Sunday, December 29, 2013

(12-29-13) Blues-Stars Gameday Lineup

DALLAS -- After pouring everything they had into a 6-5 shootout victory Saturday night against the Chicago Blackhawks, the Blues must quickly turn their attentions to another hot divisional opponent.

The Blues (25-7-5) face the Dallas Stars (19-12-6) today at American Airlines Center less than 24 hours after rallying from a pair of two-goal deficits, including one in which they tied the game 5-5 in a span of 1:17 late in the third period behind goals by Vladimir Tarasenko and Patrik Berglund.

And with the Blues facing a hot Dallas team that is 4-0-1 in its last five games and playing minus a number of regulars due to injury and illness, the Blues have to quickly refocus at the task at hand and not look back on what was one of the more entertaining games of the season.

"Not having tired legs," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said when asked what's the biggest challenge today when the puck drops at 5 p.m. "If we have tired legs and we're second place everywhere, it's going to look like the game did here against Nashville (Friday, a 4-1 Stars victory), which wasn't pretty for Nashville. We just can't afford to have tired legs so we'll see how we go.

"They have the most speed in the Western Conference. They're the fastest team in the West. I think they've got maturity in their game now. They've added guys like (Ray) Whitney and (Erik) Cole on a full-time basis now so they've got real maturity in their game. They're going to be a hard opponent for us. I think it's going to be a hard opponent for everybody, that's why their record is so good here in the last 10 games. They've found a formula that has that mix of speed and positional play. I think Lindy (Ruff's) done a heck of a job in re-tooling things on the fly here. This is an opponent if you don't have your skating legs early, you're going to look pretty silly."

Hitchcock would not commit to a lineup for the game, as the Blues will skate out 14 forwards and select the 12 that best suit a healthy lineup.

David Backes left Saturday's game after absorbing a hit late in the third period, Vladimir Sobotka was originally scheduled to return after missing five games with an upper-body injury but was scratched when Hitchcock said he "tweaked something" during an extended morning skate Saturday and was at "85 percent" according to the Blues' coach. Also, Derek Roy was scratched with the flu and the Blues are already without leading scorer Alexander Steen, who is out indefinitely with a concussion.

Opposing teams won't feel sorry for the Blues, and "We're not going to feel sorry for ourselves either," said defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, whose third career shootout goal Saturday was also his third career game-winner. "We're making sure that we're going to go out there and play with the guys we have in the lineup. We know that we can still win games. It's not like we're discouraged by the fact that those guys aren't in the lineup. They're great players, but every team goes through this every year, so it's important that we have the resiliency to stick with it and win some games."

So players like 2010 first round picks Jaden Schwartz, who scored a goal in his fourth straight game Saturday, and Tarasenko, who tied a career-high with his second three-point game (one goal, two assists), will have added responsibility until the Blues can bridge the gap between injury/illness and being healthy.

Dmitrij Jaskin, who scored his first NHL goal Saturday that tied the game 3-3 against the Blackhawks, is being given a crash course on important minutes, and Sergey Andronov, who was recalled, then optioned back to the Chicago Wolves and recalled again all in one day Saturday, could make his NHL debut this afternoon. Also, Magnus Paajarvi was as engaged as he's been all season playing with Berglund and Tarasenko.

"We know the depth of our team is one of the biggest strengths we have here," Shattenkirk said. "I think a lot of young guys today stepped up ... Tarasenko, Schwartz and Jaskin had a great game. They filled roles that maybe they're not used to. Down the line, there's going to be more injuries and they're going to have to be able to do the same thing and I think that's important that we get that kind of experience now.

"They have those young legs right now. The one thing with Vladi is he's starting to work away from the puck a lot and working the right way. It's nice to see that. Now that he's doing that, it's creating even more offense for him. Jaden always plays the right way, plays hard and creates a tremendous amount of offense down low. We're feeding off them. They're young guys. They're turning into leaders as well and I think that's great for our whole team."

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As easily as the Blues must forget, it's hard not to think about the ups and downs before finally defeating the Chicago Blackhawks for the third time this season and fourth straight time dating back to last season.

The Blues haven't done that against the Hawks since a four-game streak from March 7, 1998-Jan. 7, 1999.

"After you look at it on tape, you see some of the good stuff, some of the really creative plays both sides made," Hitchcock said. "I think you learn to admire the skill, but in the heat of battle, you're just trying to win the hockey game or keep your team focused and energized and don't let them get discouraged. We've shown the ability to come back in games all year. I felt like, especially when it was 3-3, we were going to win. Then when it went 4-3, I thought we still had a change and then when it went 5-3, I think I was like the fans. We were wondering. But then when we made it 5-4, I really thought we were going to tie it up and we ended up doing it. 

"I quite frankly think the players have fun in those games. I think it's a typical post-Christmas game, pretty chaotic. The tempo's probably higher than the conditioning level of the players so it's hard to keep track of things. It's the same way when you start the season, it's not being able to keep up defensively. Both teams put a lot of pressure on each other in different ways ... them off the rush, us off the end zone play. We put a lot of pressure on them, they put a lot of pressure on us. When you get a game that has almost 40 scoring chances, it's a pretty entertaining hockey game."

- - -

After relieving Jaroslav Halak following the first period Saturday, Brian Elliott will get the start as originally planned today against the Stars. 

Elliott, who stopped 17 of 19 shots in relief, also thwarted the Blackhawks on their final three shootout attempts after allowing two goals.

Hitchcock was asked the rationale of making the switch to Elliott, the fourth time Halak has been pulled from a start this season.

"We were down 3-1," Hitchcock said. "Too many times we've been down, allowed three goals in the first period, something had to change. We just couldn't keep trotting out the same game and expected even a remote chance of winning. 

"We needed to find every piece of energy somewhere and I felt like out of guilt alone, we could play a little bit better and we did. Against these big opponents, we just dig too big of a hole. I'm not sure why, but I think it's past being just an accident. I think there's something going on that we need to correct, so the hook was there. It wasn't necessarily a reflection of Jaro. I'm sure he'd like the third goal back, but more a reflection of the way we played. Not that we've got a new goalie, we've got to wake up for him.

"This was Brian's game to start with, so we're moving ahead. Minny was Jaro's game and we're not moving off of that either. Brian gets tonight and Jaro gets Minny (Tuesday) and that's the plan."

- - -

Blues winger and former Dallas Stars captain Brenden Morrow will return to Dallas for the first time since being traded last season.

Morrow, 34, served as Stars captain from 2006-13 and ranks fifth in franchise history in games (835) and eighth in points (528). Morrow was the Stars' first round pick (25th overall) in 1997.

- - -

The Blues played the game Saturday with the following lineup:

Jaden Schwartz-David Backes-T.J. Oshie

Magnus Paajarvi-Patrik Berglund-Vladimir Tarasenko

Brenden Morrow-Maxim Lapierre-Chris Stewart

Chris Porter-Adam Cracknell-Dmitrij Jaskin

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk

Ian Cole-Carlo Colaiacovo

Brian Elliott will get the start in goal; Jaroslav Halak is the backup.

Other Blues injuries and players that did not make the trip include Alexander Steen (concussion), Roman Polak (lower body), Jordan Leopold (hand) and Ryan Reaves (hand).

We'll update any changes as they're made available in the pregame today.

- - -

The Stars' projected lineup:

Jamie Benn-Tyler Seguin-Valeri Nichushkin

Antoine Roussel-Cody Eakin-Ryan Garbutt

Erik Cole-Rich Peverley-Alex Chiasson

Shawn Horcoff-Vernon Fiddler-Ray Whitney

Alex Goligoski-Brenden Dillon

Aaron Rome-Jordie Benn

Kevin Connauton-Cameron Gaunce

Kari Lehtonen is expected to start in goal; Dan Ellis would be the backup.

Trevor Daley (lower body), Sergei Gonchar (concussion symptoms) and Stephane Robidas (leg) are all on injured reserve. Dustin Jeffrey is expected to be the lone healthy scratch.

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