By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- If one wants to be an elite team, establishing home ice dominance is a good place to start.
The Blues, who are off to a franchise-best 4-0-0 start, host the 5-0-0 San Jose Sharks at 7 p.m. today (NBCSN, Y-98 FM) are in search of their 11th consecutive home victory and in doing so, will look to extend a streak that's reaching epic proportions.
The Blues have either led or have been tied for a consecutive stretch of 559 minutes, 10 seconds dating back to April 16, 2013 vs. Vancouver.
The Blues have beaten some pretty good teams in that stretch, including the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks (3-2 last week) in that stretch and starting strong and staying on top of their game has allowed the Blues to play their game and force the opposition to abandon their plan and play catch-up.
"Starting is key definitely on your home ice, getting momentum and being able to play with a lead is something you have to take pride in," Blues defenseman Barret Jackman said. "It's something we've been able to do so far this year. There's a lot of things we can work on, but we kind of pride ourselves on quick starts and playing a full 60 minutes."
Jackman said the key also is not to get too consumed with statistics.
"I didn't think about it until you just said it, but yeah, stats are always good. They're always good when you're winning, but as long as you're getting those 'W's, all those other stats don't really matter to us."
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Two of the three unbeaten teams will collide tonight on Scottrade Center ice (the Colorado Avalanche is the other), and much like the Blues' game against the Blackhawks last week, this one will have a playoff feel to it the players look forward to.
"They're big, they're strong, they're fast and they've been together for a long time," Jackman said of the Sharks. "They've got some playmakers, they've got some finishers, a great mix and their d-men love to jump into the play.
"They're a good team and it's going to be a battle tonight. It's going to be a close one and it's going to be fun for the fans."
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock likens this challenge to the one the team has gotten the last two games against Chicago and the New York Rangers.
"You should feel good when you're 4-0, but I think it's early to judge anything," Hitchcock said. "We were 6-1 last year and we saw flags even when we were 6-1. We talked about them and those flags came rippling into the breeze for a month. I don't see the same flags this year. I see a stronger commitment, but I think we're like anybody else. It's four games. We're partially bought into some of the things we need to buy in, too, and we're happy about that. This is the best we've been since I've been here with the puck, but we have a long ways to go just like I'm sure San Jose feels. There's improvement in their game that's needed.
"I'm enthusiastic to find out here by Friday night what we need to do because we need more information. We got some good information off the Chicago game and that helped us a lot, gave us a book-load of stuff we need to get better at. I'm sure we're going to get another book-full today."
The Sharks are also looking forward to the challenge.
"It's a big game for both teams," Sharks captain Joe Thornton said. "They're playing well, we're playing well. It's a good test for us to come here on the road and challenge our unbeaten streaks. It'll be a fun game for the sixth game of the year."
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Blues fans will get their first glimpse at Sharks rookie Tomas Hertl, who has been banged up in the last two games but will play Tuesday against the Blues.
Hertl, who has been the topic of conversation after scoring a highlight-reel goal in last week's lopsided 9-2 win over the Rangers, was hit in the Sharks' 4-1 victory at Vanvouver last week that cost Canucks defenseman Alex Edler three games for a shoulder hit to the head. Hertl finished the game. He then got caught in the Sharks' 3-2 victory Saturday over the Ottawa Senators in a mid-ice collision by the Senators' Clarke MacArthur.
But Hertl, the 17th pick in the 2012 NHL Draft who leads the team with seven goals and eight points, was skating on the top line with Thornton and Brent Burns.
"I feel very good and I am ready tonight," Hertl said. "Two days (off) for my body and today now, I am ready to go for the game."
Sharks coach Todd McLellan confirmed Hertl's availability.
The Sharks also recalled forward Bracken Kearns from the Worcester Sharks of the American Hockey League and could play Tuesday against the Blues. The Sharks also placed veteran Adam Burish (lower body) on injured reserve.
"He'll take warm-up and we'll make a decision on whether he plays tonight or now," McLellan said of Kearns. "With [Burish] not getting real good news the other day at the doctor, we felt that we needed to bring that extra body in. It still can be short-term. It depends on what happens over the next little bit, but from there, we'll just play it day-to-day."
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The Blues will play the same lineup it has the previous four games, which means healthy scratches will once again be Magnus Paajarvi, Adam Cracknell and Ian Cole. Brian Elliott has yet to see a game as well. But Hitchcock said look for everyone to get a game in by Friday's game at Winnipeg, which will be the team's third game in four nights.
"Ells is going to play one of these games," Hitchcock said. "We expect the other three guys to play, too. At some period of time before we go to Charleston (S.C.), we expect everybody to be in the lineup at some period of time here."
Some might argue that Hitchcock needs to roll the same lineup as long as the team's winning. But Hitchcock wants the extras to feel like they're part of the team.
"If we don't put them in the lineup, we don't allow them to be a part of the team," he said. "I don't think you can be a part of the team if you're just practicing. So I think from a freshness standpoint, you've got to have everybody active, everybody participating.
"There hasn't been a reason to put them in yet. Not based on their play but based on everybody else's play. Everybody that's playing is played well. They've played hard, played well. They've done the things we've wanted them to do. It's hard to argue. It's not just the score. You can win games and have guys not play well. We really haven't had somebody have an off game yet where you can say, 'Boy, this guy was poor and should be replaced.' ... You've got to make them part of the team, too. Are you trying to win a few games or are you trying to build a team? I think if you try and build a team, then you include everybody. I've always believed we're a team of 23, not 20 plus three. There's a big difference."
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The Blues will go with the same lineup for a fifth straight game:
Alexander Steen-David Backes-T.J. Oshie
Brenden Morrow-Derek Roy-Chris Stewart
Jaden Schwartz-Patrik Berglund-Vladimir Tarasenko
Vladimir Sobotka-Maxim Lapierre-Ryan Reaves
Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo
Jordan Leopold-Kevin Shattenkirk
Barret Jackman-Roman Polak
Jaroslav Halak will start in goal; Brian Elliott is the backup.
The Blues' scratches include Magnus Paajarvi, Adam Cracknell and Ian Cole.
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The Sharks' projected lineup:
Tomas Hertl-Joe Thornton-Brent Burns
Tyler Kennedy-Logan Couture-Patrick Marleau
Matt Nieto-Joe Pavelski-Tommy Wingels
James Sheppard-Andrew Desjardins-Matt Pelech
Matt Irwin-Dan Boyle
Marc-Edouard Vlasic-Justin Braun
Scott Hannan-Jason Demers
Antti Niemi will start in goal; Alex Stalock is the backup.
Scratches include Brad Stuart (suspended) and Bracken Kearns. Sharks injuries include Adam Burish (lower body), Martin Havlat (pelvis), Raffi Torres (knee).