By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- He's been situated in St. Louis now for two-plus weeks. Moving from one conference to another can be an adjustment for a player, but for veteran defenseman Jordan Leopold, he's been everything advertised.
Leopold, acquired from Buffalo in late March, has given the Blues what they've needed: a steady, veteran presence that's given partner Kevin Shattenkirk a helping hand.
"I've kept my game pretty simple," Leopold said. "Getting to know my partner Shattenkirk has been a big thing. We've created some chemistry the last couple weeks and that's good. I think there's more and better things to come. I don't have any points, and I don't know what that relates to, but my job isn't to go out there and get the points. It's to go out there and move the puck north and get it into the right hands."
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said Leopold, 32, has been more than advertised.
"I think consummate professional would be the thing for me that stands out more than anything," Hitchcock said. "I think anybody that coaches him, you trust him, you trust the way he plays, you trust his disposition in the locker room. I think he's a lot bigger person on the ice than you realize to play against. He does a lot of little things on the ice that helps you get out of jams and trouble. He's fit in great here right now."
Leopold, who faced the Blues regularly playing for Calgary and Colorado, had adjusted to playing in the system well and likes what the Blues offer.
"This team works hard," Leopold said. "It works really hard. I've been on teams in the past and we've got really good, big, strong forwards ... across the board, three, four lines. To be able to roll four lines if one thing, but to be able to have all those guys compete at a high level night in, night out ... as a defenseman on the opposing side, it's tough to play against.
"When you've got guys crawling up your back the whole night, it makes you make bad judgments and make mistakes. It's a testament to how hard our forwards work. As defenseman, our job is to get pucks up to them and get them moving. We've been able to do that."
When Leopold was with the Sabres earlier in the season, Buffalo was rotting away towards the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings and out of the playoff hunt. The Sabres have gotten hot and have thrust themselves back into the race, but at the time of the trade, it gave Leopold a renewed sense on this season with the Blues fighting for playoff position.
"It hurts to win. It's as simple as that," Leopold said. "I've been on winning teams, I've been on losing teams. At the end of the day, when you get your bumps and bruises, you know you went out there and did something and contributed and we were able to stick to the game plan. The game plan is to play your opponent hard. At the end of the night we have two points and we're doing good things."
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Veteran center Scott Nichol, who will miss his ninth straight game when the Blues (24-16-2) host the Phoenix Coyotes (18-17-7) at 7 p.m. today (FSN-Plus, Y-98 FM), practiced Thursday morning for the first time in full gear and full time.
Nichol has not played since April 1 at Minnesota with what the team initially called soreness. He's dealing with an undisclosed lower-body issue but feels close to returning.
"For sure progressing. Every day it gets better," Nichol said. "I don't wake up as sore as when we push it. It's getting a lot better.
"I've been playing through it for a while, and then all of the sudden you over-compensate it and we've got to calm everything down. Now we're just kind of dealing with the problem. It's not going to be 100 percent, but the clock's ticking so I need to get back in there."
Nichol, who did not accompany the team on its recent four-game trip, would like to return before the end of the regular season but at 38, doesn't want to jeopardize the postseason.
"I hope so," Nichol said. "Today is really my first real practice. I had one before that shut me down for a day or so, but it is frustrating because you want to push it and then you take a step back. I'm trying to be calm and patient, but that's not in my M.O. Your internal clock is ticking knowing that the game is ramping up, they're faster."
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Hitchcock will make one lineup change against the Coyotes, who the Blues have beaten in two previous meetings this season. Adam Cracknell will be re-inserted back in for Dmitrij Jaskin, who made his NHL debut against Vancouver Tuesday.
Hitchcock said getting Cracknell back in was necessary because of the lineup the Coyotes bring but likes Jaskin, who played 6 minutes, 32 seconds playing on the fourth line.
"I really like Jaskin. I like Jaskin a lot," Hitchcock said. "That's a good line (with Cracknell, Chris Porter and Ryan Reaves) based on the opponent tonight, but I like what Jaskin does. Jaskin's going to be a good player for us for a number of years."
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Blues tickets for the first round of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs
will go on sale to the general public beginning Tuesday, April 23 at 10 a.m.
Single Game Playoff Tickets for Round 1 (Home games 1 and 2) will be
available at the Ford Box Office at Scottrade Center and all Ticketmaster
outlets including by phone at 800-745-3000 or online at
Ticketmaster.com. Fans can also
purchase full playoff Strips (includes tickets to all home playoff games)
which are available by calling the Blues’ sales hotline at 314-622-BLUE (2583)
or online at www.stlouisblues.com/myaccount. Blues’ playoff schedule and their opponent
will be announced at the conclusion of the NHL’s regular season.
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The Blues' probable lineup:
Alexander Steen-David Backes-David Perron
Andy McDonald-Vladimir Sobotka-Chris Stewart
Jaden Schwartz-Patrik Berglund-Vladimir Tarasenko
Adam Cracknell-Chris Porter-Ryan Reaves
Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo
Jordan Leopold-Kevin Shattenkirk
Barret Jackman-Roman Polak
Brian Elliott will start; Jake Allen will be the backup
Scratches include defensemen Kris Russell and Ian Cole, Jaskin and winger Andrew Murray, recalled on Thursday from Peoria. Injuries include T.J. Oshie (ankle), Nichol (lower-body), Jaroslav Halak (groin) and Jamie Langenbrunner (hip).
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The Coyotes' probable lineup:
Shane Doan-Martin Hanzal-Radim Vrbata
Mikkel Boedker-Antoine Vermette-Chris Conner
Rob Klinkhammer-Boyd Gordon-David Moss
Paul Bissonnette-Kyle Chipchura-Alexandre Bolduc
Oliver Ekman-Larsson-Zbynek Michalek
Keith Yandle-Derek Morris
David Schlemko/Rostislav Klesla-Michael Stone
Chad Johnson was the first goalie off the ice but coach Dave Tippett wouldn't tip his hand; Jason LaBarbera is expected to be the backup.
Healthy scraches include either Schlemko or Klesla if Bissonnette plays (the Coyotes played with seven defenseman in their previous game and Bissonnette was scratched) and Nick Johnson. Injured players include goalie Mike Smith (lower-body) and winger Lauri Korpikoski (upper-body).