By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The look in Vladimir Tarasenko's eyes said it all.
The Blues' 2010 first round draft pick is feeling like a kid in a candy store: excited one minute to be taking part in a dream. But on the other hand, when the 21-year-old steps onto the ice for his first National Hockey League game against the Detroit Red Wings today (7 p.m. on FSN, KMOX 1120-AM), the nerves will be fast and furious.
"I'm very excited because this is my dream. It's a dream come true," Tarasenko said at the morning skate. "I'm a little bit nervous because this is my first game in the National Hockey League. I never thought I would get here."
Tarasenko has been a top-end player in the Kontinental Hockey League and was the 16th pick in 2010. The Blues took a chance that he would one day want to play in the NHL and since his arrival, they have made it a point to pair him with skill players. He will play with Andy McDonald and Alex Steen tonight, playing on an ice surface much different than the ones he's seen playing in the KHL, most recently for SKA St. Petersburg, where he had 31 points in 31 games.
"I like it. I've been here two weeks and I'm mentally ready now," Tarasenko said. "It's different play, but I like it. I have great linemates and they keep it simple for me. They help me a lot. They talk to me and show me some moments in the drills. They're really good guys and I want to help them as much as I can."
Tarasenko spent Friday night with his girlfriend having dinner and talking about his first NHL game, which happens to be against the childhood team he grew up idolizing.
"When I was seven, Detroit was my favorite team," Tarasenko said. "In Russia, everyone liked Detroit. But now my favorite team is the Blues.
"... I talked with my parents and my grandparents yesterday. They told me not to be nervous."
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The Blues, 49-22-11 last season, will still face a formidable Red Wings team that was 48-28-6, even though for the first time since 1991, Detroit will be opening a season without the great Nicklas Lidstrom.
"It's the Detroit Red Wings, so it just looks the same to us," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "They just fill in the gaps.
"Everyone thought when (Steve) Yzerman left, it was going to be all over and they did just fine. I'll reserve judgment until we see how they look without him in there. To me, they know how to play the game the right way."
The Blues, looking to establish themselves as an upper-echelon team like the Red Wings have consistently done for years, don't mind not seeing the future Hall of Famer across the ice.
"What do you say ... all-star defenseman, legend," Blues center Alex Steen said. "It's going to be weird facing off against Detroit without him out there.
"They've been so good for so many years. They impliment their system. The way they play year after year, everybody buys in."
Added veteran Blues winger Andy McDonald: "It's going to be nice, to be honest with you. He's obviously a tremendous player. I've played against him for a long time. He just does so many great things out there. He's hard to play against, he's smart."
Lidstrom finished a 20-year career (all in Detroit) with 1,142 points in 1,564 regular season games, helping the Wings to four Stanley Cup championships.
"I've played many games against Detroit, and I think there's only been one game where he hasn't been there," Blues veteran defenseman Barret Jackman said. "He's obviously one of the greatest defensemen to play the game. You can put his name right there with MacInnis, Bourque, Bobby Orr. Those names are amazing and he's, if not the best, one of the top three."
But the Red Wings, as tough as it may be, are getting used to not seeing No. 5 on the ice.
"It is a little bit strange, but at the same time, you have other stuff to think about," veteran Wings winger Mikael Samuelsson said. "He will be missed on and off the ice, but since the first day, we have been without him.
"Everybody knows what's going on. He will be missed, but we have other things to concentrate on. ... He's one of the best that ever played the game. Well-deserved rest for him."
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A familiar face will sit on the visitor's bench tonight, as Carlo Colaiacovo, who was a staple on the Blues' defensive unit for four seasons, will wear the Winged Wheel tonight.
Colaiacovo, who became an unrestricted free agent this past summer, was not brought back by the Blues and signed a two-year, $5-million contract with the arch-rival Red Wings.
Colaiacovo, 29, arrived at the arena Saturday morning and had to remind himself where he needed to be.
"Actually, I got locked out when I came in," Colaiacovo quipped. "I didn't know where to go. I'm still used to being a home player here. I didn't know where the visiting teams were supposed to go.
"I've seen a lot of familiar faces and it brings back a lot of good memories. I obviously still have a lot of great friends on that team. I saw them last night and saw them again this morning. A lot of mixed emotions going through me today. The adrenaline's going to be rushing through me tonight. I know that the crowd's going to be rocking. It's a new opportunity for me, a fresh start. I'm looking forward to making the most of it."
Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo is one of Colaiacovo's best friends. The two spent Friday night together at dinner and caught up on what's been missed. The two were paired together for much of last season in St. Louis.
But on the ice ... "When you're on the ice, you're competitors," said Colaiacovo, who has recovered from a shoulder injury suffered playing in the Spengler Cup. "That's what you grow to be, that's what you are at the end of the day. Everything on the ice is through competitive nature. You do things hard but you be respectful when you do them."
"You're an opponent. As close as we are, it is what it is," Pietrangelo said. "You've got to go out there and play the game. I've got a lot of friends on a lot of teams. It's part of the game. You laugh about it after the game.
"It almost feels like a guy that hasn't left yet, but at the same time, I know he's focused on what he's got to do over there. It's going to be a fun one tonight. He's turned the page. It's a new chapter in his career. He's excited to be there."
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Tarasenko won't be the only player making his NHL debut tonight.
Detroit's Damien Brunner, an undrafted 26-year-old free agent, who's played six seasons in the Swiss League and Swiss 2 League, picking up 92 goals and 215 points.
And talk about throwing a player into the fire, Brunner, who will wear No. 24 for the Wings, Brunner will line up alongside of greats Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg.
Welcome to the National Hockey League.
"It's definitely a lot of fun playing with guys like them," Brunner said. "I just try to get open and find open spots and I'm sure they will get the puck to me.
"Right now, I feel okay, but I'm sure the nerves will come. Definitely a lot of people will be at the arena tonight. But I'm excited about the first game I'm really looking forward how I'm going to do out there."
Red Wings coach Mike Babcock has more than heard about Brunner.
"I haven't heard a lot about him. I've seen him," Babcock said. "I went and saw him and watched him and I think he can play. The ice is going to shrink here around you tonight. It's real small and you've got big people on the other team making it small. It gets nasty. That's going to be a work in progress.
"I think he's a high-end, skilled player. He's shown in a man's league ... there's never been a Swiss guy lead the Swiss league (in scoring) ... he's done it two years in a row now, so he must be alright."
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The Jennings, Jack Adams and GM trophies will be on hand and recipients Jaroslav Halak, Brian Elliott, Hitchcock and Doug Armstrong will be acknowledged before the game. Blues ownership, staff and team employees will be welcoming fans in through the front door and turnstiles tonight.
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The Blues' opening night lineup vs. the Detroit Red Wings:
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
Ian Cole-Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk
Kris Russell-Roman Polak
Jaroslav Halak gets the opening start; Brian Elliott is the backup.
The Blues have no injuries. Healthy scratches include wingers Matt D'Agostini and Jamie Langenbrunner as well as defenseman Jeff Woywitka. Winger Chris Porter cleared waivers and was optioned to Peoria Saturday morning.
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The Red Wings' lineup against theBlues:
Pavel Datsyuk-Henrik Zetterberg-Damien Brunner
Johan Franzen-Valtteri Filppula-Mikael Samuelsson
Daniel Cleary-Justin Abdelkader-Jan Mursak
Drew Miller-Cory Emmerton-Jordin Tootoo
Niklas Kronwall-Jonathan Ericsson
Kyle Quincey-Brendan Smith
Carlo Colaiacovo-Ian White
Jimmy Howard starts in goal; Jonas Gustavsson is the backup.
Detroit will be without winger Todd Bertuzzi (mono/groin), defenseman Jakub Kindl (groin) and winger Darren Helm (back). Patrick Eaves (concussion) was cleared for contact but Babcock said he was not quite ready to be inserted into the lineup.