By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The philosophy for St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock is simple: earn a shutout one game, start the next.
So there's no debating who's in goal when the Blues host the Detroit Red Wings tonight: Brian Elliott.
After a 19-save performance, including some acrobatic ones in the waning seconds of Saturday's 3-0 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning Saturday, Elliott earns another game in a big Central Division showdown instead of No. 1 Jaroslav Halak, who's also played solid.
"For me, a shutout ... you've got to reward. That's just the way I feel," Hitchcock said. "... I think for us, the goaltending is also a product that we're not giving up odd-man rushes, we're not giving up easy scoring opportunities, we're not giving up breakaways. If you play in the zone, I think both guys are good. But no goalie looks good when you're giving up a ton of odd-man rushes. We've got to eliminate them and if we do that, then we give ourselves a chance every night."
Elliott, who leads the National Hockey League with a 1.49 goals-against average and is second in save percentage (.946) behind Minnesota's Josh Harding (.948), is 6-1 on the season and gives the Blues (8-7-1) a nice 1-2 punch these days.
"We kind of push each other in practice," Elliott said of himself and Halak. "I try to stop every puck that comes my way. Having two guys is great for the team."
Halak is only 2-6-1 on the season and his current numbers (2.78 GAA and .882 save percentage) don't crack the league leaders. But considering he was once a season-low 3.53 GAA and .835 save percentage, the players are noticing the confidence both netminders have.
"Let's talk about our goalies. A 1-2 punch ... they've been playing great," winger Alex Steen said. "The way our goalies have been playing the last little while has just calmed everything down in the D-zone. I think we've played some pretty good hockey."
Added Hitchcock, "It looks like we've got two guys that can play. It's a good feeling."
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In an effort to get their second line going a bit, Hitchcock won't move anyone onto it, just switch a couple wingers.
Patrik Berglund will stay in the middle, but the Blues will move Chris Stewart to the left side and Matt D'Agostini to the right against Detroit.
The move is in hopes of getting the line scoring on a consistent basis, despite the trio getting scoring chances.
"We practiced with it two days ago and really liked it," Hitchcock said. "For whatever reason in the game against Tampa, Dags ended up on the right side a lot. He showed great speed and the ability to bring the puck to the net.
"For me, it doesn't matter whether Stewy plays right or not. When you've got a quick stick like he does, which you need to play on the off-wing, he's effective either way. For me, it's more for Dags."
The two players have no preference on moving.
"It's no different," said Stewart, who played left wing in Colorado. "It's a little easier to attack when you're on your off-wing there as opposed to cutting to your back end there. It's a little easier to protect the puck. It shouldn't be any difference.
"We're playing with poise, getting opportunities off the rush too. That's always a good thing. It's just a matter of time before we start capitalizing."
D'Agostini and Stewart would up playing opposite sides in Saturday's 3-0 win over Tampa Bay.
"It's not that much of a change," said D'Agostini, who will play in his 200th career game tonight. "We're reading off of each other during the game. ... I've moved from left to right, right to left before during the season, so it's not a big change.
"We've played well the last couple games. We've been playing in the offensive zone most of the time, but we just haven't been able to bang that many in yet. The law of averages, they'll go in sooner or later."
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The Blues will insert winger Chris Porter into the lineup tonight, in place of enforcer Ryan Reaves. It will be Porter's first game under Hitchcock and first since Oct. 30 at Edmonton.
"I've watched him in practice. He's got great speed. He gets after it," Hitchcock said of Porter. "We're looking at this being a really quick game. Detroit just drops the puck and plays. There's no stuff after the whistle. They play as hard whistle to whistle as anybody in the National Hockey League.
"We just feel like we're going to need to play with tempo tonight to match theirs and we think Porter has a chance here. But this is, for me, a look. I don't really know much about him as a player. I'd like to look at him because he's looked very good the past two practices. He's looked like he's dug in and bit and wants to play some hockey. So I want to give him that opportunity to see what he does."
Porter's been a healthy scratch the last five games and has no points in seven games played.
"I've been working hard," Porter said. "When your name's called, you have to go out and perform. That's what I plan on doing tonight. ... My game is based around speed and physicality. Hopefully, I can bring that tonight. Obviously Detroit carries the puck. They don't like to dump the puck too much. I'll have to be good defensively. Hopefully, we can minimize their chances offensively and play in their zone all night."
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Hitchcock and Red Wings coach Mike Babcock are friends ... good friends, as a matter of fact.
The two go back a long way with Team Canada. Babcock was the head coach and Hitchcock was an assistant for Canada's gold medal winning squad at the Winter Olympics of 2010.
The two have also coached against one another plenty in the Western Conference, with Hitchcock having stints in Dallas and Columbus.
"I worked with Hitch at the Olympics," Babcock said. "I got to know him good then. When he was let go in Columbus, he's a hockey junkie and so I talked to him a lot. When you talk to a guy a lot, he ends up knowing how you're thinking and how your team's playing. He's a smart hockey guy and he's going to do a good job here. They've got themselves a real good coach."
There was some discussion this past summer about Hitchcock joining Babcock's staff in Detroit as an assistant but that never materialized.
"We talked about it, but I think both of us felt that I still wanted to be a head guy," Hitchcock said. "I think he wanted to get young energy in there. I was probably too old for his staff. We talked about it though.
"We're good friends. We went through the toughest experience you can go through in life, and that is to represent your country. We came out OK. We did it together. There was a good feeling amongst the staff and especially with Mike and I because we had a major responsibility game planning, scheming and stuff like that."
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Upon further review, Blues defenseman Kent Huskins in fact does have a fracture in the left ankle that he injured in a game Oct. 28 in Calgary and will be out the next eight weeks.
Huskins, who was initially diagnosed with the fracture by doctors in Calgary after suffering the injury blocking a shot, then was looked at by doctors here who determined it was a deep bone bruise, skated Monday and had no problems with straight line skating. But when it came down to turns, there were problems.
Blues trainers immediately sent Huskins to the hospital, where X-rays determined a fracture. Huskins will have a screw inserted Wednesday.
"They skated him hard yesterday in straight lines ... no issue," Hitchcock said of Huskins. "Then they started to do turns with him and there were issues. They did another test on him, and they found the fracture. They never found it skating the first time. They never found it skating ahead the second time, but on the turn part of the practice, it started giving him pain."
It means Ian Cole, recalled from Peoria last week, will be here for the near future.
"This obviously gives a guy like Cole a long-term opportunity here," Hitchcock said. "Hopefully, Ian takes advantage of it. We've got our seven (defensemen) here and this is what we're going to be going with."
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The Red Wings will be without Ian White indefinitely after the defenseman suffered a broken cheekbone during Saturday's 5-2 win over Dallas, the Wings' fourth straight win.
It means Mike Commodore, who's only played two games, will be slotted into the lineup and play on the third pairing with Jakub Kindl and Jonathan Ericsson moves to the top pairing with Nicklas Lidstrom.
"I'm thinking he'd be a good matchup guy," Babcock said of Ericsson. "Move the puck six feet at a time, and do what you do well: be physical, play hard."
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In talking to Babcock in previous years, he's always been a big fan of the Blues.
"I just think they've been a good team here for a long time," Babcock said. "Probably a playoff team, but they've run into some injuries. It hasn't gone as good as they wanted.
"I thought Andy Murray did a good job with them, I thought Davis Payne did a good job and now 'Hitch' has got a more finished product here. It looks like they're deep in all positions. They're playing hard and they're playing what I think is right and well."
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For those that have contended that Hitchcock is not a fan of Russian players, take note of Blues winger Evgeny Grachev.
Grachev has been playing on the team's fourth line, and even though the ice time doesn't show it, Hitchcock wants to see more of Grachev in upcoming games.
"I think for me, Grachev is a player as we move forward is going to get more and more ice time, whether it's power play (or) killing penalties," Hitchcock said. "He has a great stick, and for a big guy, he really knows how to play the game. For a young guy, he really knows how to play the game, and he's really responsible in getting pucks out and in. To me, he's a trustworthy guy that's going to get better and better ... if the coach just decides to play him a little bit more.
"I've always believed that if you've got a great stick, speed is irrelevant. He's got a great stick, one of the better ones I've seen for a young guy. His stick's always in the right lane. It's always deflecting pucks and getting in the right lane and picking them off ... very underrated there. He's been very well coached somewhere."
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The Blues' lineup tonight against the Red Wings:
Alex Steen-David Backes-T.J. Oshie
Chris Stewart-Patrik Berglund-Matt D'Agostini
Vladimir Sobotka-Jason Arnott-Jamie Langenbrunner
Evgeny Grachev-Scott Nichol-Chris Porter
Carlo Colaiacovo-Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk
Kris Russell-Roman Polak
Brian Elliott gets the start in goal; Jaroslav Halak is the backup.
Along with Huskins, the Blues are without winger Andy McDonald (concussion), winger David Perron
(post-concussion syndrome) winger B.J.
Crombeen (shoulder). Cole and Reaves are healthy
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The Red Wings, who started the season winning five in a row, then losing six straight before winning four in a row, will go with the following lineup against the Blues:
Danny Cleary-Pavel Datsyuk-Tomas Holmstrom
Valtteri Filppula-Henrik Zetterberg-Johan Franzen
Jiri Hudler-Darren Helm-Justin Abdelkader
Drew Miller-Cory Emmerton-Patrick Eaves
Nicklas Lidstrom-Jonathan Ericsson
Niklas Kronwall-Brad Stuart
Jakub Kindl-Mike Commodore
Jimmy Howard gets the nod in goal; Ty Conklin, who played for the Blues the last two seasons, will be the backup in his return to St. Louis.
Along with White, the Red Wings are without injured winger Todd
Bertuzzi (sinus infection) and winger Jan Mursak (ankle). Winger Fabian Brunnstrom is a healthy scratch. Defenseman Brendan Smith, recalled from after White's injury, will serve the last
of a five-game suspension tonight after receiving the suspension in the
preseason for a hit to the head on Chicago's Ben Smith.