Thursday, March 14, 2013

(3-14-13) Coyotes-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- The dominoes continue to change for the Blues.

After losing T.J. Oshie (day-to-day) with an upper-body injury midway through Tuesday's 4-2 win over San Jose, Oshie will not be available tonight when the Blues (14-10-2) play host to the Phoenix Coyotes (13-10-3) at 7 p.m. (FSN, KMOX 1120-AM). But the Blues are expected to get Alex Steen, who's missed the last eight games, back from an upper-body injury.

Steen took part in the full morning skate practice on Tuesday, even lining up alongside David Backes and Chris Stewart. But both Steen and the team decided he was not ready to return. He also skated before Thursday's morning skate with Andy McDonald (knee) and Vladimir Tarasenko (concussion), getting worked hard by trainer Ray Barile and assistant coach Gary Agnew.

All three skaters then participated in the morning skate but were not on any of the line combinations.

However, not long after the Blues were finished, Steen was activated from injured-reserve and Andrew Murray was assigned back to Peoria.

Coach Ken Hitchcock was non-committal regarding his lineup, which was an indication one or more of the injured players could return tonight.

"We'll take our lineup later in the day and let you know," Hitchcock said. "We're like moment-to-moment, day-to-day. We'll see how she goes."

Steen was leading the Blues with 16 points, including 12 assists, before going down. He and McDonald were injured on the same day at practice on Feb. 27.

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The National Hockey League announced on Thursday that both the league and players' union have approved the new realignment plan that will be put in place for the 2013-14 season.

As it is configured, the Blues would join a division with Nashville, Chicago, Dallas, Minnesota, Winnipeg and Colorado. A breakdown of formats and playoffs are listed here:

The Western Conference will have two divisions of seven teams, while the Eastern Conference will have two divisions of eight teams.

Blues captain David Backes calls it a good thing for the Blues.

"It's great for us," Backes said. "As a league, I can't believe teams in the East would give up that opportunity to make the playoffs, but for the St. Louis Blues, it's a great thing. That was part of the dilemma in the vote was do we approve it because it's great for us or does the general inequality make it not acceptable? We were fine with it and apparently teams in the East thought that the ease of their travel and the way that their schedule is set up was worth having a four-in-eight chance rather than a four-in-seven chance. We'll see how it works going forward. There's a little bit of a probationary period or trial period and we'll re-evaluate it and see how everyone likes it then."

The Blues do lose divisional rivalries with Detroit and Columbus, but Backes doesn't necessarily think so.

"You look forward to those rivalries, but it's not like you're losing (Detroit) and you're never going to play them again," he said. "You play every team in the Eastern Conference home-and-home, so we'll still get to see their faces and have that rivalry continue, but we're seeing a few new teams in the division like Minnesota, Winnipeg. You're going to have some new rivalries there with teams like Dallas, too. It'll be good. It'll spark some new interest, get some new faces, some good young talent on those teams coming into our building and a challenge we'll likely accept."

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Playing their eight game in 13 days, the Blues decided Wednesday would be a good time to stay away from the frozen water.

And tonight's game with the Coyotes will be the Blues' ninth game in 15 days, and looking at the overall complexion of a 48-game schedule, the players are making rest days equally as important as those days they stay sharp on the ice.

"I wanted to go to the rink and get a skate in and the coaches told me to stay away," defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "We as players feel like we need to be active all the time, but they know better than most of us that this is a weird season. We have to make sure we get our rest in where we can. We'll be better off for that in the long run taking a couple days off here and there just resting. That's going to be a key thing with little injuries that are nagging you and everything else that goes along with it.

"It is hard not to go to the rink. We go to the rink every day and it seems like that's just something you do. It's almost part of your routine. I think making sure and taking a step back and being sensible about it and saying 'Hey, maybe I should take this day off and get a little bit of rest and regroup here.' ... We're going to stay in shape with so many games in such a short amount of time. We'll have our practices here and there, but rest is going to be the most important, especially going into April here where it's going to be a dogfight here all the way to the end. The team that's the most rested and has the most energy in the last two-week stretch is going to be fortunate for it going into the playoffs, too."

Hitchcock calls it a day-to-day feel for he and the coaches.

"I always try to read how we feel," Hitchcock said. "When we're tired of looking at video like we were yesterday, and we're tired of coming to the rink, you can just multiply that times five and that's where they're at. We were dragging yesterday coming to the rink, we were dragging watching video. The video starts to look the same. I think their freshness of getting away from the rink, not having an alarm clock to get up to, not having to go through a grind just gives you a chance to re-energize. I think the balance between rest and work is critical, and I think for our players right now, what we went through -- that was our eighth game in 13 nights -- that's a really tough schedule.

"Just getting a day off and getting away from the rink, hopefully we can get more energy because in the second half of the game (Tuesday), we were just hanging on. I think our players deserve an awful lot of credit for hanging on and getting two points because that was a tough game."

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Ride the hot hand. That was Hitchcock's message when disclosing that Jake Allen would get the nod again in goal tonight.

Allen is 6-1-0 with a 2.63 goals-against average and .903 save percentage in seven starts this season. The Blues are averaging four goals per game when Allen is in net, and Hitchcock doesn't want to change what's working.

"Ride the guy that we're winning (with). He's played well," Hitchcock said. "This homestand is so critical because we're right back on the road again. We don't really get into the home games until we get back, but you look up, you win a hockey game and everybody's just crunched together. Every game's important. He's feeling more and more comfortable, getting better and better every game. We really needed him the last game and I have a feeling we're going to need him again tonight.

"We don't give up a lot, but when we give them up, they're doozies. He's made some doozie saves. I think that's the difference in our team from this year and last year. We give up fewer scoring chances, but we give up way more rush attack chances than we did last year. ... He seems to have made those saves."

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With Steen's expected return, here's tonight's expected Blues lineup:

Alex Steen-David Backes-Chris Stewart

David Perron-Patrik Berglund-Matt D'Agostini

Jaden Schwartz-Vladimir Sobotka-Chris Porter

Adam Cracknell-Scott Nichol-Ryan Reaves

Barret Jackman-Alex Pietrangelo

Wade Redden-Kevin Shattenkirk

Kris Russell-Roman Polak

Jake Allen gets the start; Jaroslav Halak is the backup.

Healthy scratches include Ian Cole and Brian Elliott. Injured players include McDonald (knee), Tarasenko (concussion) and Oshie (upper-body).

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The Coyotes expect to get a pair of regulars back into their lineup tonight. Here are their projected combinations:

Lauri Korpikoski-Martin Hanzal-Mikkel Boedker

Steve Sullivan-Antoine Vermette-Shane Doan

Rob Klinkhammer-Boyd Gordon-David Moss

Raffi Torres-Matthew Lombardi-Kyle Chipchura

Oliver Ekman-Larsson-Rostislav Klesla

Keith Yandle-Derek Morris

David Schlemko-Michael Stone

Mike Smith gets the start; Jason LaBarbera is the backup.

Healthy scratches include Paul Bissonnette and Chris Summers. Injured players include Zbynek Michalek (lower-body) and Radim Vrbata (lower-body).

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