By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The Blues will honor 'Big Walt' once again tonight before facing the Boston Bruins.
The Blues salute Keith Tkachuk and his recent induction to the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame with a pre-game ceremony tonight at Scottrade Center.
Tkachuk, a Boston native, was a four-time United States Olympian and Silver Medalist at the 2002 Winter Games. Among American-born players in NHL history, the five-time All-Star ranks second in goals (538) and fifth in points (1,065).
A number of the current Blues, including B.J. Crombeen, remember what it was like learning to be a pro under the watchful eye of a player likely destined for the NHL Hall of Fame as well.
"It was a great honor to even be able to play with a guy like that," Crombeen said of Tkachuk, who played in 542 games with the Blues, including 208 goals and 219 assists. "You look at the history he's had, everywhere he's went, he's been successful.
"It was pretty neat for me as a young guy to come in and have a guy like that to look up at and see how he plays the game and how he gets ready every day. It's exciting for all the people here in St. Louis. It's neat that he gets honored in a way like he is tonight."
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Vladimir Sobotka, who was acquired by the Blues from the Bruins in 2010 for the rights to Boston native and defenseman David Warsofsky, will face his former teammates for the second time since the trade.
Sobotka, who has three goals and 17 points in 50 games this season, scored in his first game against the Bruins a season ago, a 2-1 Blues shootout win at TD Garden.
"He's a good fit for us, just like he was in Boston," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of Sobotka. "He was a versatile guy in Boston, moved him up and down the lineup. ... He's one of those guys that's an underrated player, kind of a glue guy for the hockey club. He fits the way we play. You're trying to build a work ethic, you're trying to build a kind of an edge to your game. He's a tough little guy. That's exactly what we need.
"I think where he helps us is that when we get in trouble injury-wise or we get down roster-wise, he's a guy that can step up in the short-term and play up in the lineup, just like he is right now."
Sobotka will move up and play on the Blues' top line tonight with David Backes and T.J. Oshie.
"It's a good fit for us because he takes a lot of the left side faceoffs for David," Hitchcock said. "That helps, so they start with the puck more. He's a smart player. He knows how to manage the game properly. He's good on the forechecks. To me, he's a lot like Kelly is or Peverley is for Boston. He's able to move up and down the lineup and be productive. We'd like him to hit the net more. He's wearing out the glass in some of the buildings, but if we can get him hitting the net a little more, he'll be alright."
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The Blues (36-16-7) will go back with Carlo Colaiacovo tonight after the defenseman missed the previous three games, including one with a right wrist injury.
Kent Huskins, who returned to play three games following a fractured bone in his left ankle, will sit out.
"One thing we didn't read was missing so many games for Husky because he was good, and then he hit the wall," Hitchcock said. "This is a way to regroup and get the energy back going getting ready for this weekend."
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In an effort to spark their suddenly anemic offense, which has been shut out in four of the last nine games, the Bruins (35-20-2) will continue to go with a line they used in Sunday's 2-0 loss at Minnesota, which will feature Chris Kelly in the middle and moving David Krejci, a natural centerman, on the wing with Milan Lucic.
"I thought our line had some good chances," Kelly said. "David's a smart player. We can figure the right wing, center thing out pretty easily. I don't see that being a problem. Hopefully we can go out there and generate some chances."
Bruins coach Claude Julien said it's a case of finding the right pieces.
"It's a situation that we don't have much of a choice right now," Julien said. "We're trying to find combinations here that will give us some offense. This is what we're trying right now. We hope that they adapt well enough that they'll be able to bring something to the game tonight. That's where we are. It's the reality of having to deal with injuries and having to move players around."
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With the loss of Jamie Langenbrunner (broken left foot) for a month or so, the Blues will once again search for ways to plug gaps filled because of injury.
Langenbrunner's position is a tough one to fill because of his ability to play on any line, kill penalties and take part in the power play rotation.
"He's been up and down the lineup, he's been a fourth-line, he's been third-line, he's been on the point on the power play ... he's been the jack-of-all-trades," veteran center Scott Nichol said of Langenbrunner. "He's very reliable and that's probably why they move him up and down to maybe give a little balance on the lines. A little bit of defensive balance and a little poise on the half-walls.
"It's going to be a huge loss. We're going to miss his gray hair, old jokes around here. But if they say 4-6 (weeks), knowing him, he'll be back a lot sooner."
The Blues feel like they'll be fine.
"If you're going to lose players, you'd rather lose forwards than lose defensemen," Hitchcock said. "When teams have lost defensemen, their record is evident of that. We're lucky. We've got our healthy defense. Our goaltending's in good shape. We've got lots of good workers up front, so we'll just grind it out."
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The Bruins, who are 0-2 on their current six-game trip, have dropped seven of 11 games and are still second in the Eastern Conference but have the Ottawa Senators right on their tails, only two points back with 70.
Their 2-0 loss to the Wild Sunday generated 48 shots but Niklas Backstrom was nothing short of a brick wall in net.
"We got close to 50 shots, some quality scoring chances," Kelly said. "I don't think we gave up a ton of chances. Give them credit, they capitalized on the chances they had. Hopefully we can continue to build on, especially that third period, I thought we played well in Minny."
Julien is still searching for more effort.
"The effort ... I think the will is there," he said. "Is the effort directed in the right area? Maybe not. I think a lot of it has to do with being probably a little more positive. What we've tried to do here in the last couple days is stay positive and fight our way through it."
Fighting through it won't come easy against a Blues team that is 26-3-4 on home ice.
"They don't give up much," Julien said of the Blues. "They're a hard team to play against. They're feeling good about themselves right now so I think that's a challenge within itself. ... They're very hard to play against and they like to do a lot of the things we like to do."
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The Blues' probable lineup:
Vladimir Sobotka-David Backes-T.J. Oshie
Andy McDonald-Patrik Berglund-David Perron
Chris Porter-Jason Arnott-Chris Stewart
B.J. Crombeen-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. Halak is slated to start Thursday in Nashville, barring an Elliott shutout tonight.
The Blues play their first game without Langenbrunner, who is out four weeks with a broken left foot. Also injured include wingers Alex Steen (concussion symptoms) and Matt D'Agostini (concussion). Healthy scratches include Huskins and center T.J. Hensick, recalled from Peoria on Tuesday.
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The Bruins' probable lineup:
Milan Lucic-Chris Kelly-David Krejci
Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-Tyler Seguin
Daniel Paille-Gregory Campbell-Josh Hennessy
Benoit Pouliot-Carter Camper-Jordan Caron
Zdeno Chara-Johnny Boychuk
Dennis Seidenberg-Joe Corvo
Adam McQuaid-Andrew Ference
Tim Thomas gets the start in goal for Boston; Tuukka Rask will be the backup.
The Bruins are playing without C Rich Peverley (knee sprain), RW Nathan Horton (concussion) and are without C Marc Savard (post-concussion symptoms) with a long-term injury. LW Shawn Thornton was not on the ice for the morning skate, and according to coach Claude Julien is "under the weather." Thornton will be a gametime decision. If he plays, Camper would likely join D Andrew Bodnarchuk as healthy scratches.