Saturday, January 21, 2012

(1-21-12) Sabres-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues enter tonight's matchup with the Buffalo Sabres as stingy as ever.

They're the only team in the Western Conference to not have allowed 100 goals on the season (94) and are one of three teams (the New York Rangers and Boston Bruins are the others) to be in such selective company.

A big reason for that is not only do the Blues (28-12-6) have four shutouts in six games, but they have a string of 10 consecutive games in which they haven't allowed a third period goal.

They're chasing a record of 13 straight set by the 1928-29 Montreal Canadiens, which is quote a feat in itself.

A big key to the success is the shutdown goaltending of Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott. They're No. 1 in the NHL with a goals-against average of 1.91 and have a combined save percentage of .926. But for the Blues, this has been a collective effort, from the forwards backchecking to the defensemen limiting second and third opportunities and then to the goaltending making timely saves.

It all adds up to game where scoring chances are limited against this bunch right now, something coach Ken Hitchcock stresses.

"Hitch stresses team defense," winger Jamie Langenbrunner said. "We've bought into that pretty darn well.

"You obviously have to have goalies making some big saves. You're going to make mistakes out there and they're going to have to come up big. They've done that. Our D has played solid and our forwards have come back and working for them."

Hitchcock agrees.

One of the things that really helps is that our forwards work for our defensemen," he said. "It allows our defensemen to have a very good gap, it allows our defensemen to trust our forwards and that's why we're successful. We have four lines that really work for the defense and the goalie."

The Blues certainly realize the run they're on and would like for it to continue.

"We do bear down in the third and kind of say to outselves, 'let's take care of the defensive side of it first,'" defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "Our M.O. is we want to be a third period team. It's been great to kind of lock down in the third period and know that our goalies are gonna save the pucks and we're going to limit those second and third opportunitues."

- - -

The Blues, who entertain the Sabres (19-23-5) in the teams' only meeting of the season, know what Buffalo is going through and don't wish it on anyone.

It's become a mental mindset for the Sabres, who have lost a franchise record 11 straight regulation road games and are 1-6-1 on their last eight games. This coming from a team that started 8-3 away from home.

"When I watch them play, the feeling is they go great and then there's the 'oh no,' and when the 'oh no' comes in, it's the hardest thing in coaching to put the brakes on," Hitchcock said. "... They've got the 'oh no's' going. They get a bad play and it seems like every bad play ends up in your net."

Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers agreed.

"We're having good moments throughout games," Myers said. "it's just a matter of 10 or 15 minutes where we have those mental mistakes. If we really focus on going into a game trying to eliminate those, it'll definitely help us."

"I'm feeling for Lindy," Hitchcock said of Sabres coach Lindy Ruff. "We've all been through that stuff. We were through that in Columbus. We took the big step, made the playoffs, we're thinking things are really going to go and then we get the 'oh no' games going. We're on the wrong side of every darn road game. You get a bad feeling amongst your team. You feel for the guy.

"... Winning is a feeling. When you're on the wrong side of the feeling, it looks like you can never get over it, and when you're on the right side, it looks like you're never going to lose again."

Buffalo's last road win was a 3-2 victory at Nashville on Dec. 3. Going against the team with the best home record in the Blues, who are 20-3-3, could certainly boost the morale of a group fighting it.

"It's perfect for us," Myers said. "They're on a big role right now. It would be a great team to end this streak we have going right now. We're going to have to bring our best to beat them.

"Obviously things are going pretty bad for us right now. Everyone in the room believes we can work out of it. It's just a matter of getting back to working hard and playing within our system. I think after this morning, we have a good mindset coming into tonight."

Ruff, believes the Blues will come at his team with full force early in the game.

"I imagine they're licking their chops, they should be," Ruff said of the Blues. "Any time you see a team at the end of a road trip that has struggled, I'm sure they're gonna really want to come after us with all five guys."

The Blues, who are 7-0-1 in the month of January and 12-0-2 in their last 14 home games, are aware of what they face and don't want to be the team that breaks the Sabres' losing skid.

"We definitely don't want it to be us that kickstarts their comeback if they get it going," Shattenkirk said. "If you look at Buffalo, they were pegged to be one of the best teams in the East. I still think they have a very solid team.

"Teams get into ruts in the middle of the season. It happens, but we can't come into it thinking it's just another game that we can walk through and start looking at Monday (at Detroit) and forget about this one. If anything, they're going to come out hitting and play physical."

- - -

Former Blue Brad Boyes returns to Scottrade Center for the first time since he was dealt to the Sabres near the trade deadline last season -- Feb. 27 to be exact.

The Blues, who were out of the playoff hunt, dealt Boyes to the Sabres for a 2011 second round draft pick, which the Blues used to draft Moose Jaw defenseman Joel Edmundson with the 46th pick.

Boyes went on to tally five goals and 14 points in 21 games with Buffalo a season ago and helped the Sabres reach the playoffs, but like many of his teammates, Boyes has struggled to find an offensive stride this season.

Boyes has just three goals in 34 games this season -- one in his last 25 and a grand total of nine in 62 games, including the playoffs.

"It's been tough and frustrating for me," Boyes said. "But we've got another game, keep working at it, keep getting chances and putting those chances in. I've gone through stretches, but this is something that's obviously a little different.

"As for us as a team, it's been tough. It's something we're trying to figure out. We've been struggling scoring goals. That's one of the biggest things. We've just got to find some more ways to get some chemistry and get the power play going. Those are things we're really looking at. We've got the guys in the room to do it. We played really well early in the season. We're in one of those grooves in the wrong way."

Boyes spent Friday might with some of his ex-teammates with the Blues.

"I was able to grab dinner with some of the guys, so it was nice," said Boyes, who had 106 goals and 232 points in four seasons with the Blues. "I was with them for a long time and we became really close. It was good to see them again. It felt like old times again. They're doing well, which is great to see."

- - -

The Blues' probable lineup. They are 8-0-1 against the Eastern Conference:

David Perron-David Backes-T.J. Oshie

Matt D'Agostini-Patrik Berglund-Chris Stewart

Vladimir Sobotka-Jason Arnott-Jamie Langenbrunner

B.J. Crombeen-Scott Nichol-Ryan Reaves

Carlo Colaiacovo-Alex Pietrangelo

Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk

Kris Russell-Roman Polak

Jaroslav Halak will be in goal. Brian Elliott will back up.

Halak is 10-0-3 with a 1.50 goals-against average and .941 save percentage in his last 13 starts. He is coming off back-to-back 1-0 shutout victories and carries a 148:25 shutout streak into the game. His personal career high is 157:45, set in January 2010.

The Blues will be without winger Alex Steen (concussion symptoms), who is day-to-day. On injured reserve include forward Andy McDonald (concussion) and defenseman Kent Huskins (ankle). Defenseman Ian Cole and winger Chris Porter are healthy scratches.

- - -

The Sabres' probable lineup:

Thomas Vanek-Jochen Hecht-Jason Pominville

Drew Stafford-Derek Roy-Nathan Gerbe

Ville Leino-Luke Adam-Patrick Kaleta

Matt Ellis-Cody McCormick-Brad Boyes

Andrej Sekera-Tyler Myers

Joe Finley-Jordan Leopold

Mike Weber-Marc-Andre Gragnani

Ryan Miller will start in goal. Jhonas Enroth is the backup.

Defenseman TJ Brennan has the flu and will not play. Center Paul Gaustad (upper-body) is also out after being injured Wednesday in Chicago. Winger Tyler Ennis (ankle), winger Colin Stuart (lower-body), defenseman Christian Ehrhoff (upper-body) and defenseman Brayden McNabb (upper-body) are on injured reserve. Defenseman Robyn Regehr (upper-body) has missed the last three games.

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