Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Shorthanded Blues keep winning, top Wild

Schwartz continues hot streak with goal, assist; team keeps ends 
2013 with second-best record points percentage-wise in franchise history

ST. PAUL, Minn -- After Chris Stewart took a puck to the face in the first period Tuesday against the Minnesota Wild, the Blues were without 53 goals from their lineup counting Alexander Steen and David Backes.

It doesn't seem to matter. The Blues are finding different ways to win games without their top guns, but Jaden Schwartz has stepped up.

Schwartz continued his torrid streak with a goal and an assist, giving him goals in six straight games and 20 points in 18 games (11 goals, nine assists) as the Blues ended a stretch of three games in three and a half days earning six points after knocking off the Minnesota Wild 2-1 at Xcel Energy Center.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues' Jaden Schwartz (9) continued his hot streak by scoring in his
straight game in a 2-1 win against the Minnesota Wild Tuesday.

T.J. Oshie scored in his second straight game after going 15 games without a goal, Brian Elliott stopped 24 shots, came within 8.3 seconds of his 24th career shutout and even added his second career assist as the Blues improved to 27-7-5 and continue to stay on the trail of the Chicago Blackhawks for the Central Division race, pulling within four points with three games in hand. Elliott also improved to 5-0-0 in his career against the Wild.

The Blues also improved to 13-0-1 against Central Division foes, they're 23-1-3 when scoring first and 17-0-3 when leading after two periods. The Blues ended 2013 with the second-best record in terms of percentage points (.756) through Dec. 31 in franchise history. Only the 2000-01 team's 25-5-4 mark (.794) has been better.

How did they do it on this night, you ask? Well, how about 24 blocked shots, consistent sticks in lanes, getting contributions from every and anyone. It's been a recipe for success and the Blues have the belief that no matter what lineup they throw out on the ice, they can not only compete but win.

"We talked about it at the beginning of the year, our depth," said defenseman Barret Jackman, who played over 20 minutes and blocked two shots as well as added a pair of hits. "Rolling four lines and not tiring out the top guys. Obviously we have a lot of important people that are hurt, but there's injuries all around the league and teams have to deal with it. Guys are stepping up really big."

"It wasn't more so much what we were looking for, it was more necessity," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We were obviously missing a lot of guys. The big thing for us was not to have to chase the game. We knew that in Dallas when those guys weren't here and then we knew it tonight. We couldn't afford to chase the game. We chased it once with Chicago (Saturday) and got away with it, but you're not going to get that very often."

There was no Backes (upper body) for the fourth time in seven games, Steen (concussion) missed his fourth straight, and Stewart took a nasty shot to the mouth midway through the first period Tuesday and did not return.

The Blues have placed a lot of faith in guys like Schwartz, Vladimir Tarasenko, Vladimir Sobotka as well as Oshie, Magnus Paajarvi and Dmitrij Jaskin.

Since his return from an upper-body injury, Schwartz has grabbed the bull by the horns and run with it.

"Guys are just stepping up, guys who weren't playing as much and are playing a little more and working hard and battling," said Schwartz, who has 14 goals and 30 points in 37 games. "It's a few gutsy wins in a row now from us. Obviously we miss (Steen and Backes) but it's a chance for guys to step up and get more opportunity. I think we're doing a good job of that. Everyone's just chipping in and playing defensively and staying on it right now."

Oshie gave the Blues a 1-0 lead when a Keith Ballard pass was sent into the skates of Mikael Granlund, who got the puck taken from him by Schwartz, who led Oshie in alone on Josh Harding and Oshie deked backhand before sliding a forehand shot past the Wild netminder 6 minutes, 49 seconds into the second period for a 1-0 Blues lead.

"I don't even know what happened," Oshie said. "It seemed like it just happened so fast. Great play by 'Schwartzy.'

"The depth that we've been trying to get here that management has been trying to get is paying off for us. We do have guys that are stepping up and can step into those big roles and take on a little more responsibility on the ice."

The Wild missed out on an opportunity to tie the game, and Schwartz took off with Vladimir Sobotka and trailer Vladimir Tarasenko on a 3-on-1. Schwartz kept the puck and powered a shot off Harding's right skate at 15:59 of the second for a 2-0 lead. Elliott for the secondary assist on the play.

"I don't think he's bright enough to realize the importance that we're putting on him right now," Jackman jokingly said of Schwartz. "He's a gamer. He's got a ton of skill. His tenacity around the puck and making players around him better is really what is driving him and driving our team right now."

"Getting the lead for us was pretty important," Hitchcock said. "I thought the second period we played was outstanding. I thought overall until really we started giving away the puck a little bit at the end of the third period, we really managed the game well. We took a lot of energy out of their team by making them turn and having to go back and get the puck all the time."

The first period went according to plan for the Blues, who lost Stewart for the game after he took a puck to the face following a dump-in by the Wild's Jason Pominville with 8:30 left.

The Blues were outshot 9-7 but were pretty efficient in defensive coverage and did not allow the Wild much sustained zone time.

The Blues' best chance in the period came with roughly six minutes left when Paajarvi intercepted Harding's pass behind the net, but his wraparound into an empty goal rolled off his stick.

(St. Louis Blues photo)
Defenseman Ian Cole (right) looks to fend off Minnesota's Matt Cooke in
action Tuesday night in Minnesota.
Elliott helped the Blues defeat the Wild (who suffered their sixth straight loss) for the seventh time in a row and if not for Ryan Suter's goal with 8.3 seconds remaining, he would have helped shut out the Wild for the third game in a row.

The Blues' shutout streak against the Wild ended at 212:52.

"There were a lot of sticks," said Elliott, who helped the Blues improve to 5-0-2 in their past seven road games and 5-0-1 overall. "When guys are doing that, it just makes it a lot easier. They're not shooting through skates and legs where it's hard to pick up. When they're off a stick in the mesh, that's a good thing for me.

"We kept a lot of things to the outside. They really didn't have any penetration there. I was kind of able to steer the rebounds aside and we were able to get going. When I get an assist on that one goal by steering a rebound, that makes me feel pretty good. Those guys did an awesome job finishing. 'Schwartzy's' pretty hot right now."

Defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo summed it up best, using a term legendary coach Herb Brooks used, more notably for the United States Olympic team: You play for the name in the front, not the one on the back."

(12-31-13) Blues-Wild Gameday Lineup

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Blues will play their third game in four days -- less than four actually with the 5 p.m. start time today at Xcel Energy Center against the Minnesota Wild -- and they'll do so with a similar lineup as the one that played Sunday against the Dallas Stars.

The Blues (26-7-5) are still dealing with injured players and sickness going around the team, and they'll go with a lineup that must manage its minutes much like it did in a 3-2 overtime win against the Stars. 

Especially against a desperate Minnesota Wild (20-16-5), a team in an 0-5-0 slide that has been outscored 24-12 in that stretch and one that is in a 5-11-1 slide dating to Nov. 25, when the Wild lost 3-0 to the Blues in St. Louis.

"You're going to have to win games like that," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said as his team takes a 4-0-1 streak into today's game (FSN, KMOX 1120-AM). "You're going to win games where you're either down on players or down on energy. Nobody really feels sorry for you. You're just going to have to find a way to win games.

"The roster that we're icing right now, we've got to keep it simple. ... We can't talk in terms of matching certain elements of what they've got. We've got to keep our own game in perspective. For us right now, simple is better. When we complicate it or we force offense, then that's when we get ourselves in trouble. We are at our best with the lineup that we're playing right now when we just keep it in kind of a ... I don't want to call it dumb-it-down but make sure that we manage the puck properly and don't put ourselves in situations where we're giving up odd-man rushes."

The Blues will once again be without captain David Backes (undisclosed injury), who participated in a morning skate today but coach  

"He's not going to play," Hitchcock said of Backes, who will miss his fourth game this season and second straight after coming back from an upper-body injury. "He's not ready to go. He's feeling better and better but he's not able to play. We're not prepared to risk it right now.

"We've got to take it into the game. We'll give you 12 forwards tonight. I can't tell you they're going to be right now. When you've got the flu bug going through you, you've got it going through you and you're just going to have to deal with it."

Also, goalie Jaroslav Halak, who Hitchcock said Monday is one of those players dealing with sickness, is well enough to back up Brian Elliott today.

- - -

Count forward Chris Porter among a host of Blues who will have family in attendance for today's game.

Porter will have his parents, two sisters, two cousins, an aunt and one niece in attendance. They all made the 5-hour, 45-minute trek from Thunder Bay, Ontario.

"You always want to play well in front of your family," the 29-year-old Porter said. "... The pressure's on tonight. It's fun to have them around."

- - -

Former Blues winger Jamie Langenbrunner was in attendance for the morning skate Tuesday and was able to visit with former teammates.

The 38-year-old Langenbrunner, who hasn't played since hip surgery in February that ended his 2012-13 lockout-shortened season just four games in, is still an unrestricted free agent without a team who has not officially retired from the NHL.

Langenbrunner is from nearly Cloquet, Minn., which is roughly a two-hour drive north from St. Paul, Minn. He is involved in coaching his two sons, Landon and Mason, who were both in attendance with him today. 

- - -

The Blues are riding a six-game winning streak against the Wild going back to Nov. 19, 2011, outscoring them 20-7. They are also riding a 153:01 shutout streak against the Wild, including back-to-back shutouts in the previous two meetings. ... The Blues are 4-0-2 in their past six road games. ... Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk has ended the past two victories for the Blues with a shootout winner Saturday and overtime winner Sunday. ... Forward Jaden Schwartz has a goal in five straight games and 18 points (10 goals, eight assists) in the past 17 games. ... The Blues are 12-0-1 against Central Division teams, the best intra-conference record in the NHL.

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Jaden Schwartz-Vladimir Sobotka-T.J. Oshie

Magnus Paajarvi-Patrik Berglund-Vladimir Tarasenko

Dmitrij Jaskin-Derek Roy-Chris Stewart

Brenden Morrow-Maxim Lapierre-Chris Porter

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk

Ian Cole-Carlo Colaiacovo

Brian Elliott will start in goal; Jaroslav Halak will be the backup.

The healthy scratch is expected to be Adam Cracknell. Players not dressed for the Blues because of injury include David Backes (undisclosed upper body), Alexander Steen (concussion), Roman Polak (ankle/foot), Jordan Leopold (hand) and Ryan Reaves (hand).

- - -

The Wild's probable lineup:

Nino Niederreiter-Mikko Koivu-Charlie Coyle

Dany Heatley-Mikael Granlund-Jason Pominville

Matt Cooke-Kyle Brodziak-Mike Rupp 

Stephane Veilleux-Torrey Mitchell-Justin Fontaine

Ryan Suter-Jonas Brodin

Marco Scandella-Jared Spurgeon

Nate Prosser-Keith Ballard

Josh Harding will start in goal. Niklas Backstrom will be the backup.

Zenon Konopka and Jonathon Blum are expected to be the healthy scratches; Zach Parise (foot), Clayton Stoner (lower body) are on injured reserve.

Monday, December 30, 2013


Value of Cole, Colaiacovo very worthy; Backes skated; 
Andronov back to AHL; Elliott to start for sick Halak; Roy's return to lineup

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The significance may not have been seen that way at the time, but the signing of Carlo Colaiacovo and the insertion of Ian Cole into the Blues lineup -- especially in recent weeks -- has turned into a blessing.

After coming off an up and down, emotional roller coaster 6-5 shootout victory against the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday, the Blues needed to dig deep into the tank to get as much as they could out of group bogged down  by injury and the flu bug to grind out a 3-2 overtime victory against the Dallas Stars Sunday, a Stars team that was 4-0-1 in their past five games.

But with Jordan Leopold (hand) still not cleared to play yet but he is getting close and Roman Polak (foot/ankle) sidelined and with the top defensive pairing of Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester logging nearly 30 minutes Saturday, the Blues had to rely on their third defensive pairing more so than usual.

"The way we looked at it, it's still two points against a division rival," said Colaiacovo, who logged a season-high 17 minutes, 18 seconds with with three hits and four blocked shots. "Obviously we're coming off an emotional game in Chicago where from start to finish, the crowd was in it, it was a back and forth game, there's a lot of emotions that went through everybody during that game. Going into Dallas and missing a guy like (David Backes), who's our leader, you don't want to make any excuses for yourself. Those are opportunities that other guys should thrive on to step up and help carry a load when needed. I think the perfect way to summarize that is we were able to grind that one out. That's what good teams do."

Cole eclipsed the 20-minute mark for the first time this season. He finished with two hits and three blocked shots. 

"The more you can play to a certain extent, the more you can get into the flow of the game and just keep rolling," Cole said. When you're playing 10 minutes or 12 minutes, it's a lot harder because you play so sporadically. When you're playing 20, 21 minutes like I did last night, you can really just keep going and it flows a lot better. The game flows a lot better. And obviously with the amount of games you play consecutively along with the minutes you play with each game, it keeps with that flow. You don't have to stop, start, play, not play. It just helps you roll.

"When you've got guys like 'Petro' and 'Bouw' playing so many minutes ... they're obviously capable of doing it, but you're really playing with fire if you're playing them that many minutes so often. I love playing more minutes. There's a better flow to the game. If that's what we need to do to give them a rest, obviously that's what we've got to do to step up. When 'Romy' and 'Leo' go down, you've got to step up and kind of take hold of that rope and hold onto it."

Of course Pietrangelo led the Blues again in ice time (26:14) and Bouwmeester was right behind him (25:59) Sunday, but having Cole and Colaiacovo increase their minutes helped alleviate time from the entire group.

"You look at the difference in minutes in the Chicago game, 'Petro' was close to 30, 'Bouw' was close to 30," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "Ideal for us is we play our roster when we divvy up ice time on a more equal basis, we seem to play with more equal energy. We were able to manage the game minutes-wise in the first two periods, which gave us the energy and finally got our legs underneath us for the third period. 

"I think one of the things that's missing here is Cole ... nobody's talking about it, but Ian's game has really picked up here. Somebody's loss has been his advantage because he's been the guy that's benefited from being able to play and play a lot of games in a row and a lot of minutes, which is a really goods sign. He's done a heck of a job there for it. ... Carlo's gone on and played on the power play, played 5-on-5. Cole's had to do a lot of PK with no Roman and no 'Leo.' That stuff's allowed us to keep our record where it's at because they've done a good job."

* Backes skates -- Backes, who missed Sunday's game after getting hit late in the win against Chicago, was back on the ice at Monday's optional skate at Xcel Energy Center.

Backes, who is second on the Blues in goals (16) and third in points (30), missed his third game Sunday with a presumed upper-body injury. Both he and Hitchcock said they'd go throughout the day Monday and into Tuesday to see if he could return against the Minnesota Wild.

"We'll work it through the day and see how he feels," Hitchcock said.

Having Vladimir Sobotka come off injured reserve and return to the lineup for the first time in seven games helped offset what was missing with both Backes and Alexander Steen (concussion) missing.

"I think 'Sobe' helped us immensely," Hitchcock said. "He really gave us great minutes yesterday (along with two assists), which allowed us to stay competitive because without him in the lineup, we were a little bit thin. Him going in the lineup's a real good sign for us."

* Andronov back to AHL -- Prospect Sergey Andronov, who was recalled, sent back to the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League and recalled all in the same day Saturday, was returned back to the Wolves Monday. 

Andronov, 24, recently recorded a hat trick with the Wolves and was with the Blues with players still not ready to return from injury and others coming down with some sort of sickness.

Andronov's return to the Wolves is in no way affiliated with Backes.

"Even without David, we had 13 forwards (Monday), so that allowed us to have enough for today. 

"He wasn't going to play tomorrow, so we wanted to get him going."

And Hitchcock's message for the Russian native?

"Just keep going," Hitchcock said. "He's obviously moved himself into a potential prospect phase now. He's gone from project to prospect, which is a great sign. He's had a heck of a start there, just keep playing. 

"The way he's playing right now looks like when we get ourselves in trouble, the way he practiced with us and how comfortable he looked, it's not going to be a problem putting him in the lineup when we get some injuries."

* Elliott to start Tuesday -- Hitchcock confirmed Monday that Brian Elliott (and not Jaroslav Halak) will get the start in goal for the Blues (26-7-5) against the Wild (20-16-5) after it was disclosed that Halak is also sick despite taking part in practice Monday.

The Blues may be forced to recall Jake Allen from Chicago if Halak is not capable of being the backup Tuesday.

Elliott (9-1-2 with a 2.04 goals-against average and .919 save percentage), stopped 28 shots Sunday and came on in relief of Halak Saturday against Chicago to get the win.

"He's under the weather," Hitchcock said of Halak, who is 17-6-3 with a 2.40 GAA and .907 save percentage. "We'll play Brian (Tuesday) and we'll gauge with Jaro in the morning whether he's capable of backing up or not. If he's not, we may have to look into getting Jake here but we'll see how it goes."

* Roy's return -- Center Derek Roy, who also returned to the lineup Sunday after being a late scratch against the Blackhawks because he was sick, returned to contributed only 12:41 to the lineup Sunday but it was Roy who drew the key penalty late in overtime that set up Kevin Shattenkirk's game-winner with 10.4 seconds remaining.

Roy said he wanted to dig down at the end.

"Especially when you know it's one of your last shifts of the game," Roy said. "You're going to go out and give it your all. I thought we did a good job of keeping the puck in deep, making the plays and drawing the penalty which led to the goal. It's just a matter of everyone pulling through and working hard together.

"Saturday's game was very emotional and it was a hard-fought game with overtime and a shootout and last night against a good opponent like Dallas on the road, back to back, you try to get as many guys as you can in the game. You've got to just keep it simple. I thought we tried to do that in the first period and then they came at us a little bit in the second. I think we came back in the third; it was a pretty even third but we came out with the win. We've got a lot of banged up guys and some sick guys also. It was a good win for us. We have four good lines, two good goalies and six good 'D.' On back to back games, we try to balance the offense out in the lineup."

Shattenkirk's OT goal seals Blues' 3-2 victory against Stars

Victory comes on heels of emotional home win against Chicago 24 hours earlier

DALLAS -- They opened the game with the lead they coveted, then withstood a Dallas Stars fury the Blues knew would be coming.

But in the end, with one crank from Kevin Shattenkirk's stick for the second time in as many games within a 24-hour span, the Blues were celebrating another victory.

Shattenkirk's power play goal with 10.4 seconds remaining in overtime gave the Blues a 3-2 overtime victory against the Stars Sunday night at American Airlines Center.

A night after rallying past the Chicago Blackhawks in a shootout on home ice, the Blues (26-7-5) were able to gut out a victory against a rested team that was 4-0-1 in its last five games and waiting for a tired, weary and shorthanded team missing another key piece (David Backes) despite getting back two more (Vladimir Sobotka and Derek Roy).
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Kevin Shattenkirk (left) celebrates with teammate Alex Pietrangelo after
scoring in overtime to give the Blues a 3-2 victory against the Dallas Stars.

Shattenkirk, who scored the shootout winner against the Blackhawks Saturday night, took Alex Pietrangelo's pass and rifled a shot past Kari Lehtonen after the Blues got a 4-on-3 power play after killing off an overtime power play.

"I really think we owed it to our penalty kill," Shattenkirk said. "... Tough call there on Oshie but we were able to deal with it.

"We came back and when we saw the opportunity that we had. We knew that it was our time to try and capitalize on it. We go out with the mentality that we're going to bury them (on the power play) and we did it twice tonight."

The Blues, already playing without injured players Alexander Steen (concussion), Roman Polak (ankle/foot), Jordan Leopold (hand) and Ryan Reaves (hand), had to make do without Backes (undisclosed, but likely related to the upper-body injury sustained last week after taking a hit late in the game against Chicago). But getting Sobotka (upper body) back after missing six games and Derek Roy (flu) back after he missed the Chicago game helped alleviate putting out a young and even more inexperienced lineup.

Sobotka paid immediate dividends with two assists, including the game-winner and stepping into Backes' role as top-line center between Jaden Schwartz and T.J. Oshie.

"'Sobe' did a lot of work with that (overtime penalty kill), he did a lot of work creating the (overtime) penalty and did obviously a great job on (Shattenkirk's) goal," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said.

The Blues also got goals from Jaden Schwartz and Oshie and Brian Elliott made 28 saves.

"I think it was a character win for us playing last night," Schwartz said. "... We kind of had a good grip at the start of the game, they kind of took it to us a little bit, but we battled back and found a way to win. I think that's huge for us. We battled through a few injuries so that's a big win for us."

It appeared the Blues would start the game down a goal just 25 seconds into the game, but Cody Eakin's goal was wiped out after the Stars' Ryan Garbutt was ruled to have made contact with Elliott.

Garbutt didn't take too kindly and was whistled for an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Schwartz made Dallas pay with his fifth goal in as many games and 18th point in 17 games (10 goals, eight assists) when he slammed home a shot at the right post off a tic-tac-toe play from Sobotka and Oshie 2:41 into the game.

"He's got great patience," Schwartz said of Sobotka. "He holds onto the puck when he needs to and he can make plays along with playing all three zones. He's a fun guy to play with.

"It wasn't good losing 'Backs,' but it was a big jump for us, a big, positive leap getting him back in the lineup."

Vladimir Tarasenko had a great chance to give the Blues a 2-0 lead when he took a stretch pass from Shattenkirk and went in alone on Lehtonen, but the Stars' goalie kicked up the right pad to keep it a one-goal game 12:12 into the game.

The Blues began the second period scrambling in their own zone to start, but were able to get that 2-0 lead when Oshie stripped Stars defenseman Kevin Connauton of the puck along the left boards and snapped a shot high inside the near post from the left circle past Lehtonen 5:12 into the period. It was Oshie's first goal in 16 games dating back to Nov. 23 against Dallas.

It was the Blues' first shot of the period, but the Stars would respond and equalize the game with two goals in 3 minutes, 18 seconds.

Jamie Benn's power play goal cut the Blues' lead to 2-1 at 8:13 after Patrik Berglund was whistled for a high sticking penalty in the Dallas zone. Benn beat Brian Elliott with a high shot from the right circle.

Garbutt would get some retribution when he redirected Aaron Rome's shot from the left point through Elliott's pads at 11:31 on a screen shot to tie the game 2-2.

Lehtonen preserved the tie when he was able to rob Magnus Paajarvi with a right pad stop following a nice feed from Tarasenko with 6:14 left in the period.

Oshie was whistled for slashing Benn in overtime, but the Blues' penalty killing unit was not only able to keep the Stars (19-12-7) off the board but keep them shot-less.

"You get some momentum and then (Derek Roy) comes out and has a fantastic shift there 4-on-4," Pietrangelo said. "... It's a great momentum swing there killing that penalty."

Connauton was called for tripping with 35.5 seconds remaining, and the Blues knew if they could get a faceoff win and maintain the puck in the zone, there was the opportunity to win.

Pietrangelo got a pass from Sobotka and faked a shot to draw the three Stars penalty killers towards him before laying a perfect pass that Shattenkirk could lay into.

"Four-on-three, a lot of room there," Shattenkirk said. "Petro does a great job selling his shot and I think that freezes everyone and allows me to have the opening to shoot the puck.

Added Pietrangelo: "I had an opportunity in the middle of the ice. I saw Shatty drifting over. We kind of drew that up before. They gave him some space. It was an unbelievable shot.

"With 35 seconds, that's a long time. ... You try and not panic with the time that's left."

Hitchcock was most pleased with the Blues' third period. Although they only generated four shots, the Blues were able to limit the Stars' speedy attack that was quite evident in the second period.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Brian Elliott (left) makes a save in front of Blues teammates Ian Cole (28) and
Barret Jackman Sunday in Dallas. The Blues won 3-2 in overtime.

"To come and play in an environment like this off back-to-back against a rested team, the third period for me was impressive," Hitchcock said. "We managed the game in the third period. We were outplayed in the second, but in the third, we managed the game properly and did a good job.

"(Coach Brad Shaw) shared (the defensemen's) ice time today. We didn't get caught overplaying guys. This is the most (Ian) Cole's played in the National Hockey League. He played (20:26) tonight. I just thought we got them so that we weren't tired going into the third period. We managed the ice time."

"It's a great win," Shattenkirk said. "In the second period, we looked a little lost, a little tired and overwhelmed. We did a great job of coming back in the third period. We knew we were still tied on the road. It's a great spot to be for an opposing team. We were just able to stick with it and work through some adversity there in the end and come up huge for the whole team."

* Morrow returns -- The Stars paid tribute to former captain Brenden Morrow, who returned as a visiting player to the AAC for the first time since he was traded after spending 13 seasons with the team that drafted him in the 25th in 1997.

Morrow, 34, served as Stars captain from 2006-13 and ranks fifth in franchise history in games (835) and eighth in points (528). The Stars gave him a brief video tribute and acknowledged him on the jumbo tron that brought applause from the 15,678 in attendance.

"It's odd coming in here on a bus, not sleeping in your bed, walking to a different locker room," Morrow said. "Everything was a little bit strange. You're used to being on the other side. At the other end for warm-ups, everything was a little bit strange. The different-colored jerseys, maybe that helped a little bit. It's a different green than I'm used to."

Sunday, December 29, 2013

(12-29-13) Blues-Stars Gameday Lineup

DALLAS -- After pouring everything they had into a 6-5 shootout victory Saturday night against the Chicago Blackhawks, the Blues must quickly turn their attentions to another hot divisional opponent.

The Blues (25-7-5) face the Dallas Stars (19-12-6) today at American Airlines Center less than 24 hours after rallying from a pair of two-goal deficits, including one in which they tied the game 5-5 in a span of 1:17 late in the third period behind goals by Vladimir Tarasenko and Patrik Berglund.

And with the Blues facing a hot Dallas team that is 4-0-1 in its last five games and playing minus a number of regulars due to injury and illness, the Blues have to quickly refocus at the task at hand and not look back on what was one of the more entertaining games of the season.

"Not having tired legs," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said when asked what's the biggest challenge today when the puck drops at 5 p.m. "If we have tired legs and we're second place everywhere, it's going to look like the game did here against Nashville (Friday, a 4-1 Stars victory), which wasn't pretty for Nashville. We just can't afford to have tired legs so we'll see how we go.

"They have the most speed in the Western Conference. They're the fastest team in the West. I think they've got maturity in their game now. They've added guys like (Ray) Whitney and (Erik) Cole on a full-time basis now so they've got real maturity in their game. They're going to be a hard opponent for us. I think it's going to be a hard opponent for everybody, that's why their record is so good here in the last 10 games. They've found a formula that has that mix of speed and positional play. I think Lindy (Ruff's) done a heck of a job in re-tooling things on the fly here. This is an opponent if you don't have your skating legs early, you're going to look pretty silly."

Hitchcock would not commit to a lineup for the game, as the Blues will skate out 14 forwards and select the 12 that best suit a healthy lineup.

David Backes left Saturday's game after absorbing a hit late in the third period, Vladimir Sobotka was originally scheduled to return after missing five games with an upper-body injury but was scratched when Hitchcock said he "tweaked something" during an extended morning skate Saturday and was at "85 percent" according to the Blues' coach. Also, Derek Roy was scratched with the flu and the Blues are already without leading scorer Alexander Steen, who is out indefinitely with a concussion.

Opposing teams won't feel sorry for the Blues, and "We're not going to feel sorry for ourselves either," said defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, whose third career shootout goal Saturday was also his third career game-winner. "We're making sure that we're going to go out there and play with the guys we have in the lineup. We know that we can still win games. It's not like we're discouraged by the fact that those guys aren't in the lineup. They're great players, but every team goes through this every year, so it's important that we have the resiliency to stick with it and win some games."

So players like 2010 first round picks Jaden Schwartz, who scored a goal in his fourth straight game Saturday, and Tarasenko, who tied a career-high with his second three-point game (one goal, two assists), will have added responsibility until the Blues can bridge the gap between injury/illness and being healthy.

Dmitrij Jaskin, who scored his first NHL goal Saturday that tied the game 3-3 against the Blackhawks, is being given a crash course on important minutes, and Sergey Andronov, who was recalled, then optioned back to the Chicago Wolves and recalled again all in one day Saturday, could make his NHL debut this afternoon. Also, Magnus Paajarvi was as engaged as he's been all season playing with Berglund and Tarasenko.

"We know the depth of our team is one of the biggest strengths we have here," Shattenkirk said. "I think a lot of young guys today stepped up ... Tarasenko, Schwartz and Jaskin had a great game. They filled roles that maybe they're not used to. Down the line, there's going to be more injuries and they're going to have to be able to do the same thing and I think that's important that we get that kind of experience now.

"They have those young legs right now. The one thing with Vladi is he's starting to work away from the puck a lot and working the right way. It's nice to see that. Now that he's doing that, it's creating even more offense for him. Jaden always plays the right way, plays hard and creates a tremendous amount of offense down low. We're feeding off them. They're young guys. They're turning into leaders as well and I think that's great for our whole team."

- - -

As easily as the Blues must forget, it's hard not to think about the ups and downs before finally defeating the Chicago Blackhawks for the third time this season and fourth straight time dating back to last season.

The Blues haven't done that against the Hawks since a four-game streak from March 7, 1998-Jan. 7, 1999.

"After you look at it on tape, you see some of the good stuff, some of the really creative plays both sides made," Hitchcock said. "I think you learn to admire the skill, but in the heat of battle, you're just trying to win the hockey game or keep your team focused and energized and don't let them get discouraged. We've shown the ability to come back in games all year. I felt like, especially when it was 3-3, we were going to win. Then when it went 4-3, I thought we still had a change and then when it went 5-3, I think I was like the fans. We were wondering. But then when we made it 5-4, I really thought we were going to tie it up and we ended up doing it. 

"I quite frankly think the players have fun in those games. I think it's a typical post-Christmas game, pretty chaotic. The tempo's probably higher than the conditioning level of the players so it's hard to keep track of things. It's the same way when you start the season, it's not being able to keep up defensively. Both teams put a lot of pressure on each other in different ways ... them off the rush, us off the end zone play. We put a lot of pressure on them, they put a lot of pressure on us. When you get a game that has almost 40 scoring chances, it's a pretty entertaining hockey game."

- - -

After relieving Jaroslav Halak following the first period Saturday, Brian Elliott will get the start as originally planned today against the Stars. 

Elliott, who stopped 17 of 19 shots in relief, also thwarted the Blackhawks on their final three shootout attempts after allowing two goals.

Hitchcock was asked the rationale of making the switch to Elliott, the fourth time Halak has been pulled from a start this season.

"We were down 3-1," Hitchcock said. "Too many times we've been down, allowed three goals in the first period, something had to change. We just couldn't keep trotting out the same game and expected even a remote chance of winning. 

"We needed to find every piece of energy somewhere and I felt like out of guilt alone, we could play a little bit better and we did. Against these big opponents, we just dig too big of a hole. I'm not sure why, but I think it's past being just an accident. I think there's something going on that we need to correct, so the hook was there. It wasn't necessarily a reflection of Jaro. I'm sure he'd like the third goal back, but more a reflection of the way we played. Not that we've got a new goalie, we've got to wake up for him.

"This was Brian's game to start with, so we're moving ahead. Minny was Jaro's game and we're not moving off of that either. Brian gets tonight and Jaro gets Minny (Tuesday) and that's the plan."

- - -

Blues winger and former Dallas Stars captain Brenden Morrow will return to Dallas for the first time since being traded last season.

Morrow, 34, served as Stars captain from 2006-13 and ranks fifth in franchise history in games (835) and eighth in points (528). Morrow was the Stars' first round pick (25th overall) in 1997.

- - -

The Blues played the game Saturday with the following lineup:

Jaden Schwartz-David Backes-T.J. Oshie

Magnus Paajarvi-Patrik Berglund-Vladimir Tarasenko

Brenden Morrow-Maxim Lapierre-Chris Stewart

Chris Porter-Adam Cracknell-Dmitrij Jaskin

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk

Ian Cole-Carlo Colaiacovo

Brian Elliott will get the start in goal; Jaroslav Halak is the backup.

Other Blues injuries and players that did not make the trip include Alexander Steen (concussion), Roman Polak (lower body), Jordan Leopold (hand) and Ryan Reaves (hand).

We'll update any changes as they're made available in the pregame today.

- - -

The Stars' projected lineup:

Jamie Benn-Tyler Seguin-Valeri Nichushkin

Antoine Roussel-Cody Eakin-Ryan Garbutt

Erik Cole-Rich Peverley-Alex Chiasson

Shawn Horcoff-Vernon Fiddler-Ray Whitney

Alex Goligoski-Brenden Dillon

Aaron Rome-Jordie Benn

Kevin Connauton-Cameron Gaunce

Kari Lehtonen is expected to start in goal; Dan Ellis would be the backup.

Trevor Daley (lower body), Sergei Gonchar (concussion symptoms) and Stephane Robidas (leg) are all on injured reserve. Dustin Jeffrey is expected to be the lone healthy scratch.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Blues rally from three two-goal deficits, down Hawks

Tarasenko, Berglund score late, 
Shattenkirk nets shootout winner in 6-5 victory

ST. LOUIS -- A number of the 'Baby Blues' grew up before their very eyes Saturday night.

Down by two goals three different times, the Blues never quivered.

Even with a slew of key players on the sidelines with injuries, the Blues' young guns grew up against the defending Stanley Cup champions.

Kevin Shattenkirk's goal in the fifth round of the shootout gave the St. Louis Blues a come-from-behind 6-5 victory against the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday night before a standing room-only crowd of 20,082 at Scottrade Center. 

The Blues twice rallied from a trio of two-goal deficits to beat Chicago for the third time in three tries this season. The third rally came on goals by Vladimir Tarasenko and Patrik Berglund 1:17 apart late in the third period. 

T.J. Oshie and Tarasenko also scored shootout goals for the Blues, who beat Antti Raanta three of five times. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp scored shootout goals for Chicago, but the Blackhawks were denied by Blues goalie Brian Elliott in each of their last three attempts.

Two of the Blues’ three wins against the Blackhawks (27-7-7) have come in shootouts.

Shattenkirk now has two game-winners against the Blackhawks in his career. He also scored in the seventh round at Chicago on April 4, 2013 in a 4-3 win.

"Luckily this time I was the fifth shooter, the last time I was the seventh," Shattenkirk joked. "They have a little more faith in me. 

"It's nice when you get out there and you have a chance to win it for your team. It's a completely different situation when you're trying to stay alive. Literally when I went out there, I looked at Stewy and Osh and Stewy said, 'Low blocker.' He must have seen it and I just stuck to his word." 

The Blues also improved to 49-0-1 in the past 50 games when they score three or more goals on home ice.

"We hung in there and found a way to get two points, which is a heck of a bonus for us," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We got some really good performances, especially from guys like Tarasenko, who was just outstanding. [Jaden] Schwartz was outstanding again and a lot of our younger players really came to play." 

The Blues, who fell behind by two early in the game, got a goal and two assists from Tarasenko, a goal and an assist from Berglund, who tied the game at 5-5 with 2:34 left in the third, and goals from Maxim Lapierre, Schwartz and Dmitrij Jaskin. Ian Cole had two assists.

Jaskin’s goal was the first of his NHL career.

The Blues (25-7-5) improved to 11-0-1 against the Central Division this season and 6-1-2 in their past nine games.

Elliott replaced Jaroslav Halak, who allowed three goals on 13 shots in the first period. Elliott made 17 saves in regulation and overtime before denying Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Brandon Saad in the shootout. 

Toews had the best chance to end the game in overtime but was denied by Elliott with 1:10 remaining.

"A tough one there," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "We had a couple looks in OT and the shootout, two chances as well. It was a competitive game, they really turned it up in the second period and we didn't have the great response that we needed, but we're still in pretty good shape.

"The crowd was into it. Great intensity, good for the sport, tough for us." 

The Blues played the game without many of their top players, including Alexander Steen, who is out indefinitely with a concussion. Derek Roy was a late scratch because of the flu, Roman Polak has a lower-body injury, and Vladimir Sobotka, who took part in the morning skate and was declared ready to play by coach Ken Hitchcock, did not play after tweaking the same injury.

"We sure do miss some great and important players for us, but we still have to get points, win games," Berglund said. "Obviously a good start for that today to come back in this game against this team and in this building. It was obviously a great feeling." 

Kane extended his NHL-best point streak to 14 games with a goal and two assists. Toews and Duncan Keith each had two assists. Sharp, Andrew Shaw, Brandon Saad and Brent Seabrook also scored for the Blackhawks.

Raanta stopped 20 shots for the Blackhawks and fell to 9-1-3 in his first NHL season.

The Blackhawks set the tempo in the first period, outshooting the Blues 13-6 and taking a 3-1 lead.

Sharp scored his sixth goal in three games, taking Hossa's backhand one-time pass and splitting Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester before beating Halak on a backhand at 7:48 for a 1-0 Chicago lead.

Shaw converted on Chicago's first power play of the game when he was able to poke a puck sitting on the right post into the goal at 9:55 to make it 2-0. Kane deflected Keith's point shot through Halak's pads and the puck caromed off the right post, where Shaw was waiting.

Lapierre pulled the Blues to 2-1 when he tipped Carlo Colaiacovo's shot from the point past Raanta at 14:04, but Kane used Cole as a screen and snapped off a wrister from the right circle, beating Halak to his stick side at 17:04 to restore the Blackhawks' two-goal lead.

Kane now has points in 27 of 28 games (14 goals, 24 assists) and eight goals and 16 assists during the current 14-game point streak.

The Blues came on strong in the second period and tied the game on goals by Schwartz and Jaskin.

Schwartz scored his 12th of the season and notched his 17th point in 16 games (nine goals, eight assists) when he took Tarasenko's feed into the slot and beat Raanta 2:26 into the second to make it a 3-2.

Jaskin tied the game 3-3 when he took in Jay Bouwmeester's shot from the left point and fired it into an open side from a sharp angle 7:47 into the second period.

But the Blackhawks re-established their lead when Ben Smith's pass into the slot caromed off a stick to Saad, who fired one past Elliott with 2:14 left in the second to give the Blackhawks a 4-3 lead.

Seabrook was somehow able to beat Elliott with what looked like a harmless wrister from the blue line 1:06 into the third to give the Blackhawks a 5-3 lead.

However, the Blackhawks couldn't close the deal.

"We knew they weren't going to quit," Kane said. "Of course it's frustrating. We'll try to improve on that and try to make sure it doesn't happen the next time. But with that being said, it's 5-3 with a couple minutes left and they've got all the momentum.

"We got a point, so I guess that's one positive you can take from it." 

The Blues were down two for the second time and battled back to tie by scoring two goals in 1:17 at the end of the period.

Tarasenko cut Chicago's lead to 5-4 when he fired a shot from the slot past Raanta with 3:51 remaining, then Berglund slipped a backhand pastRaanta with 2:34 remaining after Seabrook failed on two attempts to clear the puck.

"Shatty and Vladi just kept staying on the puck there and I kind of filled in behind," Berglund said. "Vladi came out with the puck and my first thought was just to try and take it to the net. I was lucky it went in.

"I don't know exactly how it went in or whatever. Obviously I'll take it."

(12-28-13) Blackhawks-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues went relatively unscathed on the injury front in the early part of the season. It helped to have a healthy lineup that's vaulted them to the second-best start in franchise history through Christmas.

But they have been hit by the injury bug in recent weeks ... none bigger than the recent news regarding forward Alexander Steen, their leading scorer.

Blues general manager Doug Armstrong made it official Saturday that Steen was placed on injured reserve retroactive to Dec. 21 with a concussion, the second of his career with the Blues.

Steen, who leads the Blues with 24 goals and 38 points, missed the game against the Calgary Flames on Monday and is out indefinitely.

"I say indefinitely because it could be day to day or week to week with a concussion," Armstrong said during the Blues' morning skate Saturday prior to facing the Chicago Blackhawks. "There's no set timetable.

"He's not going to be going on this road trip coming up (Sunday against the Dallas Stars and Tuesday against the Minnesota Wild), but he is exercising and we hope he has a speedy recovery. (With) concussions, I don't feel comfortable putting a timetable on (them)."

The Blues believe the root of Steen's concussion symptoms began with an early-game hit against the Ottawa Senators on Dec. 16 in which the Senators' Zack Smith was given a penalty for an illegal check to the head. The League did not review the play for any possible disciplinary action. Steen took another high hit from Douglas Murray after the whistle during the second period against the Montreal Canadiens on Dec. 19 and a final collision came against the Edmonton Oilers and former teammate David Perron.

Steen left that game after the second period and did not return. He returned to St. Louis afterwards and did not accompany the team to Calgary, then flew to Ann Arbor, Mich. where he visited a concussion specialist Thursday, who determined the concussion symptoms.

"What we wanted to do before we made any announcements, we wanted to give (Steen) some time to rest and then he went and saw a specialist that deals in these injuries on the 26th of December, came back with the report and the report is he is suffering from concussion-like symptoms or a concussion," Armstrong said. "We're going to want to take our time. We're hoping that it's not a long-term thing."

The NHL did review the Smith hit and determined that no disciplinary action would be given.

Steen previously missed 39 games during the 2011-12 season with a concussion. It happened against the Phoenix Coyotes on Dec. 23, 2011.

"I think we'd be just as careful if it was his first one," Armstrong said. "Any time you deal with a head injury, you want to be cautious and that's what we want to do with Alexander. We're hoping that it's not serious and he can get back here in the near future. Dealing with Alexander before and dealing with David Perron's (concussion in 2010-11), sometimes the initial response is they don't come back as quickly. ... We don't want to overstate or understate the situation."

Steen signed a three-year extension prior to the game against the Canadiens and has been an integral part to the Blues' success not only this year but in recent seasons that has vaulted them at or near the top of the NHL standings.

"He's such a big part of our team," said forward Jaden Schwartz, who has taken Steen's spot on the Blues' top line with David Backes and T.J. Oshie. "He plays in all situations, he's a big leader so it's definitely tough. You want to make sure when he comes back, he's ready to go. We've got to have guys step up here and play more minutes than probably what they're used to and provide the work ethic that he has. We're going to have to have guys step up, but we're definitely going to miss him."

Added defenseman Jay Bouwmeester: "The year he's having, he's been a big part of our success. We're going to miss his offense and all the things he does on a regular basis. You deal with it. Every team's going  through injuries. It's a long year. Hopefully he's not out for too long. It just provides an opportunity for some other guys and we have good depth. If you want to have a good team, you have to have that. Guys have to fill roles throughout the year. I think we have guys that can."

Armstrong had the chance to talk to Steen Saturday morning and said he's resolved to the fact he needs some time but is in decent spirits.

"Much better, very, very good today. I had a very nice meeting with he and (head athletic trainer) Ray Barile this morning at 9 a.m.," Armstrong said. "I think he's very comfortable with what he heard from the specialist. He's very comfortable with the process of training and just waiting to see how he feels when he gets better. 

"He's in good spirits. Obviously he's disappointed. He's having a storybook year and wants to continue that. But we have a much longer-term view on this injury and on his importance to our team than any one day, any one week or any one month for that matter. He's a big part of our team and we want to make sure that when he's back, he's like he was when he came back last time with force."

- - -

* (UPDATED) at 6:45 p.m. -- Vladimir Sobotka will not play in tonight's game.

The Blues did get some good news on the injury front, as they will get forward Vladimir Sobotka (upper-body injury) back in the lineup Saturday night when the Blues host the division rival Blackhawks (27-7-6). Sobotka has missed the past five games after being injured Dec. 14 against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

"I think getting Sobotka in helps out a lot," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "That really eliminates probably the stress on other people that would have been there from an ice time standpoint. You just adjust on the fly and go from there.

"We played without Backes, we played without Steen, we've played without Sobotka, without Schwartz ... you just move ahead. It's a day to day injury (for Steen) so it's not like a three-month injury where you're sitting there, or like a two-month injury like it was with (Jordan) Leopold or (Ryan) Reaves. We'll just move ahead and see how we manage things."

"Once they're cleared to play, they're playing," Hitchcock added. "How much (Sobotka) plays ... I think the biggest challenge for us is that he's really only had one hockey practice, so he's had a couple skates and one hockey practice. We're going to have to pay respect for that and manage that properly. I don't see this as being a big deal."

Sobotka was dealing with a muscle issue.

"It just came out of nowhere," Sobotka said. "I didn't get hit. It just came. I felt pain and after that, I couldn't really move." 

- - -

The Blues recalled Sergey Andronov from Chicago of the American Hockey League under emergency conditions. Andronov, 24, had seven goals and 13 points in 28 games this season for the Wolves.

Hitchcock raved about Andronov, the Blues' third round pick in the 2009 NHL Draft, during training camp.

- - -

The Blues' probable lineup:

Jaden Schwartz-David Backes-T.J. Oshie

Brenden Morrow-Derek Roy-Chris Stewart

Magnus Paajarvi-Patrik Berglund-Vladimir Tarasenko

Chris Porter-Maxim Lapierre-Dmitrij Jaskin

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk

Ian Cole--Carlo Colaiacovo

Jaroslav Halak will start in goal; Brian Elliott is the backup.

The healthy scratch is Adam Cracknell. Alexander Steen (concussion), Roman Polak (lower body), Vladimir Sobotka (upper body), Ryan Reaves (hand) and Jordan Leopold (hand) are on injured reserve.

- - -

The Blackhawks' probable lineup:

Patrick Sharp-Jonathan Toews-Marian Hossa

Kris Versteeg-Michal Handzus-Patrick Kane

Bryan Bickell-Andrew Shaw-Brandon Saad

Brandon Bollig-Marcus Kruger-Ben Smith

Duncan Keith-Brent Seabrook

Niklas Hjalmarsson-Johnny Oduya

Nick Leddy-Sheldon Brookbank

Antti Raanta is the projected starter in goal; Jason LaBarbera would be the backup.

Scratches include Michael Kostka and Michal Rozsival; goalies Corey Crawford (groin) and Nikolai Khabibulin (lower body) are on injured reserve.