Blues trim roster by seven; Paajarvi slips down;
Morrow to debut Friday; d-pairings still undecided
By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The Blues trimmed their roster by seven on Thursday, a day after Wednesday's 3-1 preseason loss at Minnesota and none of the players being sent to the Chicago Wolves is a shock.
The biggest name is goalie Jake Allen, who signed a two-year contract over the summer but this season's deal is a two-way contract which allowed the Blues to send him to the American Hockey League and start the season with Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott as the goaltending tandem.
"He's had a helluva camp, he's played very well, but we've got two guys here who we want to get started with and see where it goes," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of Allen, who was 2-0-0 in his two preseason starts. "Our feeling here was if he's not going to play games here and he's got three exhibition games to play there, why not keep playing? Why not keep playing the exhibition games there and let our guys get started and see how our guys do and hopefully our guys are going to continue to play well here and keep going. We just feel like the more guys play, the better it's going to be for them."
Also going to Chicago are forwards Dmitrij Jaskin, Ty Rattie, Sergey Sndronov and veteran Keith Aucoin along with defensemen Jani Hakanpaa and Joel Edmundson.
Jaskin was the only one of the seven that played with the Blues in Minnesota, and after evaluation with general manager Doug Armstrong, the Blues felt it was best to get this down to the final cuts.
"One of the things it did after the game when Doug and I talked about it was we were going to wait and continually carry (32) bodies, but when we saw yesterday, we felt like we needed to get down to 25 and get going on finishing the final evaluation on the last game," Hitchcock said. "That's what we did."
But Jaskin, who had two goals and three points in three preseason games, would be on the list of call-ups should the Blues be in a bind. Hitchcock wouldn't hesitate bringing him back.
"Not one bit," Hitchcock said. "He's a good player. He's going to be like (Vladimir) Tarasenko was last year, you know there's going to be some ups and downs.
"We're in a unique situation where we've got some younger players who are on the improve ... (Jaskin), Andronov, Rattie, Hakanpaa, Edmunson, obviously Jake's right there. And then we've got a lot of good, older players."
* Paajarvi demoted? -- In the two weeks since training camp started, left wing Magnus Paajarvi has gone from playing alongside Patrik Berglund and Tarasenko to being one of the extra forwards at Thursday's practice at Scottrade Center.
Paajarvi, who was acquired over the summer from Edmonton that shipped David Perron to the Oilers, has no points in three preseason games. He's been a non-factor in the games he's played in thus far.
"I don't take too much out of it," Paajarvi said. "Of course, I want to be playing with the top guys but I mean it's up to the coach. There's really not too much to say about it.
"The competition is there and you have to perform and you really have to embrace the challenge when you get it. Yeah, it's tough."
Paajarvi, who started on the Berglund-Tarasenko line Wednesday, was wearing the extra green jersey along with Adam Cracknell.
"He's played opposite of what we thought, and today at practice was the first time we saw the player that we traded for," Hitchcock said of Paajarvi, 22. "What I mean by that is his ability to make plays on the rush, his abilities to make plays on the cycle, his offensive instincts were way better than what we thought they were.
"What we saw in the last 20 games in Edmonton was a high level of tenacity and something you can build on. He hasn't shown that here. He's shown at times like he's overwhelmed, but he's showing more offensive ability than we thought ... ever. We thought, 'Man, there's some really good stuff to work with.' Today when it got down to crunch time and he could see numbers, there's 15 forwards here, (Vladimir Sobotka) would have been his center today ... he went at it. He was the guy we thought we traded for today."
"If the way he practiced today is the level he can play at, he's going to be an effective player for us because he was on the puck, hard on the puck, to the puck, using his speed as a checking mechanism, which is what we saw in Edmonton," Hitchcock said of Paajarvi. "If that's what he is, then that's really good stuff."
Paajarvi seems to have a handle on what's necessary of him here.
"Yeah, that's one of the first things they said," he said. "With my speed, use it to catch players off-guard and try to stress to get the puck for myself or my teammates. That's one of the first things, and that's what I'm trying to do, with my speed.
"I know I can do it. I've done it a little bit and I know I can do it better for sure. ... Mentally you kind of have to be consistent and mentally you have to be in the right spot. Because if you get too high and too low, it's not going to end up well. I think that consistency is very important."
* Morrow to debut -- Veteran left wing Brenden Morrow, signed to a one-year, $1.5-million contract Monday, is expected to make his Blues debut Friday when they play host to the Wild in the final preseason game.
Morrow, 34, has been skating with Derek Roy and Chris Stewart since he began skating with the team Tuesday but his role is yet to be defined.
"To me, the last thing that will come with Brenden will be his hands," Hitchcock said. "I don't see an issue with his legs at all. I think he's obviously worked his tail off and he's in really good shape. He's got quickness, he's got all the things that you like, but we've got to be realistic ... it's going to take a while for his hands.
"The more he practices and the more he plays in game situations, the better he's going to be. I'm going to put him in and play him quite a bit tomorrow and get him up to speed."
Morrow's not taking anything for granted.
"It's one thing to do it in practice, it's another thing to do it in a game," Morrow said. "So we'll see. There's been some glimpses where you feel comfortable and you know where each other is and you can make some plays. Maybe they don't finish in practice or sometimes you make something out of nothing. It's not until you get into a game to see if it really pays off or not."
Stewart, who had been playing with Roy and Jaden Schwartz prior to Morrow's arrival, feels like it can be a good trio.
"Right now they've got us on a line together," Stewart said. "I think we've got the components to definitely be a difference-maker. ... I think between the three of us, we've got a little bit of everything. We've got the size, we've got the speed, we've got the grit. We're not at that young age where we're scared to make plays. We've got that veteran component on the line where we think we can hang onto it in the O-zone and we can make some plays."
* Sobotka sits -- It's been a tough camp for Sobotka, who was injured for the second time this preseason.
Sobotka took a shoulder check to the head last week against the Tampa Bay Lightning from Adam Erne that drew a three-game suspension. Sobotka dodged serious injury there, and then Wednesday night, he slid hard into the post and Hitchcock said he's wait and see how Sobotka felt in the morning after sustaining a stiff neck in the second period.
Sobotka did return and finished the game.
"I've got to wait and see how (No.) 17 is," Hitchcock said of Sobotka. "I've got to wait and see how he feels tomorrow. If he feels fine, then he might move up (into the top nine) and somebody might move down. If he feels fine, we're going to play him tomorrow for sure."
* Whitney, Cole still up in the air -- Both defensemen Ian Cole and Ryan Whitney played Wednesday in Minnesota as well, and there was no feeling one way or another what the Blues' plans are for the veteran Whitney, who's in camp on a professional tryout.
"He's still on the team," Hitchcock said matter-of-factly of Whitney.
When asked who's had a better camp, Cole or Whitney, Hitchcock said: "Cole's best game was yesterday."
Whitney, 30, is sitting on pins and needles right now but hope to make the cut.
"I'm definitely anxious because you don't know where you're going to be for the season, but I really like it here," said Whitney, the fifth pick in the 2002 NHL Draft. "It's a great bunch of guys. I figure I can help the team. Maybe I'd start off as the seventh 'D' but you never know. You never root for injuries but they happen. I just like it here. I don't really know what's going to happen.
"I don't know what's going to happen. I'm hoping I'm one of them."
Whitney, who has no points in three games, feels like he's made a good impression.
"It's gone good," he said of camp. "I think I played real well in Orlando, it was kind of so-so here Friday night against Tampa here and then I thought I played well last night.
"I haven't talked to the coaches. I don't expect them to really be giving me any feedback either. I've worked as hard as I can in the gym and on the ice and tried to make a good impression."
* 'D' pairs yet to be determined -- For those that thought Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester were a lock as one of the defensive pairings heading into the season, Hitchcock threw everyone for a loop Thursday.
"Don't go to the bank on anything other than there's four left defensemen and three right defensemen," the coach said after practice. "Don't go to the bank that this is cast in stone.
"We are looking and we're not just looking at one or two pairs, we're looking at all three pairs. Don't go to the bank on anything cast in stone on that back line right now because quite frankly, the two guys that have played the best so far of any of the defensemen ... Petro's been at a level above everybody, way above everybody. But the best two guys that have played really good hockey have been (Jordan) Leopold and (Roman) Polak."
After stating Polak and Jackman together to end the season last year, along with Leopold and Kevin Shattenkirk, Hitchcock was using Jackman and Shattenkirk and Leopold and Polak together, using that rationalization that the team wants someone to transition the puck on each unit and saying the days of a shutdown pair don't exist in today's game anymore.
But on Thursday, Leopold and Shattenkirk were back together, as were Jackman and Polak -- the shutdown unit.
"Don't go to the bank on it's going to be Bouw and Petro and this and that," Hitchcock said. "Don't go to the bank on that yet."
* Fourth line mystery -- For the first time since camp opened, Hitchcock was pleased with the play of the fourth line unit.
Maxim Lapierre, Ryan Reaves and Chris Porter accounted for the group Wednesday in Minnesota and carried the type of energy the coach looks for.
Throw in Sobotka in the mix, as well as Adam Cracknell, who is expected to play Friday, who begins the season there is up for grabs.
"I don't know where that fourth line's going to go right now," Hitchcock said. "Yesterday was the first time we've seen energy from that line that we've needed and wanted. ... I think we might give some other guys a chance to play there tomorrow to see how they look, too."