Monday, April 30, 2012

(4-30-12) Kings-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- When Alex Pietrangelo surprisingly skated onto the ice for Monday's morning skate prior to Game 2 of the Western Conference Semifinals, it was an early indication that players play through any type of injury in the playoffs.

But as the Blues prepare to face the Los Angeles Kings tonight in Game 2 down 1-0 in the series, everyone will have to wait a few more hours before it's determined if Pietrangelo [undisclosed injury] will be available.

"Right now, he's an injured player," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "If he's in the warmup before the game, he's a player. Right now ... we're deciding. He feels good so far. We'll see if he makes it through the rest of the day, but we're not going to put him in the warmup unless we're going to play him. If he's out there for the pregame skate tonight, then he's definitely a player.

"It's not going to be a surprise, 'Here he is.' If he's in that pregame warmup, he's playing. ... We wanted to get him part of the group [Monday morning]. I told you [Sunday] don't count him out yet. Everybody's got it as an upper-[body] and it's not an upper; it's between the middle and the lower, so you got it at the wrong place but that's OK. You all make mistakes sometimes. We'll just see how he looks later on as we work through the day with him."

Hitchcock was playful with the media regarding the injury but when told he was the one that said upper-body, he replied : "Oh, did I? Damn coaches, they lie all the time!"

But if Pietrangelo is available to play, it would be a huge boost for a Blues team that can ill-afford to lose arguably it's most complete player against a Kings team gaining confidence by the second.

"It's great to see him out there," best friend and defensive partner Carlo Colaiacovo said. "He's a character guy that battles and plays hard. He means so much to our team. The thought of not playing with him was something that never crossed my mind or crossed the team's mind until that decision was made. Obviously it's great to see him out there; he's going to provide a big boost for us. As long as he's able to do the things that he's capable of doing, we should be in good shape."

If this were the regular season, it's likely Pietrangelo would be shelved.

"That's the bottom line. The only thing that needs to be said about it: it's the playoffs," Colaiacovo said. "At this time of the year, you've got to do everything you can to make sure that you're in the lineup ... battle through everything, play through everything. At the end of the day, you're not playing for yourself, you're playing for your team."

If Pietrangelo can't go, Ian Cole will step in and play with Colaiacovo. It would be Cole's career playoff debut.

"I feel like I am ready and ready to step in if that's what needs to be done," Cole said after Monday's skate. "That first NHL game, you're nervous and kind of unprepared for exactly what you're going to see, but I've had enough of an opportunity where I kind of know what's going on and I can see how it's ratcheted up from watching the past two series. It's going to be a great opportunity to step into that. It's definitely going to be more intense and more hitting, more everything."

Hitchcock said Sunday he's been impressed with Cole's practice and work habits and will go with 12 forwards and six defensemen one way or the other. The veteran coach indicated Sunday there was a chance of going with 11 forwards and seven defensemen if Pietrangelo is unavailable and would have made veteran Kent Huskins a player.

"You can be as impressive as you want in practice, but if it doesn't translate into a game, it's all for naught," Cole said. "The practices are to get ready for the games, the practices aren't the games."

The Kings are prepared as if Pietrangelo will play.

"There's no secret that he's a good player, and we need to be hard on him," Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said of Pietrangelo. "He's a key guy for them, he's a key target for us. We need to finish our checks on him and make sure we're back-checking and know where he is on the ice at all times.

"He didn't practice the last few days but that's not going to make us back off of him. We'll play him just as hard."

Kings coach Darryl Sutter said it's good for the game if Pietrangelo is in there.

"When it's all said and done, even though we're playing St. Louis, you want the best players playing, right," Sutter said. "He's a top player so it's no different than us with Doughty. We want them guys playing. The game wants them playing and we want them playing."

- - -

The NHL announced on Monday that Hitchcock is a finalist for the Jack Adams Award, which is coach of the year award. He joins New York Rangers coach John Tortorella and Ottawa's Paul MacLean, who played for the Blues in the late 1980s.

The Blues, who hired Hitchcock on Nov. 6, were 6-7-0 at the time but blazed a trail the rest of the season, going 43-15-11 the rest of the season.

"They should nickname the award coach for the year," Hitchcock joked. "... When you make the decision to coach as a living, there's times when you really need your family and friends. And in the last year and a half, I really needed family and friends. First to keep me sane, to keep me occupied and to keep me interested to keep doing this wonderful job that we get. But there are times when you really need to lean on them, especially from a family standpoint and a friend standpoint. I really needed my family and my close friends, especially the ones in Columbus because that's where we've lived full time. And then obviously [Blues general manager] Doug [Armstrong] making the phone call and [Blues President] John [Davidson] supporting the phone call meant everything. Two good friends who were looking for a hockey coach.

"There's times when there's smooth sailing for all of us. For John and for Mac and myself ... I've known Mac for a long, long time. We coached against each other in Peoria and there's time for all three of us when we've really needed the support and we've gotten it and that's why we continue to do what we love. This was one of those times when I really needed help and got it in a big way."

If Hitchcock wins the award, he would join Red Berenson [1981], Brian Sutter [1991] and Joel Quenneville [2000] as past Blues coaches to win.

- - -

The Blues will make a couple changes to their lineup heading into Game 2.

Hitchcock has decided to flip his top two centers for tonight's game, meaning David Backes will now be between Andy McDonald and Alex Steen, while Patrik Berglund will once again join David Perron and T.J. Oshie.

Also, Matt D'Agostini will replace Chris Stewart in the lineup on the third line.

When asked what he's looking for, Hitchcock said, "More o-zone time, better o-zone play, more tenacity on the puck, more reckless. We've made the switch before short-term and it's worked.

"We just feel like we need a different energy. I just think for us to win the series ... they're a big team, they're a physical, big team, and we need to play with more tempo, more speed throughout our lineup. This allows us to play that way the way it's built. With switching the lines there with D'Agostini, it gives us more speed. We just want to see how it looks because for me, they're a team that wears you down. We need to make them spend more time in their zone more than they want."

Oshie, Perron and Berglund are no strangers to playing together. They're Blues first-round draft picks who came up through the organization together and as close as well off the ice.

"There's going to be a lot of energy," Oshie said. "We've been through a lot together away from the rink, at the rink. We've been here from the start for all of us ... Perry was here a year earlier, but it seems like we all kind of grew up together and we've got this sense of closeness.

"... We've got those young legs, as Walt [Keith Tkachuk] used to say. I think we compliment each other well. I need to bring more intensity and as much intensity as I can into those two; try to carry it along with me because when both of them have their feet moving, they're hard to stop."

D'Agostini has only dressed in one postseason game [Game 2 of the first round against San Jose] and is looking forward to providing a boost.

"Just go out there, try to get involved early and get into the game as quick as possible," D'Agostini said. "... Any time after a loss, a change could spark the guys.

"It's been tough watching. You know you always feel like you can contribute. Me personally, I feel like I can help this team win. I'm happy to be back in there and looking forward to tonight."

Hitchcock said it's nothing against Stewart, who's pointless in five playoff games.

"I'm not unhappy with Stewy at all," Hitchcock said. "I think he's been fine for me, but we just feel like we would like to play with more speed in our lineup ... number one, and number two is we want to have a different look on one of the power play units and that's where Dags excels. ... We'd like to see him get some PP time if we get there. He's very affective at where he goes. He's a guy that's willing to stand in there and absorb the shot."

With Backes, it gives him a different perspective with two more skill guys and he can continue to be more responsible defensively.

"Those guys are supremely talented and I'm hoping to be a supporting piece to it, take care of the defensive zone and let their offensive instincts and their skill show up," Backes said of McDonald and Steen. "If we can do that, those guys will have great nights and we'll have a great night as a team."

The Kings notice the changes but said it doesn't affect their plans.

"We just have to focus on what we have to do," center Anze Kopitar said. "That's going to make us successful. We want to create scoring chances and [puck] possession is going to be a huge part of that."

- - -

There was a buzz around the Kings' locker room Saturday and the last couple days in the aftermath of defenseman Matt Greene's shorthanded goal in Game 1.

"It's a little rare that he ever crosses the blue line," Doughty joked about Greene. "But that's what playoffs [are] about. Getting a little from every single guy on your team and to see a guy like him score in the playoffs, all of us were so happy for him and it just gave us a boost."

The Kings, who have three shorthanded goals [Dustin Brown with two goals and an assist has been a part of all three of them] and it matches their power play output in the postseason.

"We don't want to give them any time and space," Doughty said of the PK. "If good players have that spece, they're going to find the seams and the open guy backdoor for an easy tap-in. We're definitely very aggressive on the penalty kill. We're blocking shots and that's kind of the motto of our team.

"It's been working our great for us. That aggressive style makes guys on the backend panic when guys go 100 miles an hour at them. You're going to panic with the puck a little bit and with ice conditions and stuff like that, pucks are going to bounce over your stick or whatever it may be. Brownie's been doing a great job of reading those opportunities and it's been a big part to our playoff season so far."

- - -

Hitchcock and Sutter both talked about the teams' 5-on-5 play. One coach feels it can be better; the other said it comes in light of how some individuals play.

"Los Angeles, to me, they got away with one," Hitchcock said. "They didn't play well 5-on-5. We left it out there, we had more scoring chances than they did 5-on-5. What we did was shoot ourselves in the foot. We're the ones that blinked by taking those four minors, and that took all of our energy away. We were right there or better than they were 5-on-5, and they're going to play better 5-on-5. They were rusty, too. They're going to have good continuity. They've had a game to play, some days to get ready ... they're going to be better. Both teams are going to be better 5-on-5. We've got to simplify our game even more 5-on-5."

Added Sutter, "I don't know if it affected our teams. Obviously we both have players that we want to play better. Hopefully they do. ... When you review it all, I think both teams are right where they want to be. The key is individuals, right?"

- - -

The Blues' probable lineup:

Andy McDonald-David Backes-Alex Steen

David Perron-Patrik Berglund-T.J. Oshie

Vladimir Sobotka-Jason Arnott-Matt D'Agostini

Jamie Langenbrunner-Scott Nichol-B.J. Crombeen

Carlo Colaiacovo-Alex Pietrangelo/Ian Cole

Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk

Kris Russell-Roman Polak

Brian Elliott will get the start in goal; Jake Allen will back up.

Goalie Jaroslav Halak [lower-body] is still out for Game 2 and Pietrangelo (undisclosed injury) will be a gametime decision. Healthy scratches include forwards Stewart, Ryan Reaves, Chris Porter and Jaden Schwartz along with Huskins; Cole will be a healthy scratch if Pietrangelo plays.

- - -

The Kings will make no lineup changes:

Dustin Brown-Anze Kopitar-Justin Williams

Dustin Penner-Mike Richards-Jeff Carter

Dwight King-Jarret Stoll-Trevor Lewis

Brad Richardson-Colin Fraser-Jordan Nolan

Rob Scuderi-Drew Doughty

Willie Mitchell-Slava Voynov

Alec Martinez-Matt Greene

Jonathan Quick will start in goal; Jonathan Bernier is the backup.

Forwards Kyle Clifford [concussion] and Scott Parse [hip] once again sit out. Healthy scratches include forwards Andrei Loktionov and Kevin Westgarth as well as defenseman Davis Drewiske, all who sat out Game 1.

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