Tuesday, March 12, 2013

(3-12-13) Sharks-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- Judging by the list of skating wounded players in the ice for the Blues during their morning skate Tuesday, it's evident that that list is about to be reduced.

It appears that Alex Steen (upper-body) is on the verge of returning to the lineup, perhaps as soon as tonight when the Blues (13-10-2) host the San Jose Sharks (11-7-6) at Scottrade Center (7 p.m. on FSN, KMOX 1120-AM).

* Updated -- Steen will not play tonight.

Steen took part in a full practice skating on the Blues' top line with David Backes and Chris Stewart. He's missed the last seven games after hurting himself in practice Feb. 26.

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock wasn't forthcoming with his lineup for the rematch between the two teams (the Blues won 4-3 in overtime Saturday in the Shark Tank), but all indications are Steen will have a green light pending how he feels when he returns to the rink this afternoon.

"I don't know our lineup," Hitchcock said jokingly. "You have to buy a ticket and figure it out later on just like we will later on. ... We'll find out here in a couple hours.

"Steen took a full skate today. We'll see how he feels in a few hours. If he feels OK, then we'll talk to him. If not, then we'll wait on that. It's a very fluid roster right now."

When Steen returns, it would push Adam Cracknell out of the lineup and would also mean the Blues would have to send a player back to Peoria (likely Andrew Murray). It also means that lines will be shifted, and according to the morning skate, it will reunite the former 'Kid Line' of David Perron, Patrik Berglund and T.J. Oshie.

"We'll see what happens. It'll be fun to play with those two guys," Perron said. "Bergy and I for some reason play well when we play together. Hopefully that keeps up. We've had success obviously before with Osh, and Osh also has played well when he's played with Bergy. Now it seems the three of us are reunited for tonight. We're going to have to bring a lot of boost to this team and we need a lot of energy from us tonight."

Berglund agreed.

"Two really good players obviously," Berglund said. "We had some history together, but that was a long time ago. That was the rookie year. We've got to go out, work hard and see where it takes us.

"It's not my call. I can't do anything about that. Whoever you play with, you've got to try and find chemistry and do the best you can. It's been a long time since we've been together, so we'll see where it takes us."

When Hitchcock was asked about breaking up the top two lines a bit, it's more about getting Backes going in roles where he's not relied on so much in other areas.

"We're thinking about it," Hitchcock said. "We just need different chemistry in other areas. We're kind of in and out that way. I think with a guy like T.J., he brings instant energy and tenacity to a line. Whether we play him with Bergy, with Backes or with (Vladimir) Sobotka, some of it's going to be opponent-driven.

"I think one of the things that's really becoming evident right now is that we just can't continue to burden Backes with every part of the game, and then expect him to score goals on top of it ... it's unrealistic. I think any of the players in the shortened season that have had that obligation have not been able to contribute offensively and I think we've got to be realistic about that. So if we've got to share the wealth in some areas, that's what we're going to do."

Andy McDonald (knee) and Vladimir Tarasenko (concussion), who have missed the last seven and eight games, respectively, were also part of the morning skate but have not been cleared to play. But it's pretty evident by their activity in recent days, and particularly Tuesday morning, that both are also close.

"He's skated the last few days, but I don't think we can evaluate yet until we get him in a full practice," Hitchcock said of Tarasenko. "I don't know when that's going to be. He's kind of out until he's in .. same as Steen, same as McDonald."

- - -

Jake Allen saw it. So did the rest of the hockey world. But in case you didn't see it, Ottawa Senators second-year forward Kaspar Daugavins tried to pull off one of the more creative shootout attempts Monday night against the Boston Bruins (if you didn't see it, here's the relatied video:

It came in the fourth round, a move Daugavins apparently used while playing in the American Hockey League and had success with. He failed to score Monday, having his shot stopped by Tuukka Rask. And when David Krejci scored, it gave the Bruins a 3-2 shootout victory and caused quite a sir in the hockey world.

When asked about how he would have reacted, Allen, who will get the start tonight, said: "I think as a goalie, I would have looked at it and sort of shook my head at the start. He's got the puck on the tip of his blade and from that close, he can't raise it in any fashion, so I think ... I don't really know what I would have done. I would have sealed the post, sealed the ice as much as possible. I think (Rask) sort of got wrapped up with the spin-o-rama, but he got back and made a great save.

"It's his choice. It's a tough move. You've got to be pretty confident, ballsy to pull that one off."

Hitchcock, who's old-school,

"God help him if he over-skated the puck," Hitchcock said. "That's all I can say.

"I don't know what to think about that. I thought it was like a YouTube video. I couldn't believe a guy did that. ... I think it's easy to do when you're up there in the rarified air, but man, if you're fighting for a playoff spot, I don't know if I'd be too thrilled about that."

- - -

Allen, who is 5-1-0 on the season, will start all three games against the Sharks this season. His only loss was a 2-1 decision to San Jose here Feb. 20, but he was in goal for Saturday's win in San Jose.

"I'm looking forward to getting back in the net," said Allen, who has a 2.73 goals-against average and .891 save percentage. "I'm just trying to come back and play another game. I'm enjoying it so far. I've had a great stretch here and I'm just trying to keep it going, keep playing my game. I'm not trying to do anything heroic or anything different. Guys have been doing a great job in front of me, helping me out tons. I'm hoping to give the guys a chance tonight and hopefully we can build some momentum on this homestand."

Despite a 4-2 loss Sunday in Anaheim, Hitchcock, though, does like where Jaroslav Halak's game was.

"What was good for us was the play of Jaro the last game," Hitchcock said. "He gave us a real chance to win the hockey game ... (But) we had planned to come back with Jake anyways. Obviously if we would have won the hockey game, it might have given us some food for thought. Both Jake and Jaro are going to play games this week for sure, and we'll see from there."

- - -

The Blues, who were trending upwards in special teams early in the season, have now took the task of playing better 5-on-5 play.

In the recent trip, the Blues scored 13 of their 17 goals in 5-on-5 situations but need to step up in the special teams, where they're 3-for-29 in the previous 11 games and have now allowed an NHL-best four shorthanded goals with Buffalo.

"I like the way we're playing 5-on-5 right now," Hitchcock said. "I think we're trending in the right direction. This is going to be a hard second half of the season here. We all know that, but as you get playing, if you continually play good 5-on-5 hockey, I think it gives you a chance to win every night, and that's what's happening. We've done good, solid work. We've put a lot of pressure on teams with the forecheck. If we continue to trend in that direction, I feel pretty good about us."

- - -

The Blues' probable lineup:

Jaden Schwartz-David Backes-Chris Stewart

David Perron-Patrik Berglund-T.J. Oshie

Chris Porter-Vladimir Sobotka-Matt D'Agostini

Adam Cracknell-Scott Nichol-Ryan Reaves

Barret Jackman-Alex Pietrangelo

Wade Redden-Kevin Shattenkirk

Kris Russell-Roman Polak

Jake Allen gets the start in goal; Jaroslav Halak will be the backup.

Healthy scratches include Brian Elliott, Ian Cole and Murray. Players still injured and not able to play are McDonald (knee), Tarasenko (concussion) and Jamie Langenbrunner (hip). Steen (upper-body) took part in the morning skate but apparently is not ready to return to the lineup yet.

- - -

The Sharks' probable lineup:

Logan Couture-Joe Thornton-Tommy Wingels

Ryane Clowe-Patrick Marleau-Joe Pavelski

James Sheppard-Scott Gomez-Brent Burns

Andrew Desjardins-Michal Handzus-Adam Burish

Matt Irwin-Dan Boyle

Brad Stuart-Marc-Edouard Vlasic

Douglas Murray-Justin Braun

Antti Niemi gets the start; Alex Stalock is the backup.

Sharks healthy scratches include Jason Demers, Matt Pelech, TJ Galiardi, Tim Kennedy. Thomas Greiss (neck), Martin Havlat (upper body) are on injured-reserve.

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