Friday, November 25, 2011

(11-25-11) Flames-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- It was only his 31st career game, but for Blues defenseman Ian Cole, it was the most critical -- and certainly most challenging -- assignment he's drawn as a National Hockey League player.

It helps having Alex Pietrangelo as a defensive partner, but you'll draw tough assignments on a nightly basis, but when you're asked to harass Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby, that's a different breed.

But Cole and Pietrangelo came out with flying colors, not only keeping the best player in the league scoreless in his second game back from a concussion but also winning in a building that's been tough on visiting teams this season.

"It was for sure, but then in that third period when they were down by a goal, they started throwing Crosby and (Evgeni) Malkin out there together," Cole said of the Blues' 3-2 overtime win in Pittsburgh Wednesday. "And then you're playing against two of the best players in the world. They're arguably one-two or one and top five. ... It was definitely a test, definitely a battle. But it definitely feels good to shut those guys down."

It was Cole's fifth game of the season and it was a season-high in minutes at 21:48. Pietrangelo played a game-best 27:59 and scored the game-winner in overtime.

"There's not many defensemen where you say this guy's got a chance to be a one. He has a chance to be a one," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of Pietrangelo. "Not many teams have that. We have an opportunity to have a player like him become a one over time. He's a young guy, he's just learning how to play the game.

"There's not many players in the league that are able to play against top players, play on the power play (and) kill penalties. He's got a chance if he keeps improving to be in that one category. Those are valuable guys where you can play them heavy minutes and not worry about them."

Hitchcock said Pietrangelo reminds him of Nashville's Ryan Suter and lists players like the Preds' Shea Weber and Los Angeles' Drew Doughty as those players that have that ability to be a No. 1 guy.

With Cole, it wasn't a question of whether to throw him out against Crosby. Hitchcock felt like it was time. The Blues' coach liked the end result.

"Really good," Hitchcock said when asked to summarize Cole's game Wednesday. "To get to the next level, if he can get firmer with the puck, it's going to help us a lot. But he's hard on people. He's really got that second and third effort defending-wise, which is really good.

"If we can just get him firmer under pressure with the puck so he's not feeling like there's three guys after him ... there's just one, sometimes younger players think there's more coming at them than there is. If we can get him up to speed there, he's a very competitive guy, which is a good sign for us."

So after Crosby debuted with four points against the New York Islanders Monday, Cole and Pietrangelo held Crosby scoreless Wednesday. Malkin did have two assists.

So is there a secret to containing Sid the Kid?

"There's not one thing that you can do," Cole said. "He's so good, so well-rounded. You've just got to play him hard and stay in his face, not give him too much room. If he has room, he makes stuff happen."

- - -

After stopping 31 shots, including 15 of 17 in the third period, the Blues will once again turn to backup Brian Elliott today against the Calgary Flames (7 p.m. on FSN, KMOX 1120-AM).

Elliott is a sparkling 8-1 on the season with a league-leading 1.48 goals-against average and .946 save percentage.

"The guy that's playing tonight, he weathered the tsunami in the third period ... more than weathered it, so he gets to play tonight because he got real wet in the third period," Hitchcock joked. "Just out of sympathy alone, he gets to come back and play today."

- - -

The Blues will not make any lineup changes from the one they used Wednesday night in Pittsburgh:

Alex Steen-David Backes-T.J. Oshie

Chris Stewart-Patrik Berglund-Matt D'Agostini

Vladimir Sobotka-Jason Arnott-Jamie Langenbrunner

Brett Sterling-Scott Nichol-Ryan Reaves

Ian Cole-Alex Pietrangelo

Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk

Kris Russell-Roman Polak

Brian Elliott will start in goal; Jaroslav Halak is the backup.

The Blues will sit Evgeny Grachev, Chris Porter, and Cade Fairchild. David Perron (post-concussion syndrome), Andy McDonald (concussion), Carlo Colaiacovo (hamstring), Kent Huskins (ankle) and B.J. Crombeen (shoulder) remain on injured reserve.

- - -

Flames defenseman Chris Butler, a native of Kirkwood, Mo., was more than happy to spend the Thanksgiving holiday here.

Butler, whose parents still live in the St. Louis area, also saw his brother and sister come to town to spend the holidays. The Butlers entertained the Flames organization for dinner Thursday night at Chris' parents house.

"I don't think I've been home for a stretch since I left for juniors," said Butler, who still owns a home here and spends his summers here. "For me, it was an exciting time. ... We had the whole team over for Thanksgiving dinner last night. It was awesome.

"For me, it will always be home."

Butler, who was traded to the Flames from Buffalo this past summer, will play his third game here against the Blues (second time this season, once with Buffalo) and said the trade really helps his family see him more often. The trade also gave him a perspective of where he fits in with the Flames.

"For my family, it's nicer being in the Western Conference," said Butler, who has four assists in 20 games this season. "They can go to games in Chicago, Columbus and obviously here in St. Louis. It keeps a few miles off the car for my dad.

"I had a relatively smooth transition. I sat down with the coaches in training camp and talked about what my role is going to be with this team and where they see me fitting in, the type of game that we like to play. I felt like that type of game really suited the way I like to play the game."

Butler is a huge baseball fan and was obviously thrilled to see the Cardinals win the World Series.

"I've always enjoyed the game of baseball," Butler said. "Most nights in the summer time, I sit around watching Cardinals games. ... Once they got into the playoffs and they beat Philly and they beat Milwaukee and to win the World Series, I was loving every minute of it. It's neat to see what they did."

- - -

Looking to bolster their lineup, the Flames claimed forward Blake Comeau from the Islanders on Friday.

The Flames put a claim in with the understanding they were getting a player coach Brent Sutter was familiar with.

Comeau played for Sutter at the World Juniors, and Sutter knows him from coaching against him when Sutter was in New Jersey and when Comeau was playing for Kelowna of the Western Hockey League and Sutter was in Red Deer.

"Blake is a real good, solid two-way player," Sutter said. "He can skate, he's intelligent. I like him as a hockey player. ... He's a good penalty killer, definitely a top-nine player. We'll see when he gets here. His best position is the left wing side. He can play both sides, but he's a better player on the left side."

The 25-year-old Comeau was en route to St. Louis today and barring any further complications, was expected to be in the lineup Friday night.

"He is a player that we have been watching for some time," Flames general manager Jay Feaster said. "He is someone that our scouts feel very strongly will fit into the way we want to play. He's a very good skater. He's a responsible guy defensively. He's a very reliable player in that you can put him out there with a lead in the last minute of play. He's also a guy that can score some goals. Our scouts have been watching him this year and feel that the thing that he needs most is a change. He needs a new opportunity. When we saw he was on waivers, we jumped on that opportunity."

Comeau had no goals and zero points in 16 games for the Islanders this season and was a minus-11. He's coming in on the heels of a 24-goal season in Long Island last season.

"There's reasons for it, obviously, or else he wouldn't be on waivers," Sutter said. "It's something you can't read too much into. There's circumstances that surround that. We're excited about having Blake become a Calgary Flame."

To make room for Comeau, the Flames sent forward Paul Byron to their American Hockey League affiliate in Abbotsford.

"As I explained to Paul, that's simply because we have to do something in order to be able to create the roster spot," Feaster said of Byron, who had two goals in six games. "It's no reflection on the way Paul's played. My goal starting right now is to create a roster spot for Paul Byron and get him back here just as quickly as we can."

- - -

Sutter said aside from Comeau, the Flames lineup will be the same as it was Wednesday night in Detroit:

Alex Tanguay-Mikael Backlund-Jarome Iginla

Curtis Glencross-Olli Jokinen-Rene Bourque

Blake Comeau-Roman Horak-Lee Stempniak

Tom Kostopoulos-Brendan Morrison-Tim Jackman

Scott Hannan-Mark Giordano

Jay Bouwmeester-Chris Butler

Derek Smith-TJ Brodie

Miikka Kiprusoff, who owns a 19-4-2 lifetime record and a 1.90 GAA and .927 save percentage against the Blues, will start in goal; Henrik Karlsson is the backup.

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