Thursday, December 12, 2013

(12-12-13) Maple Leafs-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- The type of season Alexander Steen is having can be categorized as one of a career year.

Steen is on pace for career-highs in goals and points, which currently stand at 21 and 33, respectively, heading into the Blues' game with the Toronto Maple Leafs Thursday at 7 p.m. (FSN, KMOX 1120-AM).

Steen is in a contract season. He can become an unrestricted free agent at season's end. With the salary cap going up next season, the Blues will obviously have the room to resign one of the top players on their team. Steen will command bigger dollars than the $3.362 million cap hit he currently has. Steen's salary for this season is $3.566 million.

But as the Blues (20-6-3) are in the midst of staying among the top teams in the Western Conference, contract talk and anything beyond the present state is furthest from the 29-year-old Steen's mind.

However, he'll be one of the most attractive free agents if he hits the market, a player that can add offense and play a two-way game at a high level. He's in the final year of a four-year, $13.45 million contract.

"I don't feel the need to start bringing a lot of things into my life right now that I don't need to," Steen said Thursday morning. "I'm a guy that likes to keep things simple, nice and loose and relaxed away from the rink.

"The focus has been game by game. There's not been a lot of time to think about other things. (It's) a tight schedule. Our October was really slow compared to other teams around the league. I think we're still trying to catch up to the schedule. ... It was a slow October, but now it's really tight and the main focus has been on our meetings and workouts and practices, rehab and games, flights."

Steen will go up against the team that drafted him in the Maple Leafs (16-13-3) tonight for the fifth time in his career since the Blues acquired him along with Carlo Colaiacovo on Nov. 24, 2008 for Lee Stempniak.

Steen's memories of Toronto will never subside, but facing them doesn't add too much to a roster that only has one player (Nikolai Kulemin) remaining from his days there.

"I don't know that it's so much that they traded me. I think it's more the team that originally drafted me," Steen said of the Leafs. "It's a special city to play in, but there's a lot of differences on that team now. Everything from management to players. It's special seeing the trainers and team services guys that I hung out with a lot when I was there. It's fun to see those faces and Randy (Carlyle) behind the bench, since I grew up with his son (Craig). That's special, too."

Steen recalled the day he was traded, and although it's never easy for a player to suddenly move, this was a deal that didn't fly under the radar.

"The way I left, it was almost a waiting game for something to happen," Steen said. "It felt like everybody was on the move. Once it happened, I think it was more of a feeling this team I'm going to really believes I'm capable of helping them. Since I got here, they've been great. They've given me opportunity after opportunity and I've kind of grown with the team here. We've had some success over the past couple years, but true success is measured in the playoffs and that's where we haven't been able to achieve our goals. We've been hungry this year."

Steen sees one common denominator with St. Louis and Toronto.

"It's a lot different in markets, but the one thing they do have in common is the fans are extremely passionate about their teams," Steen said. "Here, for the most part, it's the Cardinals and us. There's a lot of love for the Rams, but I think we're the two main teams right now and the Cardinals have been pulling their weight the last couple years. Now it's up to us to show something."

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The Blues are getting production from their defensemen in the way of overall points and being stingy in their own zone, but through 29 games, the Blues have 13 goals from their defensemen and could use a boost.

Alex Pietrangelo leads the way with four, but he hasn't scored since Nov. 2 at Tampa Bay, a span of 17 straight games. Kevin Shattenkirk scored his third of the season, a game-winner Tuesday in Winnipeg and Roman Polak -- not looked upon to score goals -- also has three.

But from their defennsemen, the Blues have a combined 78 points, or an average of 2.69 points per game.

"I think so, but like you said, sometimes your shots go in and sometimes they create rebounds for goals," Shattenkirk said regarding goal scoring. "I think that's what we focus on first and foremost is offensively getting our shots to the net. With our forwards, they seem to get a stick on it or find a rebound and just being active.

"We can't let it discourage us if we're not scoring goals. The way that we've played this year, the way that our forwards come back and do such a great job of back-checking, they're the ones leading those odd-man rushes which are leading to a lot of plays. When we find our chance to jump and get in there, obviously we can put a couple more in the net."

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The Blues have been fast and furious in the power play department and there's a plan to it.

The statistic used Wednesday has the Blues with 26 power play goals, and 14 of them have been scored in 36 seconds or less, another seven in 10 seconds or less.

"Our faceoffs have been great," Shattenkirk said. "Our centers have been doing a great job of making sure we get that possession and secondly, we make sure we bring the puck to the net as soon as possible after we win those faceoffs. We don't like to try to set things up and try to make a fancy play or even a drawn-up play. ... It's really just our hunger overall on the power play.

"That's kind of our number, get the puck to the net in seven seconds. It's obviously been working. (Assistant coach) Gary Agnew, he doesn't get too much press for it, but he's the one who's coaching us and has put this in place and has done a great job with it."

Agnew credits the players, and said the idea is not to allow the penalty killers get comfortable.

"It comes down to the players' will," Agnew said. "Even when we don't win it clean, we still have people trying to jump in on the puck and we've got certain things we try to do off of that faceoff. Essentially, it's get the puck and attack as quickly as we can before the PK get into their formation. ... It's when you get them scrambling."

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The Blues will face the Leafs for the first time since Nov. 10, 2011, a 3-2 shootout loss here at Scottrade Center. The Blues have dropped two straight shootout results to the Leafs, who come into town off a 3-1 loss on home ice to the Los Angeles Kings Wednesday night.

"They played exactly the way they had to play to beat L.A. and couldn't beat the goalie," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of the Leafs. "If that's the game they bring, that's a heck of a game. That's going to be a real good match for us. They brought tempo and speed and played the game at a very high pace. If that's their 'A' game, that looks a lot like our 'A' game too."

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The Blues' probable lineup:

Alexander Steen-David Backes-T.J. Oshie

Jaden Schwartz-Vladimir Sobotka-Chris Stewart

Derek Roy-Patrik Berglund-Vladimir Tarasenko

Brenden Morrow-Maxim Lapierre-Adam Cracknell

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk

Ian Cole-Roman Polak

Brian Elliott will get the start for the second consecutive game; Jaroslav Halak will be the backup.

Healthy scratches include Carlo Colaiacovo and Magnus Paajarvi; Jordan Leopold (hand) and Ryan Reaves (hand) are on injured reserve.

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The Maple Leafs did not participate in a morning skate, so here is their projected lineup:

James van Riemsdyk-Nazem Kadri-Phil Kessel

Mason Raymond-Trevor Smith-David Clarkson

Joffrey Lupul-Peter Holland-Nikolai Kulemin

Frazer McLaren-Jay McClement-Jerry D'Amigo

Carl Gunnarsson-Cody Franson

Jake Gardiner-Morgan Rielly

Mark Fraser-Paul Ranger

James Reimer is projected to start in goal; Jonathan Bernier, who played Wednesday against Los Angeles, will likely be the backup.

Healthy scratches include John-Michael Liles and Carter Ashton. Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf will serve the second of a two-game suspension. Tyler Bozak (oblique), Dave Bolland (ankle) and Colton Orr (elbow) are on injured reserve.

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