Thursday, January 31, 2013

(1-31-13) Blues-Blue Jackets Gameday Lineup

Comparing the Blues' Vladimir Sobotka to the popular children's book 'The Little Engine That Could' would be a fair assessment.

In that story, it's the same theme -- a
larger train that is stranded isn't able to find an engine willing to take it on over difficult terrain to its final destination. Only the little blue engine is willing to try, bringing out the popular catch phrase "I think I can, I think I can," and overcomes a seemingly impossible task.

Consider Sobotka that little blue engine on this hockey club. He's listed at 5-foot-10, 198 pounds (which seems a little generous) but plays like a 6-4, 220-pound player.

Sobotka, who got the game-winner Sunday night in overtime against Minnesota, seems to be the one coach Ken Hitchcock calls upon to boost a particular line. He takes on roles others don't seem to be able to fulfill.

Sobotka will play with Patrik Berglund and Chris Stewart tonight when the Blues (5-1-0) play at Nationwide Arena against the Columbus Blue Jackets (2-4-1) at 6 p.m. (FSN, KMOX 1120-AM) and it's not necessarily to boost those two players. Sobotka just adds an extra compoment to it.

And like 'The Little Engine That Could,' Sobotka seems like Hitchcock's guy that "could" add to any area of the team's game, just as he does when playing on the fourth line with Scott Nichol, Ryan Reaves, Jamie Langenbrunner and Matt D'Agostini.

"Just because he's such a responsible player," Hitchcock said. "Wherever you go, he adds to the compliment of the line.

"(Tonight) he's going to play with Berglund ... he adds to that line. He goes down and plays with Lags or Revo and Scott Nichol, he adds to the compliment of that line. Wherever you play him, he adds to the line. I think he's such a dependable player, he's so darn competitive, he's got such a high level of intelligence on the ice. He gives a boost to anybody he plays with."

Sobotka, who benefited from playing for Slavia Praha in the Czech Republic during the lockout, had to adjust once he returned to the NHL. In the Czech Republic, there were more scoring responsibilities on his plate.

"It got me more confidence," Sobotka said. "When I came here and I tried to play same way, it didn't work. I tried to skate more and hit a lot more than I played in Czech.

"(But) that's my role on this team. I don't mind. I can move anywhere coaches tell me to go. ... I wish it could be more goals, but I'll take any role."

Sobotka, who is used both as a left wing or center, prefers to play the left side but doesn't complain. As long as he's getting the ice time, which wasn't always the case prior to his trade to the Blues from Boston, he's comfortable.

"I like to (take) faceoffs, but I think I feel more comfortable on the left wing using more of my speed and forecheck," Sobotka said. "... I don't think I'm going to change my game. I'm going to just work hard, put the puck deep and go battle for the puck, make some plays and go try and score some goals. A physical presence and probably more speed, too."

- - -

Reports are the Blues will have a couple lineup changes:

David Perron-David Backes-T.J. Oshie

Andy McDonald-Alex Steen-Vladimir Tarasenko

Vladimir Sobotka-Patrik Berglund-Chris Stewart

Jamie Langenbrunner-Scott Nichol-Ryan Reaves

Ian Cole-Alex Pietrangelo

Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk

Kris Russell-Roman Polak

Brian Elliott gets the nod in goal tonight; Jaroslav Halak has been pegged to get the start Friday night in Detroit.

Scratches include defenseman Wade Redden (flu), forwards Jaden Schwartz and D'Agostini.

This will be Schwartz's first game off the ice, as Hitchcock pointed out earlier in the week that the 2010 first round pick is "deferring" on his offensive chances and needs to play "more selfish."

- - -

Columbus reporters offer up the following Blue Jackets' likely combinations:

R.J. Umberger-Artem Anisimov-Derek Dorsett

Nick Foligno-Brandon Dubinsky-Derick Brassard

Vinny Prospal-Ryan Johansen-Jonathan Audy-Marchessault

Derek MacKenzie-Mark Letestu-Jared Boll

Fedor Tyutin-James Wisniewski

Jack Johnson-David Savard

John Moore-Tim Erixon

Sergei Bobrovsky is the expected starter; Steve Mason will be the backup.

Scratches include Colton Gillies, Cam Adkinson (high ankle sprain), Matt Calvert (upper-body), defensemen Nikita Nikitin and Adrian Aucoin are also injured.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Shattenkirk off to flying start offensively despite no goals

Blueliner leading all defensemen in assists,
points; coach appreciates player's vision on ice

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Nobody was happier to see Barret Jackman score a goal Sunday night than defensive partner Kevin Shattenkirk.

When Jackman, who has 21 goals in 604 career games, blasted a shot from the top of the right circle in Sunday's 5-4 overtime win over Minnesota, Shattenkirk was front and center to congratulate him.

(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
Kevin Shattenkirk (left) collected two more assists in Sunday's overtime
win over Minnesota, giving him a league-leading eight.
But when asked if he could allow his partner in crime to score more goals that him, Shattenkirk quipped: "It'll be a bad, bad year if that happens. ... I don't know, we'll see. I told him as long as I'm giving him the puck before he scores, I don't care."

Shattenkirk, in his third full season in the NHL, has been giving people a lot of pucks lately. Most are winding up in the opposition's net. Shattenkirk hasn't dented the twine through six games thus far, but the assists are coming often.

Shattenkirk leads all NHL defensemen in assists (eight) as well as points, ahead of three by one point, including teammate Alex Pietrangelo. He's tied with Vladimir Tarasenko for the team lead in points. It's reminiscent to the start he got off to his rookie season in Colorado before being traded to the Blues that season (along with Chris Stewart for a package that included Erik Johnson).

Shattenkirk, the 14th overall pick in 2007 -- Johnson was the top overall pick in 2006 -- started the campaign with 14 points in 15 games and 19 points in 21 games.

"My first year in Colorado, obviously there was a little bit of a streak there," Shattenkirk said.

It's a streak in St. Louis now, and the Blues are glad to see it. Shattenkirk has a point in every game but one. 

"Things are just falling into place," said Shattenkirk, who had 43 points (34 assists) in 81 games last season, his first full one with the Blues. "I'm making a pass out of the d-zone in the first game and Vladi's taking it all the way for a goal.

"Sometimes you just get breaks like that. I'm sure they'll go away at times and it's going to be a little harder to find it and create those chances. Right now, guys are just putting it in the net when I put it on their stick and I couldn't be happier."

Putting it on their sticks is something veteran coach Ken Hitchcock said Shattenkirk does effectively.

"He finds open people, he finds sticks which help on the power play," Hitchcock said. "He knows the angles; if he's going to shoot it wide, he knows where to put it. He's a really smart offensive player.

"First of all, he's physically stronger. He's played. He played quite a bit in Finland (for TPS Turku). His game's just all around calmer and better. I think he's always been a gifted offensive player, but I think when you're an offensive player and the game kind of slows down a little but, then I think you can see guys even make better plays. I think he sees the ice in the offensive zone on that backhand as good as anybody around."

That says a lot considering the Blues have had little time to prepare for the season once the lockout ended. Playing overseas benefited Shattenkirk and others to just slide into the NHL season without missing a beat. But to display the calmness and proficiency in which the 24-year-old is able to do so well gives the Blues another weapon with Pietrangelo, who has seven points himself.

"Usually you have three, four months through (the) all-star break to get ready for that final push Hitch always talks about at the end of the year," Shattenkirk said. "Now you only have two or three weeks to really get into it. I think it forces you to grow up faster in a way, really study your game and make sure you're correcting all your mistakes as soon as possible.
(Mark Buckner/St. Louis Blues)
Kevin Shattenkirk (22) gives the Blues a terrific 1-2 punch on offense with
Alex Pietrangelo on he team's blue line.
"The things we need to work on are pretty much in all those areas ... timing and getting your chemistry right. Those are all things we can feel out, but I think we've just been able to win games because we've been competing so hard. Scotty Nichol mentions it every game: at the very least, just go out there and work and I think at this point of the season, that's what's going to pay off. Once those other things start to come around, you'll start seeing a little bit of crisper play."

So far, Shattenkirk can't complain about the crispness of his play. But players always claim they can be better. The Blues will certainly take Shattenkirk's more than a point-per-game average to compliment their scoring up front.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Blues' top line finding way offensively while blanketing opposition

Backes, Oshie, Perron combined for 14 points, blanked opponents' top lines

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Coming into the season, David Backes, David Perron and T.J. Oshie were pegged as the Blues' top forward line.

When one thinks of a top line, it's natural to associate it with scoring, with game-changers and game-breakers. There are plenty of those to go around on most teams.

But since this trio didn't get off to what would be considered a blazing start offensively, as in lighting the lamp on a consistent basis, questions began to abound if they were right for one another. Is there really chemistry for them to make the marriage work?

(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
David Backes (left) and David Perron form two-thirds of
the Blues' top line with T.J. Oshie.
Yes, the line has six goals and 14 points through six games and is a collective plus-10, but a lot of the damage has come on the power play. Any way one looks at it, those aren't bad numbers all things considered. The group would be on pace to produce 112 points over a 48-game season.

By those numbers, it begs the question: what's wrong with those numbers?

Well for one, Backes hasn't dented the twine yet, collecting three assists in six games, Perron had one assist through four games before breaking out with five points over two weekend games and Oshie's damage has come predominantly with the man advantage. In other words, they haven't produced much together.

What has been lost in the shuffle is what the three have focused a great deal of energy on: throwing a blanket on top of the oppositions' top lines. Backes, Perron and Oshie see the top lines every game, and through six games playing at even strength, those top units have accounted for exactly zero goals.

Considering the fact that they have seen the lines of Henrik Zetterberg/Pavel Datsyuk, Jonathan Toews/Marian Hossa, Mike Fisher/Sergei Kostitsyn/Martin Erat (twice), Ray Whitney/Michael Ryder and Zach Parise/Mikko Koivu/Dany Heatley at even strength situations, it's quite an impressive group of players to keep off the board.

"It's one thing we've taken pride in last year, taking care of their top line or top unit," said Oshie, who has two goals and five points. "This year, it wasn't more or less asked if we would do it, it's more like we just know and we want to do it. I think we take a little bit more pride this year stopping the other team's top line as opposed to trying to cheat and necessarily score a bunch of points. We're focused more on stopping the other teams' top line. We're so deep that scoring can come from anywhere.

"We obviously want to beat the other line. Plus minus-wise, we want to beat them, but if not, if we hold them to zeroes, I like our chances with our goaltending, with our defensive play and our power and the depth of the rest of our lines."

And with the Blues balancing out their forward lines, it's helped produce 23 goals through six games, an average of nearly four per pop. And the onus is not on Backes (third in the NHL with 23 hits), Perron and Oshie to get it done on the stat sheet alone, especially with the way the Alex Steen line (with Andy McDonald and Vladimir Tarasenko) and Patrik Berglund line (with Chris Stewart, Jaden Schwartz and sometimes Vladimir Sobotka) has played.

"Hitch (Blues coach Ken Hitchcock) said if you can negate the other guys, that's a win for us every night," said Perron, who has two goals and six points. "... We want to limit their space on the ice.

"The good part with our team was Steener's line was playing so well, so it kind of takes the pressure off of us. We play against the top guys on the other side, so we take pride in that. So far we haven't been scored on (in 5-on-5 situations) in six games. I think that's pretty good. Hopefully we keep going that way. It's certainly a job that I like to do. I think so does Osh and Backs."

The line has picked it up offensively, particularly the last three games. As Hitchcock said, it was a transition period early in the season for players that didn't skate overseas. Backes, Oshie and Perron all stayed in North America honing their skills during the lockout.

"The guys that didn't play during the lockout struggled in the first three games," Hitchcock said. "But in the second phase, the second three games, they really picked up the pace. That helped us a lot because they had more tempo, they had more speed, they had more endurance.

"I know in talking to a couple guys, they felt like there (were) 12 opponents on the ice because they hadn't practiced on the ice with a lot of people. That's the biggest benefit that we've gotten is that guys like Backes and Oshie and Perron, guys that didn't play, they're up to speed now."

Added Oshie: "Our first couple games, we weren't at our best. I don't think we got scored on 5-on-5, but we weren't playing our best hockey. But I think if you look at our last two games, we've really come together as a line. We've really gotten Perry to hold onto the puck. He slows the whole, entire game down. You only see a couple players that can slow the game down like that. You look at (Chicago's) Patrick Kane, how he controls the play when he has the puck. I think we're starting to get a little of that in Perry. It's fun to watch."
(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
T.J. Oshie (pictured), David Backes and David Perron have shut down the
top lines in six games while producing 14 points of their own.
Perron is coming off a three-point night Saturday in Dallas (including two goals) along with two assists Sunday against Minnesota.

"You guys have seen the points. I think my last four have been really good," Perron said. "I play more with the puck, and that's what I think I need to do. I think my first couple (games), I would lose momentum when I would take so many penalties. I took three my first game and it seemed like I wanted to be aggressive just feeling good coming back last year only playing 57 games. I took three penalties and it kind of slowed me down, but I think the key for my game is to have the puck and control it and make plays."

They're not quite at 100 percent with timing and getting all things clicking in sync, but if throwing up zero's at one end while eclipsing two points per game at another is any indication, things are just fine with the group the Blues advertise as it's top unit.

"Once we get time together as a unit, things will come together," Backes said recently. "But as long as we continue to do the necessary things at the other end of the ice, as long as those things help contribute to wins, that's all that matters. Winning takes care of everything."

"It's mostly just timing and the automatic plays that we did all the time last year, we're just starting to do again," Oshie said. "We're just starting to always be in the right position to where we know where the other guy's going to be.

"It's going well, we're improving every day. We've got to keep it going. It's early, but we've got to stay focused on the task at hand."

* NOTES -- After a day off, the Blues were back on the ice at the Ice Zone minus three regulars.

Steen and defenseman Kris Russell did not skate with the team at all, while McDonald was on the ice briefly before departing.

Hitchcock said all three needed an extra day, likely with a couple bumps and bruises, and will be back on Wednesday before the team departs for a mini back-to-back two-game trip to Columbus Thursday and Detroit Friday.

"Both Steen and Russell skate full-time tomorrow," Hitchcock said. "We decided to give them an extra day off. Andy McDonald, same thing. He took the first 15 minutes (on the ice). He'll be a full-time participant tomorrow.

"Unless somebody gets banged up on the car ride home, we'll be back to the same 23."

Monday, January 28, 2013

Blues pass one major hurdle with flying colors

After six games in nine days, team sitting in good shape with 5-1-0 record

ST. LOUIS -- Six games in nine days is enough to zap the energy out of the best conditioned athletes.

But six in nine for a hockey player, considering there was a limited training camp and not much time to mentally prepare for the grind of a compressed schedule, a day off couldn't be more welcomed than the one the Blues got Monday.

The Blues, who got Monday off after hitting the ice with their blades leaving a fiery trail to begin the season, came out of one of their toughest stretches of the condensed 48-game schedule with only one blemish -- a 3-2 loss at 6-0-0 Chicago. They capped things off with back-to-back wins at Dallas (4-3) Saturday and a crazy back-and-forth 5-4 overtime win over Minnesota Sunday night.

When the Blues got a close look at what was ahead, coming out of it winners of five of six, they'll take it.
(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
Andy McDonald set up the game-winning goal Sunday night, helping the
Blues get off to a 5-1-0 start to the season.

"That's a pretty good start to the season, but you can't get too high, you can't get too low," said Chris Stewart, who got his fourth goal of the season and second in as many nights in the third period Sunday night. "We'll enjoy it for the night, take the day off (today), get some great rest, come back Tuesday and put the works boots back on."

Probably the greatest reason the Blues were able to get through this rugged stretch and why they'll be able to persevere when the schedule gets even more compressed is their ability to roll four lines consistently. Sure, the top-end guys will get more ice time but the utilization of four lines that can get you 12-13 minutes a game proves to be invaluable.

"I think our depth is obviously going to play a factor this year, especially playing the last game of six games in nine nights," Stewart said. "We have that ability to play four lines that can play and I think that showed tonight in the third period."

Indeed it did.

The Blues trailed at one point 3-1 but got a big goal from Patrik Berglund late in the second  period and turned up the dial in the third when the legs could have easily wilted under pressure.

It all boils back to playing the Vladimir Sobotkas -- who scored the game-winner in overtime -- and the Jamie Langenbrunners, the Ryan Reaves,' the Scott Nichols and the Matt D'Agostinis.

"We've got a few guys that have top-end skill, but we've got a lot of workers and we've got no give-up in us," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "I think we could have gone away and said (a) 4-2 start, we're OK, but we just wanted more and I'm hoping we can keep that attitude going.

"I just liked the way we responded when we got pushed like that in the third period. We pushed back in a big way. It's a good sign."

Sunday's game-winner began with an offensive rush from the defensive-minded and reliable Roman Polak, who initially fanned when he tried to snap the puck on goal from the right half wall. Good thing he whiffed because Polak was able to quickly recover, get the puck to Andy McDonald, who in turn found Sobotka in the slot for the quick redirection, chopping at the puck and getting it over Niklas Backstrom.

"It was bad eyes," Polak joked. "I wasn't even looking on the tape if I had it. It was bad luck, but on the other side, I know it was good luck, too. We scored.

"(Fatigue) was a factor, but we knew before the game it was going to be a tough game because Minnesota has a great team, too. They play a similar type of game like we do. We knew it was going to be a tough game and a tough battle. It was, but we made it through this stretch of games and it's a good start for us."

Added Sobotka: "(Polak's) got good speed. He's quick and he can shoot, too. He made a good play, too. ... I was wondering if (Polak) should make a play or if he should shoot it on the net. I think he lost it or something and then he got it. I just stayed in front of the net and Andy made a good play.
(Mark Buckner/St. Louis Blues)
Jaden Schwartz (left) and the Blues have gotten off to a hot start this
season. The Blues are 5-1-0, two points off the top spot in the NHL.

"It was a tough game. I'm glad we got two points."

David Perron, who had five points over the weekend, said this was a nice gut-check win by the Blues.

"Back-to-back for us," Perron said. "We knew (the Wild) were going to be sitting back in our hometown. It's just good to find a way to get that win and a great goal by Sobe there at the end."

Beginning Thursday in Columbus, then followed up by a Friday game in Detroit which will be their third set of back-to-back games, the Blues will begin a stretch of 11 games in 21 days before their next set of multiple nights off between games.

But this group is beginning to live under a previous slogan used: "Whatever It Takes."

"It's all about the energy and the spirit," Hitchcock said. "You can't lose the energy and you can't lose the spirit or else you're going to be in trouble.

"... Energy and spirit are going to get you more points than precision and exactness. I said this before and I really believe it's six weeks. If you look at a normal hockey season, it's three weeks of training camp, it's the first three weeks of the schedule, and then your team starts to sort itself out. We're going to have to weather this storm for six weeks. That's what it is. That's normal in an NHL 82-game season. It's six weeks before you find our pretty much the tempo of your hockey club. But we don't get the first three weeks like you do in training camp. They're all games."

So far, so good.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Blues finish tough stretch with 5-4 overtime win over Wild

Sobotka OT winner caps 5-1 start as team ends six-game, nine-day stretch

ST. LOUIS -- Roman Polak could joke about it afterwards.

Only a victory can bring a smile to the Blues defenseman's face after a whiff of the puck that eventually culminated with a game-winner.

After finishing a six-game stretch over nine days, the Blues can feel good about coming away with 10 of a possible 12 points.
(Getty Images)
The Blues' Vladimir Sobotka celebrates after scoring the game-winner in
overtime Sunday night.
It was one of the toughest stretches of their 48-game season, but the Blues can take pride in the fact they were knocked around a few times and were able to stand up in the face of adversity against some tough teams.

Sunday's overtime win over a tough Minnesota Wild squad was the culmination of getting kicked, only to get back up and stand victorious.

Vladimir Sobotka's tip-in of a Andy McDonald pass gave the Blues a 5-4 win against the Wild on Sunday night at Scottrade Center improving St. Louis to 5-1-0 on the season and keeping pace with the 6-0-0 Chicago Blackhawks for the top spot in the Central Division. It's the Blues' best start since the 1997-98 when the Blues began 7-1-0.

"I don't think it's the back-to-back that's the big deal. It's the three in four nights," said Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, talking about his team's second set of three games in four nights. "This is six games in nine nights. To play like this, it's a good sign. It shows we've got a lot of compete in us and a lot of character. We're going to need it, but it's a good sign.

"I've been around a long time and the third period was impressive. Back-to-back, it was a very physical game [Saturday] night [in Dallas, a 4-3 Blues victory] and to come with that type of effort [Sunday] was, I think, a real confidence booster. We didn't get down on ourselves. We really took our game to another level. A full value for the win in my opinion."

McDonald fed Sobotka in front, and the Blues' fourth-line center chopped the puck past Minnesota's Niklas Backstrom 2:16 into overtime.

"That's what we practice all the time," Sobotka said of his 19th career goal. "I just stayed in front of the net, and Andy made a good play.

"I just saw it landed right on my stick and it was a weird chop. It ended up in the net and I'm happy for it."

The play originally started with Polak, who had the puck along the half wall looking to throw the puck at the net. He whiffed on the puck but was able to recover and get the puck to McDonald anyway.

"It was a great fake by me," Polak joked, "and I lost the puck ... I was looking at the net and I tried shooting it. I realized when I tried shooting it that I didn't want to do it.

"... I looked and it was behind me, so I went in the corner and took the puck again and tried to go to the net. Andy Mac was there and the guy slashed my stick. The puck went onto Andy Mac's stick and he did a helluva job getting it to Sobe. It was a great win."

The Wild fell for the third time in a row (0-2-1 in that span).

"Very disappointed," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "It was a recipe for how to lose a game. ... There were more than several mistakes.

"The bottom line is we can sit here and talk about our potential, the fact that we have a nice team on paper. (But) the winners do things that it takes to win hockey games."

Wade Redden scored his second goal as a Blue and in as many games, Patrik Berglund, Chris Stewart and Barret Jackman added goals, David Perron, Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk each assisted on two goals.

"We showed lots of patience and lots of character in our team," Polak said. "We stuck with it. We played for 60 minutes and we got the result. We got the two points."

Zach Parise scored twice and set up another. Dany Heatley and Mikko Koivu each added a goal and an assist and Tom Gilbert and Ryan Suter each added a pair of assists.

"It doesn't matter, we lost the game," a frustrated Parise said of another game that slipped away. "We have to win games here."

Redden's second goal in as many games -- he had two in 75 games with the New York Rangers in the 2009-10 season -- gave the Blues a 1-0 lead. Behind the net, David Backes found a streaking Redden in the left circle, and the veteran defenseman made no mistake with a one-timer past Backstrom 9:16 into the game.

Minnesota's best chance came early in the game, when Marco Scandella's shot from the blue line deflected in the crease and off the post. Elliott then robbed Matt Cullen in tight on the rebound.
(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
The Blues' David Backes (right) leaps in front of Wild netminder Niklas
Backstrom in St. Louis' victory Sunday night.
The Wild were effective in their shooting percentage in the second period, scoring three times on only four shots.

Parise was in on all three goals, scoring a pair of power-play goals. The first tied it up 1-1 when his shot from a tough angle caromed off the left skate of Brian Elliott 2:04 into the period.

Parise gave the Wild a 2-1 lead, taking a flip pass from Koivu and curling a shot around Elliott 10:52 into the period.

Then in a 4-on-4 situation, Parise's drop pass to Koivu in the right circle set up the Wild captain, who snapped a shot over Elliott's shoulder at 14:40. Play continued but after review, it clearly hit the back of the pipe and came out for a 3-1 Minnesota lead.

Berglund cut the lead to 3-2 just 58 seconds later, taking Perron's cross-ice feed and beating a sprawled Backstrom.

The Blues came out humming in the third period, swarming the Wild goal. But three missed power play chances hurt their cause. However, they got the equalizer on Stewart's redirection of Pietrangelo's shot from the right point to tie it 3-3.

Jackman gave the Blues a 4-3 lead at 13:47 on a shot from the right point, off a drop pass from Vladimir Tarasenko, but Heatley's goal with 4:08 left, on a tip of a scrum in front of Elliott tied the game 4-4. Officials needed video review to see if Heatley touched it with a high stick, but the goal stood.

The Blues continued to come at the Wild in bunches and needed the extra session to claim the extra point. They are now off until Thursday.

"They're a helluva team," Hitchcock said of the Wild. "We're having a tough time. They were on our butt as much as we were on theirs. We didn't give up very many shots [34-16 advantage for the Blues], but I think if there was frustration, it was maybe we weren't creating anything because they were winning the board battles. Even though they were in their zone, they were winning the board battles, so we weren't getting any zone time.

"They were winning the puck-support battles to get exits, and then it just seemed like every little breakdown was in our net. I think there was some frustration with the fact that we were getting pushed hard. I just liked the way we responded when we got pushed like that in the third period. We pushed back in a big way. It's a good sign."

* NOTES -- Jackman played in 603rd game, surpassing Larry Patey for eighth place all-time in club history. ... Seven of last 10 meetings between Wild and Blues have been decided by one goal, including five of last six. ... The Blues are 7-0-3 in last 10 home matchups vs. Wild. ... Shattenkirk [eight assists] and Pietrangelo [one goal, six assists] rank first and second, respectively, among all NHL defensemen ... The Blues are 33-6-5 at Scottrade Center since 2011-12.

(1-27-13) Wild-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- There will be 20 No. 6 jerseys stepping out onto Scottrade Center ice tonight when the Blues head out for pre-game warmups priod to facing the Minnesota Wild.

No, Wade Redden has not been cloned, but the Blues will honor the memory of Stan "The Man" Musial, the Cardinals legend who passed away at the age of 92 last week.

Each player will wear the No. 6 and Musial on the back, with their regular jersey numbers on the right crest. The Blues will auction off the jerseys to benefit/
raise money for the Blues 14 Fund and Cardinals Care.

Auctions will take place in three locations: at Sunday's game outside Section 119, online at and online at Online auctions will be open at a date still to be determined. A complete list of where each jersey will be available is listed below:

IN-GAME AUCTION: Chris Stewart, Alexander Steen, Andy McDonald, Barret Jackman, Kevin Shattenkirk, Ryan Reaves, Wade Redden and Jaden Schwartz.

STLOUISBLUES.COM: Vladimir Tarasenko, T.J. Oshie, David Backes, Roman Polak, Vladimir Sobotka, Jaroslav Halak, Alex Pietrangelo, Ian Cole, Scott Nichol and Jamie Langenbrunner.

CARDINALS.COM: David Perron, Brian Elliott, Patrik Berglund, Kris Russell and Matt D'Agostini.

"I only watched him play baseball, but I know what Tony La Russa said," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of Musial. "One of the reasons the Cardinals have such a strong following here is because guys like him led the charge and stayed in the city connecting with the fans making sure that the fans were taken care of. I think the healthy respect that the Cardinals have is a lot because of him and a lot of other players. I think a lot of people followed his lead and I think the current players understand commitment to the community because of stuff Stan did. Tony felt very strongly about that, that that's the reason that the players make a connection to the community led by a guy like him."

The Blues (4-1-0) will take on the Wild at 7 p.m. today (NBCSN, KMOX 1120-AM).

- - -

Jaden Schwartz, who only saw eight-plus minutes of ice time and was dropped for a stretch to the line with Scott Nichol and Ryan Reaves, was not demoted. Hitchcock said Schwartz dealt with an injury that, "was fixed up after the game. If we would have started the game last night at 10:30, he would have been good to go last night at 10:30."

Schwartz, who will play tonight, has started the season with only one assist in five games and is a minus-2. But it's not for a lack of trying, according to Hitchcock. the Blues' coach continues to praise Schwartz's work ethic but his only problem is being a bit too unselfish.

When Hitchcock was asked if Schwartz was pressing, he said: "No, deferring. He spends too much time deferring.

"He's such a dependable player, but in the offensive zone, he tries to give the puck to somebody because he thinks they're better than he is. I saw the same thing in the American (Hockey) League, and we talked to him about that. He has so much respect for the people that have played professional hockey that he defers to them rather than do it himself. So he passes off opportunities. He's a very unselfish kid, and he passes off opportunities that he can do things himself. It's not going to change overnight, but he's so respectful that I think that respect sometimes becomes a detriment."

The only way to fix it?

"More selfish, more of a shooting mentality rather than a play-making mentality," Hitchcock said. "... What's so good about him is you have no problem playing him against any team, any place, anywhere defensively. He's always going to be a reliable guy that keeps him in the lineup when he's not getting points. He's going to be a reliable guy."

- - -

David Perron's breakout game in Saturday's 4-3 win at Dallas was something that had been coming on. Perron had been goal-less thus far through four games but lit the lamp twice, including the game-winner late in the second period, and added an assist.

"Not so much break out, the whole line is starting to get up to speed having not played one hockey game," Hitchcock said of Perron, David Backes and T.J. Oshie. "They were behind at the start and they're starting to catch up, so they're starting to create space, they're starting to engage, they're starting to play with some tempo in their game. They were trying and they were working, but there was no spacing on the ice because there was no speed on the ice. ... They're getting up to speed now."

- - -

Wild coach Mike Yeo, whose team is 2-2-0, talked about what his team needs to beat the Blues.

"We have to have a team game tonight for sure," Yeo said. "We need everybody going. We've got to get to the point where, and we talked about this last year when we were winning lots of games, when we're playing well and we're playing the right way, it should be a different guy every night that should be the hero. In order for that to happen, we need some guys to step up in certain games. Whether it's a big goal by a third or fourth line or even a second line right now, whether it's a blocked shot, a big save, or whatever the case may be, we need every single guy going tonight."

- - -

The Blues' probable lineup:

David Perron-David Backes-T.J. Oshie

Andy McDonald-Alex Steen-Vladimir Tarasenko

Jaden Schwartz-Patrik Berglund-Chris Stewart

Jamie Langenbrunner-Vladimir Sobotka-Ryan Reaves

Wade Redden-Alex Pietrangelo

Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk

Kris Russell-Roman Polak

Brian Elliott gets the nod in net; Jaroslav Halak, who stopped 20 shots and is 3-0-0 on the season, will back up.

Scratches include Scott NicholMatt D'Agostini and Ian Cole.

- - -

The Wild's probable lineup:

Zach Parise-Mikko Koivu-Dany Heatley

Pierre-Marc Bouchard-Mikael Granlund-Devin Setoguchi

Matt Cullen-Kyle Brodziak-Cal Clutterbuck

Darroll Powe/Matt Kassian-Zenon Konopka-Torrey Mitchell

Ryan Suter-Tom Gilbert

Clayton Stoner-Justin Falk

Jonas Brodin-Marco Scandella

Niklas Backstrom, who is 6-6-0 with a 2.65 goals against average, a .904 save percentage and one shutout in 12 starts against St. Louis lifetime, will start in goal; Josh Harding will be the backup.

Healthy scratches include defenseman Nate Prosser and either Powe or Kassian. Eighteen-year-old defenseman Matt Dumba, the seventh pick of the 2012 NHL Draft, was returned to Red Deer of the Western Hockey League this morning. Also, Jared Spurgeon (foot) was placed on injured reserve retroactive to last week.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

(1-26-13) Blues-Stars Gameday Lineup

With the Blues starting the season with six games in nine days to begin the abbreviated campaign, many are left wondering how the team can survive playing an up-tempo game night in and night out with few days to recuperate.

The answer is simple: not many teams aside from the Blues incorporate all four of their forward lines into their respective lineups as much as the Blues do, who rely heavily on fourth line.

Most often this season, that unit has consisted of Scott Nichol centering Vladimir Sobotka (left wing) and Ryan Reaves (right wing). Matt D'Agostini (left) and Jamie Langenbrunner (right) have also filled in but have most often been the odd players out.

"We've got a lot of guys in this locker room that can play," Chris Stewart said. "Our depth is going to play a big part when we get deep into the season.

"There's not many teams that have four full lines that can play the game the right way, especially the way we play. ... We hold guys accountable here and we expect guys to get it done."

The Blues (3-1-0), who play against the Dallas Stars (2-1-1) at 7 p.m. today (FSN, KMOX 1120-AM), rely on what coach Ken Hitchcock calls another "third line," as Sobotka, Nichol and Reaves get minutes upwards to 12-13 a night.

"We can't play this way if you play three lines," Hitchcock said. "It's impossible. You can't play with this tempo, you can't play with this type of energy unless you've got a real solid fourth line. You've got to trust your fourth line and you've got to trust your fourth line that can play up the lineup. They've got to play against somebody else's two or three every night, or else you get a bad matchup. You come out of PK, you come out of power play, if you're not willing to put that line on the ice right away, then you're not going to get the minutes that you need to keep your energy up.

"I trust them. I don't care who plays, whether it's Lags or D'Agostini or whether it's ... I don't really count it as a fourth line. To me, it's not a fourth line, it's a third line. It's a line that can play against any top players, so I don't see it as a fourth line. I think we've got four lines, but we really don't have a fourth line."

The Blues shut out Nashville 3-0 Thursday but were right back on the ice for a hard hour long workout despite playing in Dallas tonight, then turning back around and hosting Minnesota Sunday (7 p.m. on NBCSN, KMOX 1120-AM).

"It's so key to have four lines that can play, four lines that can possibly score," Andy McDonald said. "That's huge. Also defensively, we roll four lines that that are strong defensively. We're not necessarily worried about matching up with other teams' best lines. We feel we're comfortable with any line out there.

"The style that we play, we're a team where we rely on our speed, our forechecking ability, being physical, getting up and down the ice, tracking back, all the things you're going to need to play at a high intensity. It requires 12 forwards. You can't do it with two lines. That's when we're playing our best."

- - -

Jaroslav Halak, coming off a 13-save shutout -- his second already this season -- Thursday against the Predators, has been hit-or-miss in three starts this season.

Halak was in goal on opening night and had another light game, stopping 14 shots in a 6-0 blowout over Detroit but was pulled Monday in Nashville after allowing three goals on 11 shots.

Brian Elliott, who entered Monday's game trailing 3-2, came on and shut things down from there as the Blues rallied for a 4-3 shootout win.

"When you don't give up a lot of shots, it's hard on goalies," Hitchcock said, "because the ones he sees are doozies. When he gets them, they're doozies. They're not in-zone play. I think any good goalie can make saves in-zone. When we gave up the shots in Nashville, they were all doozies, and he was very discouraged by that."

Halak, who is 2-0-0 with a 1.18 goals-against average and .921 save percentage in three starts, will go again tonight.

"It wasn't that he played poorly (in Nashville)," Hitchcock said. "It's that he was discouraged and was down on himself and I didn't like seeing that. I think that we talked about that and I think he's learned a good lesson that there's going to be nights with the way we play, you're not going to see a lot of shots, but the ones that come your way, they're going to be doozies.

"Look at poor Brian, he saw odd-man rush after odd-man rush (Tuesday in Chicago). Jaro's first real good scoring opportunity in the first period was a 1-on-0 breakaway in Nashville. The way we play, sometimes we don't give up a lot, but they are quality. That's where a goalie's going to have to focus just to stay sharp."

- - -

Wade Redden, who played his first game Thursday in the Blues' win over the Predators, will be paired again tonight with Alex Pietrangelo.

The 35-year-old Redden logged 17 minutes 23 seconds of ice time in 22 shifts. He had one hit and two blocked shots in the game and was whistled for an interference penalty.

"Steady, smart, first-pass exit, gets us out of trouble every time," Hitchcock said, "And that's what we need. The first-pass exit was excellent. For me, that's the best part if that he's a guy that quietly ... if you notice at the end of the night you don't know anything about him, if you can't remember how he played, that's a real good thing."

- - -

The Stars, who made some splash signings and trades this off-season, bringing in Jaromir Jagr and trading for Derek Roy, will be a handful for the Blues. They like to play a similar style of game.

"Really good off the rush, really good on transition, really quick," Hitchcock said. "Two lines now with (Jamie) Benn, more than two lines that are very very dangerous on every attack. I think it's going to be a similar challenge ... the game against Chicago (Thursday) night was a track meet. It was up and down the ice like crazy. They've got real mobility with four guys on the back-end, so they're coming with an extra player all the time. They're going to really challenge our defensive structure. It's going to be a real good test for us."

- - -

Hitchcock said the same lineup from Thursday would play again tonight:

David Perron-David Backes-T.J. Oshie

Andy McDonald-Alex Steen-Vladimir Tarasenko

Jaden Schwartz-Patrik Berglund-Chris Stewart

Vladimir Sobotka-Scott Nichol-Ryan Reaves

Wade Redden-Alex Pietrangelo

Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk

Kris Russell-Roman Polak

Jaroslav Halak gets the start after his second shutout of the season against Nashville; Brian Elliott is the backup and will likely get the start Sunday at home against Minnesota.

Scratches include Langenbrunner, D'Agostini and Ian Cole.

- - -

The Stars, who lost a 3-2 overtime decision to Chicago Thursday at home, will have somewhat of a makeshift lineup with Jagr (sore back) out tonight and Jamie Benn (immigration paperwork) also out after signing a five-year contract on Thursday:

Loui Eriksson-Derek Roy-Reilly Smith

Ray Whitney-Cody Eakin-Michael Ryder

Brenden Morrow-Vernon Fiddler-Eric Nystrom

Ryan Garbutt-Tom Wandell-Tomas Vincour

Alex Goligoski-Stephane Robidas

Aaron Rome-Trevor Daley

Jordie Benn-Brenden Dillon

Backup Christopher Nilstorp will start in goal; starter Kari Lehtonen has what coach Glen Gulutzan told reporters is a "tweak" and will get the night off tonight.

Stars scratches include Jagr, defenseman Philip Larsen and forward Colton Sceviour, who was recalled from the Texas Stars Saturday morning as there's a chance either Roy or Whitney might sit out tonight. Gulutzan told reporters there's another forward that's "50-50," so Sceviour could also play.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Forget rest, Blues looking for betterment

Team fine with going back to work on heels of shutout, three games in four nights

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Here are the Blues, coming off a shutout victory Thursday, staring at another set of three games in four nights. It's the second set of three out of four already this abbreviated season.

So instead of pacing themselves, maybe take Friday off to keep the body, the legs and mind fresh, what did the Blues do?

"We got the win yesterday, we came in, we practiced, we put back on the work boots and we got ready for Dallas," right wing Chris Stewart said. "We've got to take that mentality every day."
(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
Chris Stewart (middle) and the Blues put the work boots back on Friday
after shutting out Nashville Thursday night.

It's a mentality build for champions, and that's where the Blues want to get -- to a championship level.

The Blues (3-1-0), who play at 2-1-1 Dallas Saturday (7 p.m. on FSN, KMOX 1120-AM), knew when the schedule came out the opening stretch would be brutal, playing six games in nine days. For a team that's been together for a few short weeks and hasn't played any organized hockey together since May of last year, that's a tough challenge for anybody.

But instead of basking in the fact the Blues are now perfect on home ice with consecutive shutouts to start the season for the first time in franchise history, holding Nashville to 13 shots and playing a flawless game, they were back on the ice Friday at the Ice Zone working on achieving greater success.

"The reality is we still have a lot of room for improvement in certain areas and that's what we were out there today working on," left wing Andy McDonald said. "Because we do have the four lines and the six, seven D that can play, it allows guys that would be a little bit fresher for today at a practice day when maybe if you normally don't have that depth, guys that would potentially play more minutes wouldn't be able to come out and practice today. It all helps, it all benefits. Hopefully we can keep going."

Most teams would assume a day off would be in order playing three games in four days, which is not out of the question in any given sequence. But in order for the Blues to take that necessary step up the hill after a great 2011-12, they are prepared to do what is needed on the ice -- and off it as well in order to be able to maximize their continuous time on the clock.

"It's not a matter of what you do here as much as it is once you go home and get away from the rink," defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "Everyone can put on a show here. It's a matter of what you're eating for dinner, for lunch and how you're feeding your body and sleeping at night is probably the most important thing right now. You want to make sure you're getting 8-10 hours of sleep every night and making sure you're rested."

And that's where a veteran coach like Ken Hitchcock understands his players best.

(Getty Images)
(From left to right): Patrik Berglund, David Backes and T.J. Oshie
celebrate a goal Thursday night against Nashville.

"He knows when to practice and knows when to give us days off," Shattenkirk said of his coach. "When we do have these practices, sometimes it is tough to get through it, but we have a team that seems to get through it every time. Just suck it up, get on the ice, have a good practice and make sure you're getting something out of it and go to work."

And as cliche as it sounds, "You just take it one day at a time," Stewart said. "We're coming into games expected to win. We have to put the last one behind us. You don't want to be too high, you don't want to be too low. You want to have that short-term memory.

"Obviously it's going to be a condensed schedule, but we've got scheduled off-days that you're going to get your rest. It's going to be up to that guy to go home and actually get his rest, come back the next day and be ready to go. ... We're all good to come into the rink here. We're going to take every day serious. We're going to try getting better every day."

* NOTES -- Hitchcock said Friday after practice Jaroslav Halak, who got the 13-save shutout Thursday, would start against the Stars. Also, Thursday's lineup would remain in tact, which means Jamie Langenbrunner, Matt D'Agostini and Ian Cole will be healthy scratches.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Another home game, another shutout for Blues

After blanking Detroit in home-opener,
St. Louis follows up with 3-0 win over Predators

Scottrade Center has become a place where visiting teams dread coming to.

The Blues have been the best on their home ice since the beginning of last season. They added the Nashville Predators to that list, improving to 32-6-5 over that span.

Berglund had a goal and an assist, helping the Blues to a 3-0 victory against the Nashville Predators in a rematch of Central Division foes, who played in Nashville on Monday.
(Getty Images)
The Blues' Kevin Shattenkirk (22) is being pursued by Nashville's Mike
Fisher Thursday night.

St. Louis is 8-2-3 in the last 13 meetings which include four wins in a row. It's also the first time in franchise history the Blues have started their home schedule with back-to-back shutouts (they blanked Detroit 6-0 in the season-opener).

"Last year we talked about putting work ahead of skill, and that took some convincing," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "If you look back on it, we won against Chicago and Detroit with that attitude, and I think it just reinforced the way we had to play the game to win. I think our players bought into it because they saw against two good teams how effective we can be. It became a little easier sell because we had success right away."

Berglund and Jan. 24 seem to go hand-in-hand.

One year ago on this date, Berglund scored his first career penalty shot goal. He added his second on Thursday night.

Of course in asking Berglund, he had to be told of the feat. It's easy to chuckle about it in victory.

"Bernie (Federko) just told me about that," Berglund said, referring to the Blues' Hall of Famer. "I can't really believe it, but I guess that's the only day I can score on a shootout, so hopefully it comes more often.

"I haven't been really successful in that area of the game, so it's obviously nice that I can score one."

The Blues, who also got goals from T.J. Oshie and rookie Vladimir Tarasenko, have thrown a blanket over the Predators on home ice, blanking them for the second game in a row dating back to last season. Nashville hasn't scored in 182:44 at Scottrade Center since Dec. 30, 2011.

"Tonight, we were trying to get a bounce-back game after a tough loss against Chicago," Oshie said. "Guys are just playing well, goaltending's great obviously. Everyone's just been good at home."

Jaroslav Halak had to stop only 13 shots as picked up his 24th career shutout and 15th as a Blue, moving within one of tying Glenn Hall for the franchise record.

The Predators got very little in offensive chances and lost to the Blues for the second time in four days.

"You come into St. Louis, it's a bee's nest," Predators coach Barry Trotz said. "They swarm you, they get on you. They have purpose and they work as a group and tonight, we weren't willing to play the game we needed to play to compete at that level. You're not just going to walk in here and have success playing like that. You're going to have to battle. Their battle was a lot harder than ours."

Captain Shea Weber agreed: "We didn't have too many quality chances. They just played a lot better than we did tonight. They just beat us all over the ice."

The game also marked the return of defenseman Wade Redden to the NHL after nearly a three-year absence. The Blues signed Redden after he was waived by the New York Rangers last week. Redden had spent the past two seasons with the Rangers' AHL farm team.

"Even at the best of times, there's always a little bit of butterflies," said Redden, who logged 17:23 minutes with one hit and a pair of blocked shots. "That's what you play for and in a lot of ways, the excitement is a different environment than what I've been used to, so it was a lot of fun."

Oshie scored his second power-play goal in as many games and the Blues' seventh in 11 tries when he slid the puck past Pekka Rinne's outstretched left pad. Berglund's gritty work in front popped the puck to his teammate at the side of the goal at 12:59 of the opening period to give the Blues a 1-0 lead.

The Predators, in the second game of a seven-game trip, mustered only three shots on goal in the period; they went 16:10 between the first and second shots.

Berglund gave the Blues a 2-0 lead when he beat Rinne 9:26 into the second after being awarded a penalty shot when he was tripped by Mike Fisher as he broke down the right side and made a sharp cut to the net. Berglund beat Rinne, who came out to cut off the angle, with a quick snap shot.

"I kind of just went in there, faked it once and shot one," Berglund said. "Luckily it went in. ... The only thing I was thinking about was coming in with a lot of speed."

Berglund also scored on a penalty shot one year ago against the Pittsburgh Penguins in a 3-2 shootout loss. He is now 2 for 3 in his career.

Tarasenko added his fourth goal in four games when he beat Rinne coming in off a weak-side line change after taking Alex Steen's pass from the half-wall 9:04 into the third period. The rookie has six points to begin his NHL career.
(Getty Images)
Vladimir Tarasenko (left) scored his team-leading fourth goal Thursday
night against Nashville.
"It's a really interesting line (with Andy McDonald and Steen) because it's a throwback line," Hitchcock said. "It's a line that I think the hockey purists ... anybody that you talk to that saw the game back in the 80's and 90's would really appreciate this line. It's a puck-possession line, a line that has three guys with the innate ability to find open space on the ice in a game that has no space. They find space. They find room to make plays, they find open people, they see the ice. It's a fun line to watch from the bench."

In two home games this season, which also includes the season-opener against Detroit, the Blues have allowed no goals and only 27 shots.

"If you look at territorial, it's 65-35 (percent), 70-30, we're occupying the offensive zone," Hitchcock said. "We're keeping it in the zone. We're wearing people out. Maybe it doesn't manifest itself in shots tonight, because they're a good team, a good defensing team. But we occupy the zone. That's the way you have to play defense. It's not always pretty at times."

But it is effective.

* NOTES -- The last time Halak was pulled in a game (Feb. 9 at NJ), he responded by going 10-1-1 with a 1.39 GAA and .950 save percentage in 12 starts, including a career-long eight-game winning streak. ... The line of McDonald (four), Steen (four) and Tarasenko (six) have 14 points through four games. ... David Perron's assist Tuesday in Chicago was the 100th of his career. ... Defenseman Jeff Woywitka cleared waivers and was assigned to Peoria. Ian Cole, assigned to Peoria on Wednesday to make room for Redden, was recalled Thursday but was a healthy scratch. ... Forwards Jamie Langenbrunner and Matt D'Agostini were also healthy scratches.