By LOUIE KORAC
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."
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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."
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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.