Monday, February 27, 2012

Blues stand pat as trade deadline comes and passes

Team financially strapped, will move forward with
what they have, hope to get injured players back into lineup

ST. LOUIS -- Doug Armstrong wasn't kidding when a few weeks ago he stated that he'd like to see what his club looks like going down the stretch without making any changes to the Blues' lineup.

It's still a mystery when some of the injured players would return or if they will at all, but as the Blues play their final 19 games of the regular season: what you see is what you get.

While the Central Division teams around the Blues made moves hoping to solidify their lineups at Monday's trade deadline, the Blues stood pat and did nothing , which wasn't much of a surprise.
(Getty Images)
If the Blues improve their roster, it will come in the form of injured players
returning to the lineup, such as Alex Steen (right).

It's not for a lack of effort by the Blues' general manager, but when your ownership situation is so in flux and your management team is cash-strapped, all one can do is idly sit by and watch the other dominoes fall.

The sale of the team continues to drag on, as a group led by Tom Stillman continues to work on a resolution and subsequent conclusion. But until the final sale comes to fruition with current ownership, led by Dave Checketts' SCP Worldwide group, Monday's results -- or lack thereof -- will be the ending conclusion.

"We were trying to see what type of depth we could add to our group and there wasn't a proper fit there," said Armstrong, who basically was working on addition by subtraction if there was anything feasible to be done. "I went in not expecting a lot of transactions, and at the end of the day, it didn't seem like we were involved in much."

Asked if the club was close on any deals, Armstrong said: "Not really, no."

And with that, the Blues (39-17-7), whose greatest obstacle is themselves with the injuries they've suffered, can only hope that they can have their deck stacked as the playoffs approach. That means getting Alex Steen, Matt D'Agostini, Jamie Langenbrunner and Kris Russell back into a lineup that would look pretty impressive with the gritty group that continues to soldier on.

So the Blues' only move came Sunday, when they sent Peoria goalie Ben Bishop to Ottawa for a 2013 second round draft pick. Meanwhile, Nashville seemed to make the most noise within the division with acquisitions of Montreal winger Andrei Kostitsyn and Buffalo center Paul Gaustad while Chicago picked up Winnipeg defenseman Johnny Oduya. Rick Nash, this year's biggest name dangled at the deadline, stayed put in Columbus, who did trade away gritty center Sammy Pahlsson. Detroit didn't add any players either but dealt defenseman Mike Commodore to Tampa Bay.
(Getty Images)
The return of Matt D'Agostini (36) would also belefit the Blues' lineup, as
they made no moves at Monday's trade deadline.

The Blues' win on Monday pulled them into a second place tie in the Western Conference with the Red Wings and two points behind Vancouver for tops overall in the NHL.

"When you're sitting fourth in the NHL, you should have some expectations that you can win," Armstrong said before the win over Calgary Monday. "And so I have expectations that these guys are going to continue. The playoffs are what they are. It's the first guy to win four games in the first series before you worry about the second, third or fourth. But I think we have a team that can compete with anybody in the first round of the playoffs. If we do that, then we'll see where go and who we're playing against. Their fourth in the NHL right now in winning percentage and that's with the group that we have."

The Blues, who are uncertain how long Russell, who suffered concussion symptoms during Thursday's shootout win at Nashville, will be shelved, so they have decided to keep d-man Ian Cole on the team's NHL roster for the rest of the season and is not eligible for Peoria's playoff roster. Forward T.J. Hensick was put on the Rivermen playoff roster but will stay with the team for at least through the remainder of this six-game trip.

"That will give us the proper depth in that (defensive) area," Armstrong said of Cole. "Ian has done very well for himself and has earned the right, so he'll spend the rest of the year up here. And we've recalled Hensick now, using one of our four recalls, and that's our group."

The Blues have an unlimited roster after the trade deadline but have only four minor league recalls.

So even though the Blues are in the bottom of the NHL (23rd overall) in goals scored per game at 2.49, they'll continue to ride their top-rated d-unit and goaltending, which have surrendered an NHL-low 1.90 goals per game.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Bishop traded to Senators

Blues get 2013 second round pick for AHL All-Star

ST. LOUIS -- Ben Bishop saw the writing on the wall. It was only a matter of time before his stint with his hometown organization would come to an end.

As expected, the Blues have traded Bishop, sending the native St. Louisan netminder to the Ottawa Senators in exchange for a 2013 second-round pick.

The Senators, in need of a netminder after the strange hand injury recently suffered by starter Craig Anderson, are expected to sign the 6-foot-7 Bishop, according to reports, to a one-year, one-way contract largely because of the stipulations that would kick in for Bishop had he not played in at least 30 minutes of 17 NHL games this season.

The Blues were faced with the same situation, as Bishop would have become a Group VI unrestricted free agent at season's end and felt they couldn't allow Bishop, 25, to walk for nothing after getting noticed around the NHL for his stellar play with the team's AHL affiliate in Peoria.
(Getty Images)
The Blues traded Ben Bishop, here playing against Calgary last
season, to Ottawa for a 2013 second-round pick.

I've kind of had in my head the last month that it was going to happen," Bishop said Sunday morning. "I'm excited now that it's over and I can go back to focusing just on playing hockey. I've heard a bunch of good things about (Ottawa) and they've got a great young team coming up. So I'm excited to be part of the organization."

Blues general manager Doug Armstrong was content with keeping Bishop and risk losing him as a UFA this summer unless he got what he felt was proper compensation.

"Well, when we signed Elliott we knew Ben's situation, (but) I was very content to have Ben play the season for us," Armstrong said. "If we didn't get what we perceived was the proper value, he would have stayed in Peoria. But when Ottawa called, and we were able to work out something that both sides felt was appropriate, it was an easy decision.

"I wanted fair compensation and that can come in the form of a pick, a prospect or a player. You go into things with an open mind, (but) I did feel a pick was the more likely scenario. I guess if somebody had come to me with a prospect, we would have discussed it, but with Ottawa, I was (offered) a pick and I was comfortable with that. ... You have to be realistic about what's available and we have other things that we have to consider making trades."

Bishop was 24-14-0 in 38 games with the Rivermen, compiling a 2.26 goals-against average, .928 save percentage and six shutouts. Bishop was 81-64-8 with nine shutouts in five seasons with the Rivermen.

Bishop was a late selection to the 2012 AHL All-Star Game and stopped 10 of 11 in the game. He stopped all four shootout attempts in helping the Western Conference to an 8-7 victory, earning the game's MVP award that helped open more eyes around the NHL.

Bishop was locked in a battle in training camp with Brian Elliott for the backup job behind Jaroslav Halak. But Armstrong chose the more experienced Elliott after Halak struggled in camp. The move decision has been greatly rewarding for the Blues, who have a pair of legitimate No. 1's now even though it was disappointing for Bishop to go back to the AHL. Halak and Elliott are both among the NHL leaders in a number of goaltending categories this season.

"Yeah, I mean obviously my dream ever since I was a kid and especially after I got drafted was to win a Stanley Cup in St. Louis," said Bishop, who was born in Denver but has lived in St. Louis the majority of his life. "I've always wanted to do that. I've always wanted to be in St. Louis, my heart has always been and probably will be in St. Louis. But it's part of the business and you've got to go where the opportunities are.

"Ottawa is a great opportunity for me now and I'm excited for it. Not many people get a chance to play in their hometown and I've already had that chance. Obviously a dream come true, but that's not the reality. The reality is get in the NHL and playing. I think that's more important than being in your hometown."

Bishop, a third-round pick for the Blues in 2005, has played in only 13 NHL games in his career, going 4-5-1 with a 2.83 GAA and an .896 save-percentage. He will give the Senators insurance in goal, as Ottawa is mired in a playoff race in the Eastern Conference, sitting in seventh place with 72 points. Ottawa has been going with Anderson's backup, 31-year-old Alex Auld in goal, with 20-year-old prospect Robin Lehner recalled as backup to Auld.

"I think they're right there in the playoff push so it would be fun to get up there and help them out," Bishop said of the Senators. "I'm not quite sure how long Craig Anderson is out, but anything I can do to help the team, I'm excited to get up there, meet the guys and get going.

"I do not know much about Ottawa. I've never been there. I heard it's a great city, a great hockey town, a rich tradition."

Bishop could head to free agency and pick his own team this summer but seems willing to take a one-year deal now, especially since he knows would be on a one-way contract next season.

"I wanted to get to the NHL obviously as fast as I could," Bishop said. "Obviously if there's a team out there that wants you, I don't really see the difference in them wanting me July 1 or right now. The fact that Ottawa wants you right now is exciting, so I don't think it was necessary to wait until July 1. If they're willing to grab me now, it's pretty exciting to have a team now that wants you."

"It would nice to get something done, but I think we'll have to wait and see. That's not my focus ... it's just getting up there and playing well."

The trade to the Senators reunites Bishop with Ottawa goaltending coach Rick Wamsley, who coached Bishop and helped develop him in Peoria.

"That'll be exciting to get back with him, working with a coach that you've worked with before," Bishop said. "He's obviously helped me get to where I am today. He's helped me big time when it comes to being a pro. It'll be a lot of fun to work with him again and I'm excited to see him."

Bishop has no ill regards towards the Blues or the organization but is ready to move onto new challenges.

"I obviously want to say thank you to JD (Blues President John Davidson) and Doug Armstrong and (former GM) Larry Pleau for drafting me and bringing me up ... all the coaches I worked with, Andy Murray, Davis Payne and Ken Hitchcock," Bishop said. "(Peoria coach) Jared Bednar has done a great job. Thank you to all of those guys. They're one of the classiest organizations I've seen and I can't say enough good things about them. It's going to be sad to leave, but I'm excited about Ottawa."

Now the Peoria workload falls into the hands of Jake Allen, the Blues' second round pick from 2008. The 21-year-old has struggled this season in Peoria, going 6-12-1 with a 3.26 GAA and .903 save percentage after going 25-19-0 with six shutouts in his first season in the AHL.

"This is a great opportunity for Jake," Armstrong said of Allen. "He has a team that's pushing hard to get into the playoffs. He was a top-rated goalie coming out of the Canadian Hockey League. He's a second-year pro now, so he has to go earn the respect of his teammates like Ben Bishop earned their respect.

"The way you earn that is by giving them a chance to win, which is Jake's job now."

Friday, February 24, 2012

Russell returns to St. Louis for evaluation

Defenseman suffered concussion-like
symptoms Thursday in Nashville; Cole recalled

ST. LOUIS -- This is getting to be old hat, almost like words etched in stone: The Blues must deal with adversity with yet another injury.

This time, it's projected to be a hit on their blue line, where Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said recently that the blue line is not where a team can afford any injuries.

Defenseman Kris Russell is the latest casualty, as he was sent home from the team's current six-game trip following Thursday's 3-2 shootout win at Nashville when Russell suffered concussion-like symptoms in the third period.

Russell was sent back to St. Louis to be evaluated by Dr. Matt Smith.

Russell, who has already missed nine games earlier this season with a groin injury, has three goals and three assists in 36 games with the Blues.

If Russell in fact has a concussion, he would be the the sixth player to have dealt with a concussion since the start of the season, joining David Perron, Andy McDonald, Carlo Colaiacovo, Alex Steen and Matt D'Agostini. Perron's concussion injury carried over from last season.

Cole would be making his trip back to St. Louis on recall this season. He has a goal and six points in 18 games for the Blues this season and nine points in 44 career games.

The team is likely to reinsert Kent Huskins into the lineup against the Jets Saturday but coach Ken Hitchcock likes Cole and could use him at times for the remainder of the trip.

"Yeah, he's been good. He was really good," Hitchcock said after Friday's practice in Winnipeg, where the Blues will face the Jets Saturday at 1 p.m. "So Husky will go in. We're not sure who Husky is going to play with, whether it's with Roman (Polak) or with Petro (Alex Pietrangelo), but we'll see.

"Cole will come in. We'll see where Russ is in a few days here."

Huskins, who returned to play three games after missing 46 because of a broken bone in his left ankle, sat out the last two games as Hitchcock said the veteran defenseman "hit a wall."

"Yeah, when you miss that much time, I think looking back on it, we probably should have spaced it a little better," Hitchcock said. "But he looks fine now, it looks like he's got some jump back, so that will be good. Ian Cole is going to come in and back up."

Huskins, whose last game was Sunday in Chicago, realizes he in fact hit a wall.

"I guess maybe ... it's tough to admit," Huskins said. "You come to work and obviously you want to play in every game, but it's a coach's decision whether you're in the lineup and that's fine. Keep working hard and be ready to go when called upon.

"I tried to take advantage of the extra work on the ice, the work with the coaches, and just prepared myself to be ready to go."

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Oshie, McDonald shootout goals give Blues 3-2 win over Predators

Halak earns 100th career win; Hitchcock earns first
win in Nashville since 2001, Blues snap two-game skid

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Blues were made for third periods -- at least for much of the season.

The last two games ... not so much.

Thursday night against the Nashville Predators on their home ice, another situation presented itself to win a game. All the Blues needed was a winning final 20 minutes of play.

The Blues played dead-even through the third period and at least picked up a point, but they were able to gain a huge second point on when T.J. Oshie and Andy McDonald solved Blues nemesis Pekka Rinne with two shootout goals as the Blues collected a huge road win with a 3-2 win over the Predators Thursday night before 16,828 at Bridgestone Arena.

(Getty Images)
Blues' T.J. Oshie (right) beats Nashville's Pekka Rinne with a shootout
goal Thursday night. The Blues won the shootout 2-0 and the game 3-2.

It's the third time this season between the teams the games have gone to a shootout, and the Blues (37-17-7) won their second straight shootout after losing six of their first seven this season, including two against the Predators (35-19-7).

With the Blues shooting first, Oshie was able to come to his backhand and beat Rinne high, while McDonald came in with speed, also tucking a puck through the pads of Rinne.

Oshie took to the video to learn something new to use. He made it 1-0 in the shootout.

"Doing video beforehand, (Boston's Tyler) Seguin had a similar goal," Oshie said. "I just wanted to try to beat (Rinne) to the post. He's a real hard worker, one of the hardest working goalies in the league. I don't want to get into a little thinking match. I just wanted to beat him to the post as fast as I could. Fortunately, I was able to get it up.

"I think last time we were in here, maybe it got to me. ... He's a great goaltender. He can frustrate scorers, he can frustrate the other team. You've just got to stick with it and that's what we did here tonight. It took us all the way to the shootout, but it's fine. We beat him."

McDonald came flying in and gave Rinne no room to react. His goal made it 2-0 and forced the Predators to score, which they didn't.

"For me, I have maybe three or four things I do and try to pick what matches what's best against him and that's what I tried to do," McDonald said. "When you watch video and you've seen him before in the shootout.

"Personally, I have three or four things I do on a regular basis and you try to pick the thing that's going to work best against that goalie. It's the same move I've done on him before. Probably if there's another shootout, I'll have to find something else to do. I've got some time to work on it."

Jaroslav Halak, who earned his 100th career win by beating nemesis Rinne, stopped Colin Wilson while Martin Erat's attempt slid wide of the goal as he lost control of the puck.

"We knew it was going to be a tight game," said Halak, who played for the first time in nine days after battling the flu over the weekend. "Every time we play these guys it seems like it's a shootout or a one-goal game. ... We got a little sloppy in the second period when they scored the two goals, but I think overall and for us in the third period, we did a great job. We just wanted to start the road trip with a win. I'm happy and I'm glad we got it.

"It doesn't matter where we get (the 100th win). It was special. It would have been more special for me to get it in Columbus because my first win came in Columbus. It didn't happen, but I'm still happy that I got it, finally."

It was a game in which the Blues did what they've done a lot of lately: play well in spurts but fall off for a stretch. But this time, they were able to regain themselves and move four points clear of the Predators in the race for fourth place in the Western Conference.

"The first period, we played exactly the way we wanted to," said defenseman Barret Jackman, as the Blues outshot Nashville 13-6 and got the only goal from Chris Stewart. "We were fast, we were putting the puck in behind them at the blue line, we were putting pucks on net. They came with a push in the second. We didn't respond all that great, but we stuck with it. We were battling and we kept clawing and clawing. Jaro played great. Made some big saves for us, especially in the shootout.

"There's momentum swings. There's different times in the game where mistakes happen. But for the most part tonight, we did a pretty good job of sticking with it and helping each other out."

The win for the Blues was coach Ken Hitchcock's first in this building in the last 19 tries (he was 0-11-6-1 dating back to Feb. 13, 2001).

"I thought it was like two different games," said Hitchcock, whose team responded after a tough 4-2 home loss to Boston the previous night. "We were better than they were in the first and the overtime. They were better than us in the second and first half of the third. They were better, they had more energy. We seemed to hit the wall from the second period from obviously last night's game, but man, we came back and gutted it out in the third. Great way to start the (six-game) road trip.

"What happened (Wednesday) night was we put so much into the damn game and got no reward for it. It was a helluva hockey game, it was really physical, very demanding and then to come and have to play in this building off of a back-to-back is not easy. I'm really very proud of the team. This was not pretty at times, but this was a gutsy effort that we needed. We got it and we're in the 80's now, and that's a big step. Hopefully, we can clear into the 90's."

Stewart and Vladimir Sobotka scored for the Blues, while Nashville countered with second-period goals from Roman Josi and Wilson.

Stewart got his second in as many games when former Predators' captain Jason Arnott fired a shot in tight off the left post and Stewart was in the slot as the puck caromed off his skate and past Rinne. The officials ruled a goal but went to video review and concluded that there was no kicking motion to give the Blues a 1-0 lead 4:13 into the game.

Arnott was able to get to Kris Russell's shot from the left point and keep the play alive.
(Getty Images)
Jason Arnott (right) battles Nashville's Hal Gill during Thursday's game.
Arnott had an assist in his return to Nashville in a 3-2 shootout win.

The Blues have lately followed up a solid period with a poor period, and the front part of the second seemed to be the case in this game.

The Predators grabbed the lead on goals by Josi and Wilson. One came off a odd-man rush when the Blues got caught on a 2-on-1 after Roman Polak's skate blade broke off. Josi tied it 1-1 just 2:53 into the period.

Wilson's goal came off a scramble behind the goal, as the puck was eventually centered into the slot. Polak lost sight of the puck and lost Wilson, who backhanded a short shot past Halak 12:52 into the period to make it 2-1.

It's a matter of playing 60 minutes on the road," Arnott said. "We'll play little bits and pieces there, come out and give it a good 20 minutes, but then we'll have that little lapse. Good teams just don't have that lapse.

"What we've got to learn, especially coming into the playoffs, you can't have lapses ... at all. It's got to be a solid 60 minutes whether you just play sound defensively for that little lapse and keep the puck out of the net and then move forward or just keep pushing forward on the offense."

Added Hitchcock: "We had some poor reads today pinching-wise. We had some poor reads. It's something we need to address and it's something we need to get better at. We're going to play with some pressure and we need to get better at pressure."

The Blues were able to push forward, and Sobotka's fourth of the season late in the period -- 34 seconds after Wilson's goal -- got the Blues back on square ground at 2-2. David Perron's initial shot was blocked but Sobotka was in the high slot and picked up the loose puck and quickly got off a backhand that Rinne never saw.

"We just said in the locker room that we need to put the puck deep and go chase the puck and force some turnovers," Sobotka said. "We (made the Predators) turn it over and I just saw the puck there and I hit it and it ended up in the net.

"It bounced. It was flat. I just tried to hit it."

The goal certainly lifted the Blues' spirits, since the Predators seemed on the verge of taking the game over.

"We've been talking about responding when the other team comes back," Oshie said.

Stewart had the go-ahead goal on his stick just 3:57 into the final period near the top of the crease but couldn't lift a backhand that Rinne was able to slide and make a stop on. He also got a great feed from Oshie in overtime that Rinne stopped, which was the only shot of the overtime period.

But the Blues were able to persevere and move onto Winnipeg for the second of a six-game leg.

"We played really hard tonight," McDonald said. "We knew it was a big matchup coming in and we knew it was going to be a tough game. We responded well."

Added Oshie: "This is a tough team. It's tough to come into this building and play. They play for a full 60 and then some it seems every night. That's where we want to get to. We've been struggling on the road, but tonight, it's a step forward."

* NOTES -- The Blues lost Russell to an undisclosed injury in the third period. Hitchcock said the team would know more about it Friday and the severity of it. ... Halak is 14-3-3 in his last 21 starts. ... Scratches included defenseman Kent Huskins and forward T.J. Hensick.

(2-23-12) Blues-Predators Gameday Lineup

Maybe the hockey gods didn't have it scripted for Jason Arnott to make his return to Nashville in a visiting uniform for the first time since being traded in 2010. But upon the Blues' third and final visit to Music City in the regular season, it looks like a third time's going to be a charm.

Arnott will make his belated return tonight when the Blues and Nashville Predators square off in a key Central Division showdown here at Bridgestone Arena.

The 37-year-old missed out on his first opportunity when the Blues were first here on Dec. 17 because of the flu. He also missed the last visit here 19 days ago after injuring his left shoulder the previous night in a home game against the Los Angeles Kings.

Playing against Boston at home Wednesday night, it was easy to wonder what might happen next to Arnott just so he'd miss this game. No such hexes were administered.

"It's always a little weird, but you always have great memories being here," said Arnott, who spent four seasons from 2006-10 with the Predators, three of them as captain. "I loved playing here, great city to be in. The game's changed so much in the past year with all the new faces over there, I don't know half of them. It's crazy how things change."

Arnott, who had 229 points in 275 career games with the Predators, went into general manager David Poile's office in the summer of 2010 and had asked for a contract extension. He was moving into the final year of a five-year, $22.5 million contract and wanted to know what the team's plans were moving forward.

The Predators chose to move in a different direction and dealt Arnott to the New Jersey Devils for Matt Halischuk and a 2011 second round pick.

"It was a mutual thing," Arnott said. "... They couldn't give me an answer. They were kind of leaning going towards a little younger (lineup). It was time for me to move on at that time, and if they were willing to move me, then I would have been moved.

"I had a no-move and no-trade (clause). We just parted ways on good terms and that was it."

Arnott was part of a tumultuous season with the Devils before being traded to Washington at the deadline last season before signing a one-year contract with the Blues this past summer. He has 13 goals and 26 points in 53 games playing a third-line role and has fit in nicely in St. Louis.

"He's having fun playing for us right now," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of Arnott. "He's been a good player for us. He's helped us a lot. He's scored big goals.

"When we're coming with those three big centers right now, it's a big 1-2-3 punch for us right now."

Arnott recalls his memories with the Predators and time in the city with fondness.

"I enjoyed it. It was a lot of fun," he said. "I experienced a lot of great things, made the playoffs three out of the four years that I was here and did some good things for a small-market team.

"I got to experience being more of a leader, being more of a top guy and being the captain. I had a lot of fun doing that and learned a lot."

Added Predators coach Barry Trotz, who was Arnott's coach here in Nashville: "He was a big part of our team for a number of years."

Players may never admit it publicly, but there's always that itch and eagerness to stick it to the team that once fed you. In Arnott's case, a game-winner night fit the bill tonight.

"That would be great," he said. "It would put us on the winning track again."

- - -

Hitchcock needs to remind himself that he's won in this building before, but it's been a long time coming.

Heading into tonight's matchup with the Predators, Hitchcock, owner of 563 wins in his NHL career, doesn't have many of them here at Bridgestone Arena. In fact, the Blues' coach last won here four teams ago -- as coach of the Dallas Stars

Hitchcock comes into tonight's game 0-11-6-1 in his last 18 visits to Nashville, spanning games coached with Dallas, Philadelphia, Columbus and now the Blues.

His last win here was on Feb. 13, 2001. So what's the key to winning here tonight and hurling that gorilla off Hitchcock's back?

"We've got to understand that the best player on their team is their goalie," Hitchcock said of Pekka Rinne, who is 12-5-2 lifetime against the Blues, including 4-0-0 this season. "It starts with out-working him. And you've got to plow through adversity.

"You're going to get adversity because they've got players who know how to win, they've got players who know how to play, they've got good structure, a good system. You're just plowing through a lot adversity and you've just got to stay determined like that. Nashville wins a lot of games by frustrating the opposition. ... They wear you down mentally and I think you've just got to be able to stay with it."

- - -

Whether they like it or not, the Blues (36-17-7) will get acclimated with one another, and they'll do it away from home where the road record is not as good as they'd like it to be.

Of the next 16 games, 13 of them will be spent away from Scottrade Center, and after losing two in a row for the first time in regulation for the first time since Oct. 28-30, they'll get the opportunity to deal with some adversity for the start of a six-game trip.

"Good or not, it's coming," captain David Backes said. "We're going to play some tough teams on the road. We need to find a way to get points. We haven't had this streak of losses very often this year. The quicker we turn around, the better off we're going to be."

Added defenseman Barret Jackman: "It's definitely a big test for us coming up heading on the road for 10 days. It's going to test our team, but we're definitely ready for the challenge."

The Blues have not lost three in a row in regulation all season long. A loss here tonight would make that all come to fruition, but it's something they'd like to avoid heading down the home stretch.

"The year that I won the Cup (in New Jersey), we went on an eight-game losing streak before the end of the year and fired our coach," Arnott said. "We thought all heck was going to break loose and we ended up going out, coming together and winning.

"You just never know, but you don't want to go through those things. You want to go through the last stretch on a high and playing well together. Obviously things aren't going to go your way the whole time, but if you can narrow the gap down and play more of a solid game than just half, you're going to be better off."

- - -

The Blues and Predators (35-19-6) meet for the fifth time of six meetings this season, and the Blues are looking for their first win.

They are 0-2-2 against the Preds this season, falling 3-1 here just 19 days ago.

Despite the four losses, each game has been decided by one goal, with the Predators winning twice by two because of empty-netters.

"When we play our game, we beat the team we're playing," winger David Perron said. "There's a few mistakes we made last night that ended up in our net. I made one of them. That's exactly what we're talking about when we say playing our game. If we do that, we'll be fine.

"For us, it's just to play our game tonight. I think we were right there in some of the games in this building. We just didn't finish them or if there were some chances to put it in, we didn't put it in. It's going to be up to us."

Added Hitchcock: "Winning here is the 60 minutes. They're a team that probably feels like it's a little easier when you're down a goal or two to play against because they get into a defensive posture and keep you to the outside."

- - -

The Blues have suddenly gone south with their play in the third period, an area that has been rock-solid for this team in winning 36 games.

They've given up four goals to Chicago (three of them) and Boston in third periods over the last two games. Prior to that, the Blues allowed a total of four third-period goals in 22 games, including a stretch in which they had 10 in a row without allowing anything.

"The last couple games for us, we've really liked our first 40 minutes. We've not liked our third period," Hitchcock said. "In order to beat a team like Nashville, it's a lot like beating us. You've got to trust your work. I think that knowing Nashville, both teams have been able to come back in games. It's because the other team's maybe let up a little bit. For me, tonight's a game about trusting our work, trusting our work for 60 minutes."

What's happened in the last couple third periods? Hitchcock said it's all about the team believing in what they do.

"We've got to trust our work a little bit more," Hitchcock said. "We're kind of pulling back a little bit and kind of allowing the other team to maybe even out the dictating part of the game. That's not how we're built, that's not how we're structured, that's not how we play.

"We're a very good team when we're in attack mode and staying in attack mode. You saw that in the last 10 minutes of the first period yesterday and the whole second period, we're a really good team when we play that way. That's the way we have to play is stay in attack mode. I thought we came off it again in the third. It's been two games in a row we've done that. We don't want to see that."

- - -

The Blues won't make any lineup changes tonight except in goal. Lines could be altered because the Blues' skate this morning was optional, but here is a projected lineup for tonight (I will update closer to game time):

Andy McDonald-David Backes-T.J. Oshie

Vladimir Sobotka-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

Jaroslav Halak will get his first start in goal in nine days after battling the flu over the weekend; Brian Elliott, who started the last four games, will back up tonight.

With no lineup changes, that means the Blues will scratch forward T.J. Hensick and defenseman Kent Huskins. Wingers Alex Steen and Matt D'Agostini (each out with concussions) continue to sit out as does winger Jamie Langenbrunner, who was placed on injured reserve Tuesday with a broken left foot.

- - -

The Predators' projected lineup:

Martin Erat-Mike Fisher-Sergei Kostitsyn

Craig Smith-David Legwand-Gabriel Bourque

Colin Wilson-Nick Spaling-Jordin Tootoo

Brandon Yip-Jerred Smithson-Matt Halischuk

Ryan Suter-Shea Weber

Francis Bouillon-Kevin Klein

Hal Gill-Roman Josi

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

The Predators are missing wingers Patric Hornqvist and Brian McGrattan, both out with upper-body injuries. Hornqvist is believed to be a concussion. Healthy scratches include defensemen Jack Hillen and Ryan Ellis.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Blues suffer rare home loss to Bruins

Mistakes lead to wild first period as St.
Louis suffers first regulation home loss in 22

ST. LOUIS -- Maybe it was what the Boston Bruins forced them to do. Maybe it was the Blues' own doing.

The end result was the Blues' first two-game regulation losing streak since the end of October ... and it's not going to get any easier with 13 of the next 16 games away from the friendly confines of Scottrade Center.

The Blues made mistakes, the Bruins pounced. A wild opening 20 minutes ended with the Bruins skating away with a 4-2 win over the Blues Wednesday night, a rare loss for the home side at 14th and Clark.

The Blues (36-17-7) now head into Nashville tonight for a pivotal divisional showdown on the heels of arguably one of their worst executed games in some time.
(Getty Images)
The Blues' Jason Arnott (middle) battles for position in front
of Bruins goalie Tim Thomas (left) and Dennis Seidenberg.

They were careless with the puck from the middle of the ice into their zone and the Bruins (36-20-2) were ready to pounce.

Brad Marchand scored twice and Milan Lucic and Chris Kelly each had a goal and an assist to help the Bruins snap a two-game road losing streak.

I think it was a little bit of both," Blues defenseman Barret Jackman said of the game. "They're pretty good at kind of taking away options. They're kind of aggressive with two guys and then they sit over top with a third guy and read the play very well. We had a lot of pucks that were bouncing up and down and going off sticks that just weren't clean plays and they were corralling and using against us."

Tim Thomas knows what the Bruins accomplished here has been a rarity in the NHL this season.

"They have very few home losses. They're a good team, period," Thomas said of the backstopping 30 shots in only the Blues' fourth regulation home loss of the season.

"You can see by where they're at in the standings that they're a good team," Thomas said.

This just doesn't happen to the Blues. Much like their Central Division counterpart Detroit Red Wings, home wins are as good as gold.

However, it did happen ... for only the first time in 22 home games the Blues, who got goals from Chris Stewart and Ryan Reaves, were not able to pick up at least a point on home ice.

The Blues dropped to (26-4-4) at home in the process. They were 18-0-3 in the previous 21 and last lost in regulation on Dec. 3, a 5-2 defeat to the Chicago Blackhawks. It's the Blues' first back-to-back regulation losses since dropping two at Calgary and Edmonton Oct. 28-30.

"They bring a lot of pressure and they've got big bodies that forced us to probably make plays before we were ready to or plays we weren't comfortable with," captain David Backes said of the Bruins. "They're obviously an explosive team. They got three goals off turnovers and another one that we got our pocket picked.

"We're trying to make plays and there's good things about that. But making the right play at the right time and not giving our opponent anything is something that we need to definitely put in the memory bank because they're a team we're hopefully not done seeing this year."

And it was uncharacteristic turnovers that cost the Blues.

"I thought we waded into the game tentative and then I thought we really started to get going once we scored our first goal," said Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, whose team fell behind 2-0 and 3-2 in the first period and lost to an Eastern Conference foe for the first time this season (12-1-2). "I thought we played really well the whole second period.

"The mistakes we made, we made big errors. We turned the puck over in the neutral zone and made a couple big errors there and they took advantage of it."

It was indeed a wild first period between teams in the top five in team goaltending statistics that saw a total of five goals -- three of them by Boston.

The Bruins grabbed a quick 2-0 lead on goals by Marchand and Lucic. Marchand stole a puck by Kevin Shattenkirk at the Blues' blue line and snapped a quick shot from the slot over Brian Elliott's glove hand 2:29 into the game. Lucic's redirection of Joe Corvo's shot 6:19 into the game made it 2-0. David Krejci's crushing shoulder check of Blues defenseman Kris Russell behind the net created the opportunity from the right point.

"Most of the time, they're coming really hard and then when you do move it, you think you have some time," Jackman said of the Bruins. "They do a really good job of coming over the top and closing that out.

"They're a big, physical team and they come and try to push you out of your own building. I thought we did a pretty good job of pushing back and staying on our toes, but in the end, some turnovers and some bounces cost us."

The Blues battled back and got two of their own when Stewart got his first in seven and second in 18 games, beating Thomas from a sharp angle 58 seconds after Lucic's goal to make it 2-1. Reaves got his second goal in three games after tipping home Crombeen's shot with traffic in front of Thomas to tie it 12:15 into the period. Crombeen picked up two-thirds of a Gordie Howe hat trick, needing only a goal.

"The way it started out, I didn't know what it was going to be like," said Thomas, who stopped the final 27 shots he saw. "I didn't know if we'd have to win one of those 5-4 games or something like that. That's the way it seemed to be going with screens and funny bounces, good opportunities both teams were getting. As a goalie, I'm happy with the way that it turned out."

But the uncharacteristic poor defensive zone play led to Kelly's go-ahead goal with 39.4 seconds left in the period. A turnover in the neutral zone by David Perron and subsequent failure to rim the puck around the boards in the defensive zone by Perron ended up on the Blues' goal. Lucic feed Kelly in front for a quick snap shot past Elliott to make it 3-2.

"I thought the third goal allowed them to breathe again," said Hitchcock, who demoted Perron during the game to the third and fourth lines before bringing him back to the top. "We couldn't get the goal that we needed to get in the second period when we had all the play in their zone. We had all kinds of chances, all kinds of play, but we couldn't get the third goal to tie it up, which would have made it a little bit different game ... and then they got to breathe after the intermission. They came out with a good push at the start of the third."
(Getty Images)
Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk (right) moves the puck away from
Boston's Gregory Campbell Wednesday night.

Said Perron: "You don't want to make plays like I did, but there was still a lot of time in the game. It's pretty frustrating when you don't have the chance to recover from that mistake. There's going to be nights like that. It wasn't one of my best, for sure, but at the same time pretty frustrating not to get the chance to change things up.

"I understand there is changes to be made when it's not working well, and I'll just live with that and work hard and hopefully I'll get another chance."

It was Elliott who made a crucial right skate stop on Kelly just 40 seconds into the game from in tight that kept another Boston goal off the board.

"The first period, a couple mistakes and a bad bounce just leads to opportunities," said Elliott, whose goals-against average jumped up to 1.65 and save percentage fell to .937. "I have to come up with a couple saves. We need to generate some offense and come back from a period like that. I think we did to a point. We just couldn't get anything going by them.

"We knew that was coming. We knew they were going to come hard off the bat. We wanted to counter that. To a point, we did, but I think we just need to be better all around ... myself included for sure."

The Bruins, despite getting outshot 13-4 in the second, had the closest chance when Johnny Boychuk's shot from the point was double-deflected off two Blues sticks. Amazingly, the puck caromed off both the post and cross bar, but stayed out as evidenced by a video review with 12:26 left in the period.

The Bruins are unbeatable when leading after two periods. With their 3-2 lead, they went into lockdown and shutdown mode and made it a perfect 24-for-24 this season with second-period leads (24-0-0).

They extended their lead in the third when Marchand scored on a breakaway, going to his backhand and beating Elliott five-hole 9:14 into the third for a 4-2 lead on only their 16th shot of the game.

"We weren't really sure what to expect coming in," Marchand said. "We knew they play very hard and we knew they play very well at home.

"We thought it would a little tighter checking in the first period. We had a few goals, especially that third one late was big for our team. Definitely a little more wide open than we thought it was going to be."

After allowing two goals on his first five shots, Thomas settled in and stopped the final 27 St. Louis shots.

The Bruins have not lost in regulation at St. Louis since dropping a 4-0 decision on Dec. 18, 1999. They are now 3-0-4 in their last seven in the Blues' building.

"We'll take it," Thomas said. "We should be very happy with our effort."

* NOTES -- The Blues reinserted defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo back into the lineup after missing three games, one with a wrist injury. Kent Huskins and T.J. Hensick, recalled from Peoria Tuesday after the injury to Jamie Langenbrunner (broken left foot).

(2-22-12) Bruins-Blues Gameday Lineup

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."

- - -

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."

- - -

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."

- - -

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."

- - -

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."

- - -

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."

- - -

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.

- - -

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.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Langenbrunner to miss month with broken foot

Veteran winger latest in line of injuries Blues
must get past; suffered Sunday at Chicago

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Dealing with injuries has been old hat for the Blues.

This season, they've been able to absorb the many body blows suffered. Last season, not so much.

But when the Blues realized they'd be losing valuable veteran leader Jamie Langenbrunner for a minimum of four weeks after suffering a broken left foot during Sunday's loss at Chicago, this is a little more tricky spot to replace and have someone plug in simply because of the many role the 36-year-old has persevered in this season.

"He's got a foot injury, he's out a month. We'll have to make due," Blues coach ken Hitchcock said. "That'll probably elevate a guy like either Revo (Ryan Reaves) or (B.J.) Crombeen. Both guys have been playing great. They'll move up the ladder. We'll just see from there.
(Getty Images)
The Blues are going to be without veteran Jamie Langenbrunner after the
winger suffered a broken left foot during the third period of Sunday's 3-1
loss at Chicago.

"It's the nature of the beast with the season. When you're in this thing, it seems every team goes through stuff like this.We've got depth here, we've got depth in Peoria, we've used guys in Peoria. If we have to, we can get down into (Evgeny) Grachev there, who's more than a comparable player. We've got (Adam) Cracknell, who's played great for us up here. ... We've got some flexibility. It's not like it's career-ending or it's not like it's season-ending or anything. He's probably four weeks maximum. We'll evaluate him in a couple weeks and see how he's doing."

Langenbrunner, 36, in his first season with the Blues and 17th overall, has four goals and 17 assists in 57 games this season. He's been one of the more versatile players for a relatively younger team and that flexibility will be a sore spot until his return.

The Blues say Langenbrunner will be re-evaluated in four weeks' time and have recalled center T.J. Hensick from Peoria.

"He probably doesn't get all the accolades he deserves," veteran center Scott Nichol said of Langenbrunner. "He does all the little things that makes a team win and why he's been successful his whole career. It's a voice in the locker room and it's the way he carries himself professionally. We're really going to miss that."

One of those younger players is T.J. Oshie, who has really taken a liking to Langenbrunner. And why wouldn't he? After all, here's a guy who's won two Stanley Cups, been captain in the NHL, captain for Team USA at the Winter Olympics and has over 1,000 games played in the League.

"It makes you look forward to hopefully where we're going to be one day," Oshie said. "If that's where we want to get to, we've got to learn from this guy. We've got to watch him, we've got to see what he does when no one else is watching.

"He's always ready to go, he's always ready to play. Even on nights when he knows he's not going to have his best game, he's still out there and doing the little things right. That's one thing that can be hard for us ... for myself or me or Perry (David Perron), when things are not going the right way, I think we get down on ourselves and we try to do too much. He always just stays with his game, stays even-keeled and that's what we've got to learn."

Blues captain David Backes, Langenbrunner's teammate for Team USA in 2010, has grown as leader because of Langenbrunner.

"He's been instrumental in the success we've had here and my growth as a leader and as a captain," Backes said. "He's been great to have. He's not gone (for the season). A broken bone, I don't know whether it's four weeks or whatever, maybe they can get it back faster. He finished the game with it. He's a guy that we need in the lineup and he's been great to have around.

"His roles (and) intangibles are off the charts. His ability to come to the rink and sniff out the feelings and keep everyone level ... and his work ethic and ability to go on the ice and make different plays at certain times when they're critical is off the charts and out of this world. He's a guy that we need back and when he comes back hopefully his 36-37 year old body is a lot more rested for a long playoff run."

Langenbrunner, who just a couple seasons ago was playing on the New Jersey Devils' top line with Zach Parise and Travis Zajac, has accepted whatever role the Blues have used him in -- and has persevered.

"I have kind of bounced up and down before," Langenbrunner said before his injury Sunday. "I went through a stretch there in Jersey where I had a defined role. But before then when I was with Hitch (in Dallas), I bounced up and down lines. I think that's fine with me. I feel comfortable playing in many different situations. We've obviously had lots of injuries, and as guys come back, our roles are going to get a little more defined when we get a full lineup. I think it's good. It puts competition within the group. I think all of us are pushing each other to be better in a good way. I've been fortunate to play in a lot of those roles. I feel comfortable in it."
(Getty Images)
The Blues will miss the versatility of Jamie Langenbrunner (right) for the
next four weeks. Langenbrunner has been placed on injured reserve with a
broken left foot.

Now it's up to the Blues, who are currently playing without wingers Alex Steen and Matt D'Agostini (concussions), to replace a leader both on and off the ice.

"Lags' play has meant everything. He's done a great job," Hitchcock said. "The power play was doing well sequence-wise because he was a guy that calmed it down back there, he's done a great job killing penalties all year, he's been good for whoever he plays with. If we need the line to either increase it's competitiveness or increase its composure, we put him there. So he's been a guy that's played up and down from the fourth all the way to the first, so we're going to miss that. But I think we've got other guys whose games have stepped up and we'll be alright.

"He's a solid guy. He's a pro. I don't think you can have enough of those guys this time of the year."

Oshie agreed: "The biggest part is the leadership. It's not only just his presence in the locker room but also the way he plays the game, the way he doesn't take shifts off, he doesn't complain about shifts, he doesn't get down on himself. When things go bad, he's always looking at the positive and looking forward to the next shift. I think with our young group, that's going to be the thing that's going to be the most missed. He's a tough guy. I'm sure he's not going to be out for too long."

* NOTES -- Hitchcock said that Brian Elliott will get the start in goal against the Boston Bruins at home Wednesday, and Jaroslav Halak, coming off the flu that forced him to sit out two games, would start Thursday's game in Nashville barring an Elliott shutout Wednesday. ... Former Blue Brendan Shanahan, the NHL's Senior Vice President, Player Safety and Hockey Operations was in town Tuesday visiting the Blues at their practice facility at St. Louis Mills. Shanahan, who has endured much criticism from Blues fans and various people around the NHL for what they feel are inconsistencies in his disciplinary actions. Shanahan is visiting teams around the league hoping to re-enforce any questions anyone night have.

"It's one of those things where it's good to try and clarify any questions that guys have," Backes said. "Hopefully if there's any hesitancy, that that's erased. We know that down the stretch run and into the playoffs, we know what the rules are so that if we're overstepping our boundary, we can expect the consequences to come and know this is not acceptable, this is acceptable ... go out there and play hard."