Tuesday, March 26, 2013

(3-26-13) Oilers-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- It's no secret the Blues' power play was an emphasis on victories. That part of the special teams was able to overcome the inefficiencies of the penalty kill and even-strength play.

The Blues burst out of the gates, scoring on 18 of their first 50 power play chances through 14 games, converting at a ridiculous 36 percent clip. They had two units going on equal footing, with one unit thriving, it was picking up the other when it was struggling and vice versa.

But since scoring twice at Calgary on Feb. 15, the Blues have -- to put it mildly -- fallen into a deep ditch. They're 4-for-49 in the last 17 games -- including 1-for-20 in the last six -- which equates to 8.1 percent efficiency.

Obviously, personnel has been missing with injuries to Andy McDonald, Alexander Steen, Vladimir Tarasenko and T.J. Oshie for a couple games, but the Blues (17-12-2), who host the Edmonton Oilers (11-13-7) at 7 p.m. today (FSN, KMOX 1120-AM), have all the components back and could use an infusion from their man advantage.

"We started off so well, and then when things aren't going that well, you start to panic," right winger Chris Stewart said. "But for me personally, you've got to have that confidence in your PP.

"You look at that game (Sunday) in Calgary, it's 2-2 and we get that PP, you step up and win the game. That's when you want to get it done. ... You want to count on it to be the difference-maker, and right now we're now doing that."

As coach Ken Hitchcock pointed out Tuesday morning, "I would say sense of urgency as a five-man group. One of the things we had when we were first in the league was we fed off of each other. One group took onus. When one group struggled, the other group picked it up, and we've missed the whole group, so the whole second unit was gone. So we mixed and matched in there. But I think that sense of urgency from the other group ... and it didn't matter which one it was because at the end of the day, both groups have equal goals.

"We seem to have periods of time during the power play, we let the opposition off the hook. We don't keep a puck in or we don't have quick enough puck support on board battles, little things that go on that will make you look like a one-and-done."

There's not one particular area that can be cleaned up, as some of the players noted this morning. It goes to executing all aspects.

"We're not getting in with possession. It's right down the ice right away," left winger David Perron said. "When you have to work a minute, minute-and-15 of the power play to just get in the zone and get possession, it gives you 45 (seconds) to score. It's a good league and it's going to be tough to score with 45 seconds. I think we've got to find a way to get in with a little more possession and work harder.

"We went on a good pace to start the year, but we also know in this room we have some talent and we can do that. Obviously it's not a pace we knew we could go at the rest of the year. It's not something that's realistic. We kind of came back to reality now. Now we've just got to get up to par, maybe in between there and we'll be just fine."

Added defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk: "I think we've just gotten away from our shooting mentality a little bit. ... Teams adjust to you, especially when you're so successful. You have to try and make adjustments. The changes that we tried to make didn't work. As a result, we've kind of lost our scoring attitude and our hunger on the power play. Obviously losing Andy and Vladi and Steener at that one point is tough. That's a huge blow. Now that everyone's back, I think we'll get back to it. We'll simplify it."

Many teams would fear that confidence would be an issue when in a rut like this. But as Stewart said, that's not the case.

"I think (confidence is) there. I think it's definitely there," Stewart said. "You look at our personnel, we've got more than enough guys that are willing to play on the power play and that can get the job done. I think it's coming down to shooting pucks and just really simplifying it. We've got so much skill that sometimes you're trying to make the tough play or seam pass to seam pass instead of trying to just go D to D and ripping shots and having me and Backs there net-front and burying rebounds. I think the ugly power play is going to be the power play that gets it done for sure."

The Blues were running three power play units at today's morning skate. May the best unit win.

"Survival of the fittest," Stewart said, who was on a unit with Steen, Oshie, Shattenkirk and McDonald. "Whoever gets the job done now is going to be the unit that's going to be out there."

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Jake Allen, who is 8-2-0 with a 2.26 goals-against average and .915 save percentage, gets the start in goal tonight. Allen's last outing snapped a personal five-game winning streak when he allowed three goals on 19 shots in a 3-2 loss at Vancouver one week ago today.

After Jaroslav Halak allowed a soft goal to Jarome Iginla that turned out to be the game-winner in a 3-2 loss at Calgary Sunday, Hitchcock said it has no bearing on naming a starter tonight.

"No. It's (Allen's) turn and we'll see if he runs with the ball," Hitchcock said.

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The Blues' probable lineup tonight:

Alexander Steen-David Backes-Chris Stewart

Andy McDonald-Patrik Berglund-T.J. Oshie

David Perron-Vladimir Sobotka-Vladimir Tarasenko

Jaden Schwartz-Scott Nichol-Chris Porter

Barret Jackman-Alex Pietrangelo

Wade Redden-Kevin Shattenkirk

Kris Russell-Roman Polak

Jake Allen gets the nod as the starter; Jaroslav Halak is the backup.

Healthy scratches include defenseman Ian Cole, goalie Brian Elliott and right winger Ryan Reaves. Jamie Langenbrunner (hip) remains on injured reserve.

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The Oilers' probable lineup:

Magnus Paajarvi-Sam Gagner-Jordan Eberle

Taylor Hall-Shawn Horcoff-Ales Hemsky

Ryan Jones-Ryan Nugent-Hopkins-Nail Yakupov

Lennart Petrell-Ryan Smyth-Mike Brown

Ladislav Smid-Jeff Petry

Nick Schultz-Justin Schultz

Ryan Whitney-Corey Potter

Nikolai Khabibulin, who lost to the Blues on Saturday (3-0), starts in goal tonight; Devan Dubnyk, who suffered the loss Monday in Nashville, is the backup.

Oilers' healthy scratches include defenseman Mark Fistric and defenseman Theo Peckham. Center Eric Belanger injured his groin in Monday's 3-2 loss and was placed on injured reserve.

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