Saturday, January 7, 2012

(1-7-12) Avalanche-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- The talk of the hockey world was the revelation that the NHLPA chose not to give consent to the NHL's proposed realignment plan for next season, and thus the changes for 2012-13 have been scrapped.

It may have come as a surprise to many since it was expected to be a formality but to the players themselves, this was no surprise.

Bottom line: the players want to talk about it more and not rush into a hasty decision even though the decision to not move forward would have helped some teams.

"It's a tough thing. It helps certain teams and doesn't help other teams," said Blues winger B.J. Crombeen, the team's player representative to the NHLPA. "It's trying to talk about things, talk things through and make sure that we have (everyone's best) for every team."

From a Blues standpoint, according to Crombeen, the proposition was just fine, but they want to get it on a level playing ground for all 30 teams.

"For us, it's great. Our travel's easy, but you look at Winnipeg, they're crossing the border every single time they're traveling," Crombeen said. "Not that they're not doing that now, but it doesn't make it that much better for them. There's a lot of teams that there were some question marks and we wanted to sort those things out.

"Also, you look at the playoffs. It's a 14- or 15-percent advantage of you're in a seven-team conference. That's a big difference. Every team wants to be in the playoffs. Trying to find a way that makes it fair for everyone is a big concern of the players and something we wanted to get sorted out."

With a seven-team conference, four will make it ... the same number allowed as in eight-team conferences.

"I'm more worried about Colorado than I am what goes on there," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock deadpanned. "That stuff's going to be there in the next six months. Just going to have to get used to it."

The NHLPA isn't using this as an excuse for leverage for the upcoming labor contract that's due after this season. This is just something they want more information on before making a final decision.

"Like anything, you want to talk it out, you want to work things out," Crombeen said. "It's something that happens. Hopefully it is something we can get sorted out sooner rather than later. Obviously there are some teams right now that have some pretty tough travel schedules and stuff like that. If we can find a way to get sorted out and make sure it's an even playing field for all the teams, that's a big thing."

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The Blues (23-12-5) will have to continue their impressive home play (16-3-2) if they want to beat the red-hot Colorado Avalanche, who have suddenly thrust themselves into the Western Conference playoff race by winning nine of their last 10, 10 of 12 and 13 of 18.

The Avs (23-18-1) are coming off an impressive 4-0 win at Chicago Friday night.

"They're a very fast, energetic, physical team," Blues defenseman Barret Jackman said of the Avs. "If we want to beat them tonight, we'll have to match that and maybe initiate that speed and physicality."

Hitchcock agreed.

"They're all on the same page," Hitchcock said of the Avs. "They've got speed and when they play with speed, they have speed without the puck, which has created problems for everybody. If you're not ready for their pressure, their forechecks and their physical play, you're going to be surprised, in trouble and on your heels. You look at their hit totals in the last 10 games, it's really high. When you're playing physical, that means you're skating. When you're hitting people, that means they're on the outside and you're on the inside, and that's what they're doing. That means they're playing very physical."

Hitchcock said this will be a game of gaining success in the dirty areas.

"It's going to have to be. You're not going to get anything easy," he said. "They're not giving you odd-man rushes now. They're not giving you easy opportunities. Chicago had one odd-man rush yesterday. They're making it hard on the opposition and if you're not ready to pay the price, then they're going to beat you every time.

"I told the players today you're going to get checked hard. How you react to getting checked hard is going to determine how long you stay in the game. They've pushed some really good hockey clubs right out because of their hard play."

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Blues enforcer Ryan Reaves (hip) could return to the lineup after missing the last five games.

Hitchcock said that he will make a decision on whether to play Reaves this afternoon.

"There's a real chance," Hitchcock said. "We'll make a decision after we see the lineup that we're playing against, but I will say right now that he's as close to 100 percent as he's going to get.

"He was a good player in Colorado when we played last time. We'll see if he's ready to go. He brings a speed/physical element we needed in our lineup."

If Reaves isn't able to play, either Chris Porter or Evgeny Grachev will be inserted into the lineup.

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Brian Elliott returns to action tonight in goal for the Blues.

Elliott, who is 14-5-0 with a 1.70 goals-against average and .938 save percentage on the season, has cooled off slightly after a sizzling start that had him at the top of the league leaders in GAA, save percentage and shutouts.

Elliott is 1-3-0 with a 3.03 GAA and .893 save percentage over his last four starts but has not allowed any bad goals.

"For me, he's played good," Hitchcock said of Elliott. "I think before he was probably playing great, but he's played good. That's the fine line we've been living on. I thought for a long time he was great. That's hard to keep up to that level. He's somewhere between good and great every night.

"To me, that's a credit to his focus, maturity ... I think his preparation is second to none. Can he play a little bit better? Sure, but he's still good right now."

- - -

Tonight's probable Blues lineup:

David Perron-David Backes-Chris Stewart

Matt D'Agostini-Patrik Berglund-T.J. Oshie

Vladimir Sobotka-Jason Arnott-Jamie Langenbrunner

Ryan Reaves-Scott Nichol-B.J. Crombeen

Carlo Colaiacovo-Alex Pietrangelo

Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk

Cade Fairchild-Roman Polak

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

The Blues are without F Andy McDonald (concussion), LW Alex Steen (concussion symptoms) missed his fifth straight game, D Kent Huskins (ankle), D Kris Russell (groin) and D Ian Cole (suspension), who is eligible to return Tuesday at Montreal. If Reaves plays, Porter and Grachev will be healthy scratches.

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The Avalanche are not expected to make any changes from Friday's lineup in Chicago except in goal; the team had an optional skate today:

TJ Galiardi-Paul Stastny-David Jones

Gabriel Landeskog-Ryan O'Reilly-Milan Hejduk

Daniel Winnik-Jay McClement-Chuck Kobasew

Cody McLeod-David Van Der Gulik-Kevin Porter

Shane O'Brien-Erik Johnson

Kyle Quincey-Stefan Elliott

Jan Hejda-Ryan O'Byrne

Jean-Sebastien Giguere will start in goal; Semyon Varlamov, who blanked the Blackhawks with a 27-save effort Friday, will be the backup.

On injured reserve for the Avs include C Matt Duchene (knee) and C Peter Mueller (concussion). Both are out indefinitely. D Ryan Wilson missed 13 games with a concussion but was taken off IR Friday. Wilson, RW Brandon Yip and D Matt Hunwick are expected to be healthy scratches.

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