By LOUIE KORAC
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."
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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."
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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."
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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."
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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.
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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.