Sobotka OK after blow to head; Friday lineup;
players experimenting with hybrid icing
By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- When No. 17 skated onto the Scottrade Center ice Thursday afternoon, it ended the suspense and drama on the status of Vladimir Sobotka.
Coach Ken Hitchcock's versatile forward that "fixes any line he's on" was on the ice after being knocked out of Wednesday's 4-3 preseason shootout loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Sobotka got knocked out from a shoulder hit to the head from Lightning 2013 second-round pick Adam Erne, who scored two goals and added the shootout winner. Sobotka was skating out of the Blues' zone with the puck when at the blue line, Erne, who is 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds, was able to line the 5-10, 197-pound Sobotka and deliver a hard blow.
Erne received a two-minute penalty for an illegal hit to the head and Sobotka was lost for the game after going through the proper concussion protocol in the "quiet room."
But he was back on the ice Thursday after riding the bike and he went through the brisk practice.
"He feels good," Hitchcock said of Sobotka, who was not available for comment. "We'll play him on Saturday. We didn't schedule him in for tomorrow's game. He wanted to play tomorrow, but we'll hold him out and play him on Saturday. We're fine."
The league's department of safety on Thursday evening suspended Erne three preseason games for what was determined an illegal hit to the head: http://video.nhl.com/videocenter/console?id=445663&cmpid=nhl-twt.
Hitchcock did lay to rest the issue of why there wasn't a response from a player during the game. No Blues players confronted Erne on the ice and Hitchcock said that's not going to happen again.
"The issue's been dealt with. We're moving forward on it, but we're not going to allow that to happen on our team," Hitchcock said. "That's not a St. Louis Blue team that allows that to happen. We've dealt with it and move forward.
* Rematch with Lightning -- The Blues (1-0-1) will host the Lightning Friday night at 7 p.m. (Y-98.1 FM) in the team's first home preseason game.
Hitchcock said the team will dress a more veteran-laden team against the Lightning and Saturday night at home vs. Dallas.
That means players like David Backes, Alexander Steen and T.J. Oshie as well as Alex Pietrangelo and Barret Jackman will be making their preseason debuts.
"We're going to play somewhere around 12 pros both games," Hitchcock said. "Backes' line is going to play tomorrow, (Patrik) Berglund's line is going to play tomorrow for sure. I want to play good lineups here at home. These next two games, we'll probably play 12 or so."
The Blues' lineup Friday vs. the Lightning:
Alexander Steen-David Backes-T.J. Oshie
Magnus Paajarvi-Patrik Berglund-Vladimir Tarasenko
Adam Cracknell-Maxim Lapierre-Ryan Reaves
Yannick Veilleux-Corey Locke-Tyler Shattock
Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk
Ryan Whitney-Joel Edmundson
Jaroslav Halak will also make his preseason debut; Brian Elliott will be the backup.
* PK not on par -- Through a pair of preseason games, the Blues' special teams have not matched up well among some of their NHL brethren.
Granted, preseason games are just that, preseason, and there is a mix of players playing each game with some players playing out of their element, but it's an area Hitchcock wants cleaned up.
"Our penalty killing is not good," said Hitchcock, whose team has allowed four power play goals in seven opportunities. "But we're asking people who normally don't do it to do it. If the penalty killing is poor tomorrow, then there will be an alarm bell going off. When you put good people in who know how to kill penalties ... I think that's been the biggest adjustment.
"We've had much more continuity on the power play (1-for-9 through two games) than we have killing penalties. We've allowed four power play goals in two games, maybe even five ... four for sure. All of them are mistakes from people that normally aren't out there. We've spent a little bit of time at it, but it just seems that we've allowed ourselves to be outworked in that area. I thought our 5-on-5 game has been pretty sound, but penalty killing has not been sound."
* Schwartz shines -- Count Hitchcock among those that thought 2010 first-round pick Jaden Schwartz had a terrific preseason debut Wednesday.
Schwartz scored a goal in the loss to the Lightning but seemed to be in mid-season form playing mostly on a line with Derek Roy and Chris Stewart.
"I thought Schwartz was outstanding from start to finish ... unbelievable from start to finish," Hitchcock said. "I think the line got more engaged. The madder they got, the better they played. So I think as they got a little bit into it, they played a little bit better.
"No matter where he plays, he's exactly like Sobe. Wherever he plays, he elevates that line's intensity level. His hunt on the puck ... I love the goal he scored. That's a goal scorer's goal. He's going to bring a lot to this team this year."
* Petro debut -- Pietrangelo, who signed his seven-year extension on Saturday, only missed a couple practices but will play in a game for the first time Friday.
He'll play with Bouwmeester, his partner to finish out the 2012-13 season.
"He feels really good right now," Hitchcock said. "We'll see how much game stuff he needs, but I'll get you a better evaluation after tomorrow's game. If it looks like he needs to play a lot more, then he might just play the rest of the games but we'll see where he's up to speed-wise.
"He's got to find his own rhythm. If he looks like he's a step behind ... there's playing and then there's getting used to playing minutes. He's got to put his minutes out there, too. We can't all of the sudden play him 15 minutes and then say, 'Oh by the way, you're going to play 25 the first league game.' He's not going to be ready for it. We need him to play minutes. We're going to give him those minutes in these games and then see where he looks. If he looks like he needs more playing time, he's going to play more games."
* Hybrid icing an experiment -- The league is experimenting with the no-touch hybrid icing during these preseason games with mixed responses.
The rule is trying to cut down on potential injuries, particularly defensemen, who have been vulnerable with the current touch-up icing rule and before it goes to a vote, the players association is interested in experimenting with it.
"It's interesting," veteran d-man Jordan Leopold said. "You're so used to the conventional way of playing hockey. When change comes along, it kind of surprises you. Linesmen are definitely up on the play making the call early which I think is a telltale sign of how it's going to go. Right now it's experimental. I've played only one game under it. It's unique, but it hasn't been anything that takes a little bit of time to get used to.
"I've been used to chasing pucks. ... It's safety for defensemen and it's been talked about for years and years. I know the AHL experimented with a little bit in the past and now (the NHL) is trying to implement it in the preseason and we'll see if it sticks. We're welcomed to trying it and I think it's easier to see more upstairs than on the ice because on the ice, we're racing for pucks no matter what."
Said Pietrangelo, who last played with hybrid icing in juniors: "It seemed to work in the American (Hockey) League. When you talk to everybody who watched the games last year, they didn't even notice. If that's how it's going to be, then it's going to be an easy transition for us."
But from a forward's perspective, does it give an advantage to a defenseman even if there's the chance the forward can beat the d-man to the puck?
"It'll be interesting to see how it evolves in preseason into the year," forward Chris Porter said. "Until they get some fine lines of what it is, what it isn't, I don't think it's going to work.
"I think for sure it would cut down on injuries, especially for defensemen having to turn and go back and get pucks. I'm all for it if it's for the safety of the players, but it'll take some time getting used to it. I'm not sure all the guys will agree with it or not. You never want to see guys going back for pucks."
"Over the years, you see guys race for pucks, they get tripped up at the last second on a meaningless play," he said. "They're trying to eliminate that meaningless race for the puck, and it's probably beneficial for injuries and player safety. But I still think there's going to be that race if there's that tie. It's still there. If it ends up sticking, we'll make do of it."
* Roster moves -- The Blues on Thursday assigned forwards William Carrier, Zach Pochiro and Ryan Tesink along with goalie Francois Tremblay to their junior teams. They also placed forwards Keith Aucoin, Alexandre Bolduc, Christian Hanson, Mark Mancari, Tyler Shattock and Pat Cannone as well as defenseman Taylor Chorney on waivers.
Waivers are necessary in order to send those players, should they clear, to the Chicago Wolves of the AHL.