Saturday, December 28, 2013


Steen, Polak ruled out against Blackhawks, Sobotka appears 
likely to play; back to work after holidays; Blues strong vs. Central 

ST. LOUIS -- Judging by the way one looks at it, the Blues appear to be in a 50-50 split in regards to the availability of two key forwards for Saturday's key Central Division clash against the Chicago Blackhawks.

The news was not what the Blues were hoping for in regards to leading scorer Alexander Steen, who was ruled out along with defenseman Roman Polak (lower-body injury) for the game against the Blackhawks today (7 p.m. on FSN, KMOX 1120-AM).

Steen, who leads the Blues with 24 goals and 38 points in 35 games, will miss his second straight game after not skating with the team when they reconvened from the three-day Christmas break.

"Anybody that didn't skate today is out," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "He's out -- upper body."

Hitchcock didn't sound too concerned that any of the injured players would miss a tremendous amount of time, including Steen, who missed Monday's shootout loss at Calgary after leaving last Saturday's 6-0 win at Edmonton after the second period.

"Not really. I wouldn't assume anything with (Steen) Polak," Hitchcock said. "This was a full practice and they're not ready for that. We're not going to do any testing skates out here. Either you can go full practice or you can't. We decided with anybody that's not a full participant, we'll leave them off the ice today."

The news was much better on forward Vladimir Sobotka, who participated fully Friday and was on left wing playing with Patrik Berglund and Vladimir Tarasenko.

Sobotka has not played since leaving the Dec. 14 game at Columbus with an upper-body injury.

"Sobotka is going to be a game-time decision (Saturday)," Hitchcock said. "He made it through practice fine. He stayed the distance. If he's able to come back tomorrow and feel good, then we'll put (in) him as a player.

"... That's why we needed 'Sobe' to be able to tell us 'I'm a go or I'm not a go.' We put him in full, and he went full."

* Getting over Monday's meltdown -- Much like the game in which they lost at Winnipeg Oct. 18 where the Blues led 3-1 in the third period and only to lose 4-3 in a shootout, the Blues had three days to stew about a 3-1 lost lead at Calgary before losing 4-3 in a shootout.

After the loss to the Jets, the Blues (24-7-5) had an entire week to wait before they hit the ice again in a weird scheduling quirk. The loss to the Flames won't have the same amount of down time but the feeling is mutual. 

Coming into tonight's showdown with Chicago, the Blues need to forget about the past.

"We can't think about it going into (Saturday)," Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "We know that they're a team that can do that to us as well. 

"We learned our lesson. Just play a full 60 minutes, play smart hockey when we have a lead and don't change our game. Play the same way we had to get us to a 3-1 lead and play confident."

Hitchcock was still fretting about it, though.

"We made some uncharacteristic errors when the game was on the line," he said. "There was absolutely nothing happening until we started turning the puck over and then a lot was happening. I think the players recognize that it's not so much a good lesson, it's a disappointment. When you get in that position again, you want to finish and send a better message."

* Owning the Central -- The Central Division has been arguably the best in the NHL this season, with five of the seven teams holding a realistic shot at making the playoffs.

The Blues, who won 11 of 18 games against divisional foes a season ago, are off to a scintillating 10-0-1 start through 11 games, including two wins against the division-leading Blackhawks (27-7-6), who come to town fresh off a 7-2 thrashing of the Colorado Avalanche on home ice Friday.

The Blues' lone blemish is that blown lead against the Jets on Oct. 18.

"I think we thrive on these sort of rivalry games," Shattenkirk said. "We know how important it is to win within our division and set the tone for later on in the year because we're going to be seeing these teams down the line in important games. It's important to kind of get that mental edge over a team if you can so that when they come into your arena or you go there and they think, 'Oh, we're playing a tough Blues team and we haven't beat them yet (and) it's going to be tough to do it tonight.'"

Blues captain David Backes downplayed the dominance to a certain degree.

"Some of these stats are anomalies, but teams you play frequently, if you start losing to them on a regular basis, you end up falling pretty quick in the standings," Backes said. "So for us, it's make sure we're ready for every opponent that comes in here, whether they're Central Division or Eastern Conference or whatever. We need to make sure we get our two points when we're playing games."

Including their 2-0-0 record against the Blackhawks, the Blues are 2-0-0 against Nashville and Colorado, 2-0-1 against Winnipeg, and 1-0-0 each against Dallas and Minnesota, who the Blues will play in the road Sunday and Tuesday, respectively.

* Down time -- The three-day holiday break came at a good time for all 30 NHL teams, but for the Blues in particular.

The team had just finished off a stretch of 11 games in 22 days, including eight in 14. A break was not only needed physically but mentally as well.

A hundred percent. It's a break on all levels," Backes said. "For me at least, I get to go home to Minnesota for a little bit and see Mom and Dad and have a home-cooked meal. There's not quite anything that can stand in for that. It was good to see family and be back here and be fresh here at the rink to start what's really the second half of the season here."

With Steen and Polak out of the lineup, the Blues took some time to not only spend with family away from the rink but they also allowed some injured guys to heal up in time for what will be another tough stretch leading up to the Winter Olympic break in February.

"Like I told the players, when you come back from Christmas and you take a break, the teams that play first really have an advantage because their on-ice disposition is revved up already," Hitchcock said. "Everybody's fully rested and when you get a game in under your belt ahead of other teams, it's a big advantage. We needed to have a very spirited practice, which we did with a lot of competing drills and we did that; a lot of stuff that's relevant for tomorrow so we can get up to the pace right away. 

"It was a well-timed break, I think," Backes said. "We were going pretty quick and pretty hard in December. A little chance to spend a little time with family, get away for a second but right back to a good, spirited practice today and it's going to be a real spirited game tomorrow night."

* One-timers -- The Blues had a pair of visitors -- a pair of alumni -- in town and at practice Friday at Scottrade Center. Wayne Gretzky and Guy Carboneau both took in Friday's skate. Both are visiting relatives in St. Louis, including Carboneau, the father-in-law of Blues forward Brenden Morrow. ... The Blues recalled forwards Chris Porter and Dmitrij Jaskin from the American Hockey League's Chicago Wolves Friday ... Jaroslav Halak will get the start in goal against the Blackhawks tonight. Brian Elliott will get the nod when the Blues play at Dallas Sunday.

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