Saturday, March 31, 2012

(3-31-12) Blue Jackets-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- Not only are the Blues healthy, but coach Ken Hitchcock has a plethora of options.

It's not often that at the end of the season, a coach has a bevy of players to choose from. But when the Blues (48-20-10) host the Columbus Blue Jackets (26-45-7) with a chance to wrap up their first Central Division title since 2000, they will do so with the most dangerous lineup they can offer up in the last 160 games dating back to March 3, 2010.

"I don't know about looking forward, but I'm sure curious," Hitchcock said. "I don't think any of us have seen this lineup play, so I'm curious to see how it looks. I think I'm more interested in the line combinations to see how they turn out. When you're approaching the playoffs, you want your most skilled lineup in to see if they act like workers. That's the opportunity that some guys have got here right now.

"This is the most skilled lineup that we've been able to serve up. We're hoping that over the course of the next few games that they act and behave like workers so that we can trust them. I think that's the big challenge."

Andy McDonald (shoulder), Matt D'Agostini (concussion) and Roman Polak (knee) are all deemed fit to play and all three will return tonight.

D'Agostini has missed 26 games dating back to Feb. 7, McDonald six games and Polak five games. It gives the Blues a healthy look and a lineup they hope to boast for the playoffs.

"It's a great feeling we're going to have a full team right now, especially those important guys like Steener and Andy Mac being back," Polak said. "I think it's going to help us all the way around if it's PK, PP, 5-on-5, it doesn't matter. It's exciting everybody's healthy.

"(The knee) feels way better than it was before. I just couldn't go (before). That's why I just took a couple games off because I couldn't go. It was painful. I don't think it would be good for me or the team if I'm not 100 percent. ... It feels better now. Right now, it's playable. I'll go and play tonight. Hopefully, it's going to be alright. The pain's going to be there maybe for the rest of the season. Maybe after the season I'll take a little more time off. It is what it is. I'll just have to battle through it."

D'Agostini sure served up the quip of the morning, a good indication he's giddy upon his return:

"I think they were waiting for me to get back to clinch (the division)," D'Agostini joked, referring to his teammates. "(I'm) ready to go for sure. I'm trying to get the legs underneath me as much as I can. You never know how you're going to feel out there after missing some time, but I'm excited to get out there and contribute with the guys again.

"I did two months of pretty much doing nothing, so that's like another off-season almost. I've been skating the last couple weeks pretty good with the guys. You always think you're in game shape until you're out there in the game. Hopefully I get my legs underneath me as soon as I can. My head feels fine. I'm not too worried about that part of it. Just more or less feeling comfortable out there and getting back into my game mode."

Hitchcock will do as much observation and storing what he sees in the memory bank along with coaching. He wants to see how these guys perform, especially since it's a more seasoned and polished lineup.

"D'Agostini hasn't played for a long time, so we've got to be realistic and nurture it along," Hitchcock said. "I don't think it's a big change getting Andy back in there because he only took seven days off before he started practicing full-out with us. So he's been going full bore with us.

"For us, the biggest adjustment is looking at the (Patrik) Berglund-(David) Perron-McDonald line. They looked very good at practice yesterday, they've scrimmaged together but we have not played them as a line together. I want to see how that looks moving forward."

With Polak returning, Carlo Colaiacovo will be a healthy scratch tonight, leaving Kent Huskins in to play with Alex Pietrangelo. Polak will play with Kris Russell.

"He's a dangerous guy to play against," Hitchcock said of Polak. "He's reckless, he's physical and I think we need that in our lineup right now. We got a little bit away from it and I think he brings that edge to us. He gives us a real stable third pair, which is back to what we need.

"I like the looks of (the defenseive corps). I think right now we're a group of eight, (Ian) Cole included. We'll just see how things work out. It's the players that are in, it's the 20 players' chance to shine and if someone doesn't shine, they're out and someone else is in. That's just the way it is this time of year."

- - -

Tonight's probable Blues lineup:

Alex Steen-David Backes-T.J. Oshie

Andy McDonald-Patrik Berglund-David Perron

Vladimir Sobotka-Jason Arnott-Jamie Langenbrunner

Matt D'Agostini-Scott Nichol-Chris Stewart

Kent Huskins-Alex Pietrangelo

Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk

Kris Russell-Roman Polak

Jaroslav Halak gets his second straight start tonight in goal; Brian Elliott will be the backup.

Halak gets his second straight start tonight in goal. He is 10-0-0 in his last 10 home starts with a .099 goals-against average and .960 save percentage (according to FSN's Darren Pang), 13-0-1 at home dating back to Nov. 22.

The Blues will have their lineup healthy and in tact for the first time since March 3, 2010 (160 games). Their scratches tonight will include forwards Jaden Schwartz, B.J. Crombeen, Chris Porter and Ryan Reaves as well as defensemen Colaiacovo and Ian Cole.

Jackman will play in his 595th career game (all with the Blues), which will tie him for 10th place on the all-time franchise list with Jamal Mayers. ... The Blues are 13-1-1 against the Jackets at home dating back to 2007-08. ... The Blues are 13-1-1 in the last 15 home games overall this season, outscoring their opponents 43-16.

- - -

The Blue Jackets didn't skate Saturday after winning 4-1 at home Friday over Florida. This is their projected lineup:

R.J. Umberger-Derick Brassard-Cam Atkinson

Vinny Prospal-Mark Letestu-Rick Nash

Ryan Russell-Ryan Johansen-Derek Dorsett

Colton Gillies-Darryl Boyce-Jared Boll

Jack Johnson-Dalton Prout

Brett Lebda-Nikita Nikitin

Aaron Johnson-Cody Goloubef

Allen York, who started in Friday's 4-1 win over Florida, could go again or it's possible Shawn Hunwick could make his NHL debut.

The Blue Jackets' injury report includes G Curtis Sanford (leg), G Steve Mason (head), D Fedor Tyutin (hand), D James Wisniewski (concussion), D Marc Methot (jaw), D Radek Martinek (concussion), C Derek MacKenzie (concussion) and LW Kristian Huselius (groin). All are out indefinitely except for Mason, who's day-to-day. It was reported D John Moore limped off the ice Friday in the first period but returned to finish the game. Moore will not play tonight and the team did recall Goloubef from Springfield (Mass.).

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