Monday, December 30, 2013

(12-31-13) BLUES NOTEBOOK

Value of Cole, Colaiacovo very worthy; Backes skated; 
Andronov back to AHL; Elliott to start for sick Halak; Roy's return to lineup

By LOUIE KORAC
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The significance may not have been seen that way at the time, but the signing of Carlo Colaiacovo and the insertion of Ian Cole into the Blues lineup -- especially in recent weeks -- has turned into a blessing.

After coming off an up and down, emotional roller coaster 6-5 shootout victory against the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday, the Blues needed to dig deep into the tank to get as much as they could out of group bogged down  by injury and the flu bug to grind out a 3-2 overtime victory against the Dallas Stars Sunday, a Stars team that was 4-0-1 in their past five games.

But with Jordan Leopold (hand) still not cleared to play yet but he is getting close and Roman Polak (foot/ankle) sidelined and with the top defensive pairing of Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester logging nearly 30 minutes Saturday, the Blues had to rely on their third defensive pairing more so than usual.

"The way we looked at it, it's still two points against a division rival," said Colaiacovo, who logged a season-high 17 minutes, 18 seconds with with three hits and four blocked shots. "Obviously we're coming off an emotional game in Chicago where from start to finish, the crowd was in it, it was a back and forth game, there's a lot of emotions that went through everybody during that game. Going into Dallas and missing a guy like (David Backes), who's our leader, you don't want to make any excuses for yourself. Those are opportunities that other guys should thrive on to step up and help carry a load when needed. I think the perfect way to summarize that is we were able to grind that one out. That's what good teams do."

Cole eclipsed the 20-minute mark for the first time this season. He finished with two hits and three blocked shots. 

"The more you can play to a certain extent, the more you can get into the flow of the game and just keep rolling," Cole said. When you're playing 10 minutes or 12 minutes, it's a lot harder because you play so sporadically. When you're playing 20, 21 minutes like I did last night, you can really just keep going and it flows a lot better. The game flows a lot better. And obviously with the amount of games you play consecutively along with the minutes you play with each game, it keeps with that flow. You don't have to stop, start, play, not play. It just helps you roll.

"When you've got guys like 'Petro' and 'Bouw' playing so many minutes ... they're obviously capable of doing it, but you're really playing with fire if you're playing them that many minutes so often. I love playing more minutes. There's a better flow to the game. If that's what we need to do to give them a rest, obviously that's what we've got to do to step up. When 'Romy' and 'Leo' go down, you've got to step up and kind of take hold of that rope and hold onto it."

Of course Pietrangelo led the Blues again in ice time (26:14) and Bouwmeester was right behind him (25:59) Sunday, but having Cole and Colaiacovo increase their minutes helped alleviate time from the entire group.

"You look at the difference in minutes in the Chicago game, 'Petro' was close to 30, 'Bouw' was close to 30," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "Ideal for us is we play our roster when we divvy up ice time on a more equal basis, we seem to play with more equal energy. We were able to manage the game minutes-wise in the first two periods, which gave us the energy and finally got our legs underneath us for the third period. 

"I think one of the things that's missing here is Cole ... nobody's talking about it, but Ian's game has really picked up here. Somebody's loss has been his advantage because he's been the guy that's benefited from being able to play and play a lot of games in a row and a lot of minutes, which is a really goods sign. He's done a heck of a job there for it. ... Carlo's gone on and played on the power play, played 5-on-5. Cole's had to do a lot of PK with no Roman and no 'Leo.' That stuff's allowed us to keep our record where it's at because they've done a good job."

* Backes skates -- Backes, who missed Sunday's game after getting hit late in the win against Chicago, was back on the ice at Monday's optional skate at Xcel Energy Center.

Backes, who is second on the Blues in goals (16) and third in points (30), missed his third game Sunday with a presumed upper-body injury. Both he and Hitchcock said they'd go throughout the day Monday and into Tuesday to see if he could return against the Minnesota Wild.

"We'll work it through the day and see how he feels," Hitchcock said.

Having Vladimir Sobotka come off injured reserve and return to the lineup for the first time in seven games helped offset what was missing with both Backes and Alexander Steen (concussion) missing.

"I think 'Sobe' helped us immensely," Hitchcock said. "He really gave us great minutes yesterday (along with two assists), which allowed us to stay competitive because without him in the lineup, we were a little bit thin. Him going in the lineup's a real good sign for us."

* Andronov back to AHL -- Prospect Sergey Andronov, who was recalled, sent back to the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League and recalled all in the same day Saturday, was returned back to the Wolves Monday. 

Andronov, 24, recently recorded a hat trick with the Wolves and was with the Blues with players still not ready to return from injury and others coming down with some sort of sickness.

Andronov's return to the Wolves is in no way affiliated with Backes.

"Even without David, we had 13 forwards (Monday), so that allowed us to have enough for today. 

"He wasn't going to play tomorrow, so we wanted to get him going."

And Hitchcock's message for the Russian native?

"Just keep going," Hitchcock said. "He's obviously moved himself into a potential prospect phase now. He's gone from project to prospect, which is a great sign. He's had a heck of a start there, just keep playing. 

"The way he's playing right now looks like when we get ourselves in trouble, the way he practiced with us and how comfortable he looked, it's not going to be a problem putting him in the lineup when we get some injuries."

* Elliott to start Tuesday -- Hitchcock confirmed Monday that Brian Elliott (and not Jaroslav Halak) will get the start in goal for the Blues (26-7-5) against the Wild (20-16-5) after it was disclosed that Halak is also sick despite taking part in practice Monday.

The Blues may be forced to recall Jake Allen from Chicago if Halak is not capable of being the backup Tuesday.

Elliott (9-1-2 with a 2.04 goals-against average and .919 save percentage), stopped 28 shots Sunday and came on in relief of Halak Saturday against Chicago to get the win.

"He's under the weather," Hitchcock said of Halak, who is 17-6-3 with a 2.40 GAA and .907 save percentage. "We'll play Brian (Tuesday) and we'll gauge with Jaro in the morning whether he's capable of backing up or not. If he's not, we may have to look into getting Jake here but we'll see how it goes."

* Roy's return -- Center Derek Roy, who also returned to the lineup Sunday after being a late scratch against the Blackhawks because he was sick, returned to contributed only 12:41 to the lineup Sunday but it was Roy who drew the key penalty late in overtime that set up Kevin Shattenkirk's game-winner with 10.4 seconds remaining.

Roy said he wanted to dig down at the end.

"Especially when you know it's one of your last shifts of the game," Roy said. "You're going to go out and give it your all. I thought we did a good job of keeping the puck in deep, making the plays and drawing the penalty which led to the goal. It's just a matter of everyone pulling through and working hard together.

"Saturday's game was very emotional and it was a hard-fought game with overtime and a shootout and last night against a good opponent like Dallas on the road, back to back, you try to get as many guys as you can in the game. You've got to just keep it simple. I thought we tried to do that in the first period and then they came at us a little bit in the second. I think we came back in the third; it was a pretty even third but we came out with the win. We've got a lot of banged up guys and some sick guys also. It was a good win for us. We have four good lines, two good goalies and six good 'D.' On back to back games, we try to balance the offense out in the lineup."

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