Tuesday, March 27, 2012

(3-27-12) Predators-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- It's not often one can be mentioned in the same breath as former Blues greats Al MacInnis and Chris Pronger.

But after picking up three assists Sunday night to go with fellow d-man Alex Pietrangelo, Kevin Shattenkirk and Pietrangelo both have eclipsed the 40-point plateau, becoming the team's first d-pairing to do so since MacInnis (46) and Pronger (47) did so in 2001-02.

Pietrangelo is third among defensemen with 48 points and now Shattenkirk is 16th with 41 points.

With Shattenkirk (23 years old) and Pietrangelo (22), it seems the Blues will have quite the duo for years to come.

"That's insane. For us, it's a huge honor," said Shattenkirk, who has 32 assists of his 41 points. "Whenever you're talked about with those two guys, it's special. You don't really believe it, but we still have some work to do obviously. Both of us have stuck to our game. The coaches have just allowed us to play our game and I think it paves the way for all the rest of the stuff."

Since both have been paired together on the power play, both players have accumulated a plethora of points.

"To have two guys where we are, it's pretty awesome," said Pietrangelo, who has 12 goals and 36 assists. "Whether it's him where I am or I am where he is, it's pretty good for both of us moving forward here, especially if we're going to be here for awhile. It's good to have that in the back-end.

"A lot of it's come together lately, especially since we were put together on the power play. A lot of our points have been generated from that. We had two points each last game coming from each other on point shots, and my goal, he passed it over to me. That's been the biggest thing for us is we find each other on the power play. It's been the key."

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Milestones are meant to be cherished when one's career is done. That's how Blues veteran winger Jamie Langenbrunner is looking at career game No. 1,100 tonight when the Blues (47-20-9) host the Nashville Predators (44-24-8) tonight.

"Any time you hit round numbers, you kind of take a look back a little bit," said Langenbrunner, who has 660 points. "It's not something that's big on my radar, no.

"It's definitely something you do when you're done ... at least that's what I'm told. You look back at those sort of things. Right now, I'm in the now and the battle for what this game is and I'm excited for it."

Coincidentally, Langenbrunner's first game in the NHL came with the Dallas Stars ... right here at Scottrade Center in 1995.

"Yeah, it was in St. Louis ... in this building. Long time ago," Langenbrunner joked. "... I was playing junior with the (Peterborough) Petes (of the Ontario Hockey League) and we just got knocked out, got called up by Dallas to come here.

"I remember walking in the locker room and (the) junior hockey (mentality), dying your hair and stupid stuff like that. My hair was all bleached-blonde or streaked. I remembered trying to find a barber shop to try to shave out as much of it as I could for that first game."

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Allowing only 139 non-shootout goals through their first 76 games, the Blues broke an NHL record for goals allowed in a 76-game season. That mark was set by the 1968-69 Blues, who allowed 157. But the Blues have loftier goals in mind -- like the 82-game record set by the 2003-04 New Jersey Devils, who allowed 164 goals.

"I wasn't really aware of it actually until this past road trip," Shattenkirk said. "It's something that comes from the way we play, it comes from our team defense, our goaltending especially.

"Any time you have a special season like this in terms of goals-against, you have to look at the goaltending. They've probably been the reason why we've let in so few. It's just been a collective effort from everyone. If we were to achieve that, it would be great, but I think we just focus on what we've been doing well all year."

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock agreed. Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott have been and are the story.

"The story of our season, no matter what anyone talks about, are our two goalies," Hitchcock said. "They're the story. They've been good all year and at times taking turns being great. The biggest part of our success ... their save percentages are extraordinarily high. ... Not very often do you say, 'Man, the Blues dominated us, or they outplayed us.' There's stretches during the hockey game where your goalie has to come up big and between the two guys, they've come up big every time. We've benefited from two guys having, I don't want to say career years, but played to their potential every night. At times, Halak's been unbelievable and then Elliott's been unbelievable. It's been the small difference for us."

Elliott and Halak are 1-2 in the NHL in goals-against average (1.52, 1.90) and first and sixth, respectively in save percentage (.941 and .927) as well as first and fourth respectively in shutouts (eight and six).

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With a point tonight, the Predators could become the next team in the league to clinch a playoff berth. Nashville is coming off a 6-1 rout at Chicago Sunday night and are now 2-1 since getting Alexander Radulov back from the KHL.

But it's pretty telling that the Predators are going into Game No. 77 looking to gain the postseason.

"That shows the parity throughout the league," defenseman Shea Weber said. "Ever since the salary cap, it's been tight every year. We know right from the beginning of the year that games at the start of the year might end up costing you when you get to that 70th-75th game, that might be the one that could have had you up a spot or two."

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With a victory tonight, it will also mark a milestone for Predators coach Barry Trotz.

Trotz is looking for career victory No. 500, quite a feat for a man who has only known one franchise as his employer.

Winning 500 games is quite a milestone, but Trotz will become the fifth coach in NHL history, joining Al Arbour (New York Islanders), Lindy Ruff (Buffalo Sabres), Billy Reay (Chicago Blackhawks) and Toe Blake (Montreal Canadiens) as the others.

And that certainly means something.

"There is, and trust me, you can't do it without leadership like (general manager) David (Poile). The next win that we have, David will be the only general manager in the history of the game that won 500 games with two franchises (Nashville and Washington). That's pretty elite. You look at things like that, those are things I'm proud of. There's times when I was younger, he could have said, 'Hey, I've got to go in a different direction.' And he hasn't. Through thick and thin, David's stood by me and believed in what we do."

But Trotz, who's coached in 1,060 games, was not one for reflection for 500 wins in general.

"The only thing I've reflected on is the last game, or last two games really. Zero reflection," he said. "Whether you bring it up or someone else brings it up, it's the only time I reflect.

"It's gone fast. I'm more proud of the fact that we've been consistent as a franchise. I think we're only one of two teams to have 40-plus wins in the last seven years. I'm more proud about that than actually the number of wins because that shows that we've been consistent, a team that is in the mix. Organizationally, as a hockey community we've grown to be a fantastic hockey community. We've grown to we expect to make the playoffs, we expect to be there every year, and we expect to challenge for the Cup. It's the hardest trophy in the world to win. You just want to be in that position to have that opportunity to compete for it."

Added Weber, who's played for Trotz since 2006: "Obviously he's been here for a long time for a reason. He's done a lot of good things. When we're able to get that 500th win, it's going to be something special for him and I'm sure he'll remember it forever."

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Tonight's Blues probable lineup:

David Perron-David Backes-T.J. Oshie

Jaden Schwartz-Patrik Berglund-Chris Stewart

Alex Steen-Jason Arnott-Jamie Langenbrunner

Vladimir Sobotka-Scott Nichol-Ryan Reaves

Carlo Colaiacovo-Alex Pietrangelo

Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk

Kris Russell-Kent Huskins

Brian Elliott will start in goal after back-to-back shutouts, as he will take a 126:45 shutout streak into tonight's encounter; Jaroslav Halak is the backup and will get the start Thursday in Chicago.

The Blues' scratches include Andy McDonald (shoulder), Matt D'Agostini (concussion), Roman Polak (knee), Chris Porter, B.J. Crombeen and Ian Cole. D'Agostini will be available to return to the lineup Thursday in Chicago.

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Tonight's Predators probable lineup:

Andrei Kostitsyn-Mike Fisher-Sergei Kostitsyn

Alexander Radulov-David Legwand-Patric Hornqvist

Gabriel Bourque-Nick Spaling-Colin Wilson

Brandon Yip-Paul Gaustad-Matt Halischuk

Ryan Suter-Shea Weber

Kevin Klein-Hal Gill

Francis Bouillon-Ryan Ellis

Pekka Rinne gets the start in goal; Anders Lindback is the backup.

The Predators' scratches include Martin Erat (upper-body), Jordin Tootoo (upper-body), Craig Smith, Brian McGrattan, Jack Hillen, and Jack Maclellan.

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