connolly
Nate Thompson-Dominic Moore-Tom Pyatt
Ryan Shannon-Blair Jones-Adam Hall
Eric Brewer-Matt Gilroy
Marc-Andre Bergeron-Pavel Kubina
Brett Clark-Bruno Gervais
Mathieu Garon gets the start in goal; Dwayne Roloson is the backup.
Mattias Ohlund (knee, placed on Injured Reserve), Victor Hedman (upper-body, day-to-day) and Ryan Malone (upper-body, day-to-day). Hedman was on the ice for the skate this morning but now a likely target for a return is Monday.