Thursday, October 31, 2013


Blues keep it simple away from Scottrade Center; Morrow to stay
back, Paajarvi to travel; Lapierre set to return; goalies to split games

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Having only played three road games in October, the Blues embarked on their first extended trip away from the confines of home to begin November.

After a hard, rigorous practice on Thursday, the team jetted off for a two-game jaunt through Florida (they'll play the Panthers Friday night at Tampa Bay Saturday night) before heading north of the border to Montreal to face the Canadiens Tuesday.

The Blues are 7-1-2 overall but 2-0-1 on the road and have earned points in each road game. Had it not been for a seven-minute hiccup in Winnipeg Oct. 18, the Blues would be a perfect 3-0-0 away from Scottrade Center but five of six points is a nice start, and they're looking for more.

How do they do it? By playing a more simpler game, according to coach Ken Hitchcock.

"He likes to call it that north game that we like to play when we get pucks in the neutral zone and we're just very direct," Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said of Hitchcock. "We get pucks over the red line, we put them in deep and start banging away at teams. I think that's what wears them down and ultimately doesn't really allow them to gain momentum and grab the crowd and take the energy from there as well."

Defenseman Barret Jackman, despite the Blues being 5-1-1 on home ice, said teams tend to be a little more amped up in front of the home crowd.

"You get caught up in the crowd a little bit and maybe you're a little more emotional when you're at home and you try and do a little but too much," Jackman said. "Our game's got to be simple and for us to have success and to frustrate teams, you've got to be a little more direct and a lot simpler team. That's what we talked about the last week.

"Going on the road, we'll get back to the basics and do that. ... We're just going to go in and play simple games in Florida and Tampa and Montreal and really get back to what our team identity needs to be to win."

The Blues were able to spend four days in Charleston, S.C. after road games in Chicago and Winnipeg, but this extended trip will be the start of 15 games in 29 days and get the Blues back into the swing of their schedule.

"Charleston was different," Shattenkirk said. "It was more of a team trip. It didn't really feel like it was hockey time. This is business. This will be good to go down and get back-to-back games to really feel like you're back in the season again and then obviously go to Montreal, which is a very tough place to play but fun if you're in the NHL, and that's what you love."

* Morrow, Paajarvi out -- Hitchcock said Thursday that winger Brenden Morrow (upper body) would not accompany the team to Florida after taking a cross check to the rib area Tuesday in a 3-2 win over Winnipeg.

Morrow did not skate but could rejoin the team Monday in Montreal.

Also, Magnus Paajarvi (upper body), who was placed on injured reserve retroactive to Saturday, was on the flight to Florida and will skate Friday.

"He's going to just stay here and then we'll evaluate him on Monday to see if he's going to join us in Montreal," Hitchcock said of Morrow. He's day today but Magnus will join us on the trip and skate with us tomorrow. Brenden will stay here for the weekend and see if he's going to join us in Montreal for Monday's practice."

Hitchcock was undecided if a call-up was necessary from the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League, leaving that up to general manager Doug Armstrong, and the Blues' GM did make a move, recalling Chris Porter from the Wolves Thursday afternoon.

Porter, who was the last player cut on the final day prior to NHL teams setting their 23-man rosters before opening the regular season, had four assists in seven games with the Wolves.

* Lapierre returns -- After serving his five-game suspension for boarding San Jose's Dan Boyle from behind Oct. 15, center Maxim Lapierre will return to the lineup on the fourth line and skate between Adam Cracknell and Ryan Reaves Friday against the Panthers.

"It feels like I just got out of training camp," Lapierre joked after practice Thursday. "I came out and basically played four games in 30 seconds. I think I did the right things on and off the ice during the suepension and I feel ready.

"You always try to keep it simple. I'm going to try and focus on being good in my positioning. Obviously you work hard and build from there."

Hitchcock said Lapierre won't miss a beat.

"He's ready to go. He's been practicing like heck," Hitchcock said. "It's not like he's coming off an injury. It isn't something he had to do any rehab with. There's going to be a conditioning thing. When you miss five games ... for us, it was three weeks. That's going to be a conditioning issue we're going to have to deal with, but our biggest thing is he up to killing penalties and things like that, critical special teams stuff, so we've got to get to that."

* Goalies to split -- Brian Elliott will make his third appearance and second start of the season Friday against the Panthers. Elliott is 0-0-1 with a 3.53 goals-against average and .881 save percentage. He relieved Jaroslav Halak Oct. 15 when the Blues lost to the Sharks 6-2. Elliott's lone start was against the Jets Oct. 18, a 4-3 shootout loss.

Halak, who is 7-1-1 with a 2.16 GAA and .917 save percentage, will get the start Saturday when the Blues face the Lightning.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Managing minutes best recipe for Blues' success

Team doesn't want to tax top-end players, need more balance from entire group

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- The Blues held an optional skate Wednesday at their practice facility, roughly 12 hours after a tough, physical and exhausting 3-2 victory over the Winnipeg Jets.

Among those not on the ice Wednesday was the Blues' top line of David Backes, Alexander Steen and T.J. Oshie, and understandably so.

The game Tuesday had so many ups and downs to it, particularly in special teams' play, that the trio played a larger number of minutes than usual. Backes finished with 24 minutes, 47 seconds of ice time, Steen played 23:24 and Oshie finished with 22:45.

(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
Blues captain David Backes (right) battles Winnipeg's Tobias Enstrom on
Tuesday night. Backes has averaged 23-plus minutes the last three games.
In the last three games played over five days, Backes' ice time was 25:03, 21:57 and 24:47, Steen's was 23:49, 23:05 and 23:24 and Oshie's was 23:19, 18:45 and 22:45. It's something coach Ken Hitchcock stressed a level of concern with on Wednesday.

"It's OK now and then, but I think over an 82-game season, to expect 25 minutes it's going to be taxing on our bodies," Backes said. "We're a team that's built on depth and our strength is being able to roll four lines and I think getting back to that is our ideal situation.

"The coaching staff acknowledged that. I think we as a line have said that we can get more quality minutes if we can get that number right around the 20 mark, I think, is ideal. If it's a little more one night and a little less another night, that's great. It comes down to doing what it takes to win games and if that's 25 minutes, we've got a couple days to recover here."

The Blues were able to get away with taxing their top line Tuesday because they don't play again until Friday, which means two off days and of course, rest.

"At the end of the night, the tanks were empty," Backes said. "It wasn't pretty for the second period where it was frustrating at times and we're having to kind of chase our tails. ... In the end, I was toast last night. When I laid in bed, normally I stir for a while and watch some TV. I was lights out. That's the aftermath, but I think when you end up with the (winning) result ... Hitch knew we had two days off and he could throw the brakes on for a day or two. He said if this is what it takes to win the game, then we're willing to do that."

But Hitchcock admitted that the numbers need to change.

"I said to the players today, for the way we're built, I'm playing my top line too much," Hitchcock said. "I'm playing my top line too much because we're in a position where we've got a matchup ... I don't know the best way to describe it. We're playing guys too much because we're getting an inconsistent level of puck management and it's kind of taken us from highs and lows in games. First period (Tuesday), excellent. Second period, we're mismanaging the puck all over the place and then we grab it again in the third.

"We have to find a way to be consistent throughout our lineup, manage the game the right way so we can build good minutes. We're going in fits and starts the last couple games. Even in the game we won in Nashville, if you look at the last three games, we're giving up way too many scoring chances based on us having the puck rather than what the other team is doing, knocking us out of the box and stuff. It's an area we addressed today with the players and we want to see get better. We just have to become better at managing the puck if we want to get to the next level."

And managing the puck better means getting the Blues' four lines back to playing more consistent minutes and having more players involved.

"I'm looking more at the back-end," Hitchcock said. "We're much better if our third and fourth lines are playing between nine and 14 minutes. We're not there. Some of it is injuries during the game, but we're not there. We're not there because it's disjointed from a special teams standpoint, it's disjointed from a play standpoint. We've got to get back to that rhythm we had before.

"We're very effective when we're able to get into as many shifts as we can rolling four (lines). We build really good energy in our game and we build speed in our game. What I've noticed in the last couple games is we don't have the speed and tempo to our game we had before. I know we've won them, but it's the coach's job to do the worrying. I don't look at the record. I look at the way we're playing this early in the season and we need to get back into where we play with much more tempo and much more speed."

So the likes of Patrik Berglund, Chris Stewart, Derek Roy, Jaden Schwartz, Vladimir Tarasenko, Vladimir Sobotka and whoever's on the fourth line, including Ryan Reaves, Brenden Morrow and Adam Cracknell -- who were there last night -- need to fill the voids.

"When we're playing and managing the puck well -- all the lines -- then it's easy to roll them," Schwartz said. "When we get into penalty trouble, that limits other guys' ice time as well. I think yesterday, we were killing quite a bit in the second (period) and that kind of kills momentum for the other lines. I think it's a little bit of penalties and it's a little bit of managing the puck well. If lines are turning pucks over, then it's probably harder for Hitch to put them out there in certain situations."

And when the Blues are able to roll four lines, "I think guys are more energized," Schwartz said. "You're rolling the lines so everyone gets into it. That makes the bench a little better, guys are a little more excited. When everyone's chipping in, that's definitely going to lead to some more success."

(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
The Blues' Chris Stewart (left) battles Winnipeg's Tobias Enstrom
in the Blues' 3-2 victory Tuesday night at Scottrade Center.
But when the game's on the line and the Blues need two points, "A close game like that, we're getting a lot of ice time, but I think if you ask either one of these guys if we have a choice in a key moment of the game to be in the ice or on the bench, we'd definitely want to be on the ice," Oshie said. "I think if we shorten up our shift length early in the game, we'll have a little bit more gas at the end, but I don't think we were necessarily that gassed at the end. I think going forward in games where you get down to a back-to-back or a long stretch of games, those kinds of minutes are going to hurt us in the long run.

"I have trust in our other lines to go in there and step into some bigger roles and play some key minutes for us as well. ... We have to get other guys to play those big minutes, but if it comes down to it and we've got to go on the ice and if guys aren't performing, then we'll go out there."

Hitchcock wants his top unit guys back into the 18-20 minute range for the long-term success the team can have moving forward. However, he knew pushing the button could be done Tuesday.

"We aren't built when our top guys play 23, 24 minutes," Hitchcock said. "We're not built that way. It doesn't allow us to perform right.

"We could afford to do it (Tuesday), but I think we're a team that needs to include everybody. We've got people on the bench that need to play because they contribute and they're not playing. ... Our best games have been when we've had few power plays and extended 5-on-5 minutes. That's when our best games are going to be. That's the way we want to play."


Blues going back to traditional goal celebrations;
Paajarvi on IR, Morrow day to day; busy November

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- It was a common theme in past seasons when a Blues player would score a goal at home: players celebrate together on the ice, then they skate to the bench and give fist bumps to the rest of the group before lining up again.

All NHL teams seemed to adopt the concept in recent seasons, including the Blues.

But the Blues have changed the course, going back to the traditional way of doing it, thanks to some Blues alumni.

Instead, the Blues celebrate on the ice with the teammates, then get go back to their positions for the faceoff. No more skating to the bench -- unless you're coming off for a line change. And it's a concept the current players have adopted well.

"That came from a few gentlemen that used to play here," Blues captain David Backes said. "They just kind of thought that going through the line was a bit of a high school, college-type of play ... act like we've done it before type of score-the-goal, congratulate everyone (on the ice) and let's go line up again. I think it's got a good look to it. It's a change of pace. It shows hey, we've done it before. We're going to hopefully line up and do it again. We'll see how it works.

"I think it's maybe a unique thing maybe where we can change the trend a little bit to score the goal, congratulate each other and let's go line up again."

Blues right wing T.J. Oshie was surprised, actually, that it had been done at the NHL level.

"I don't think I did it in high school," Oshie said. "When I got to college, they were doing it. When I got here, I didn't think it would be happening but it did up here too.

"It shows confidence, it shows that we've been here before. It's kind of a business-like attitude. You score a goal, you want to line up and go get the next one."

So when Alexander Steen scored the eventual game-winner with 59.4 seconds left of a 3-2 win over the Winnipeg Jets Tuesday, the players on the bench celebrated, and the guys on the ice celebrated on their own.

Been there, done that.

* Busy November -- When the month of November arrives, it will be quite the change for the Blues.

After playing only 10 games -- the fewest in the NHL -- when October closes, the Blues will get at it with a busy month of November. The Blues will open Friday in Florida that starts a span of 15 games in 29 days.

"I think quite frankly, we're going to play better because these starts and stops and long breaks in the season, I think it takes more out of you stopping and starting than it does getting into rhythm," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We haven't gotten into a practice-play rhythm yet, but I think that's going to start here starting tomorrow.

"I think you play best when you're bruise on bruise. Then you don't feel it that much, but I think we've had a lot of stops and go's to start. I think there's us and the Bruins that have played 10 games (Boston played their 11th game Wednesday). Now we get to kind of play a schedule with the rest of the league now."

Blues players would also play games instead of the long layoffs. It certainly affected their play after a week off between games at Winnipeg and a home game against Vancouver in which the Blues struggled at the outset, falling behind 2-0 to the Canucks before rallying and losing 3-2 in overtime.

"I absolutely look forward to it," Backes said. "This week off here and there, four days off kind of takes you out of that rhythm. When we've really got it going in the right direction, all of the sudden it's time for a break. It kills your momentum."

The next stretch of games is also evaluation time for Hitchcock.

"Now we're into games 11-20, which you get a really good read on where everybody's at," Hitchcock said. "Starting Friday, we're on Game 11 and we're going to get a really good read on how intense the season's going to be."

* Tougher Jets -- The Blues' 3-2 win over Winnipeg Tuesday was in stark contrast to their game against the Jets on Oct. 18.

In that game, the Blues had a 3-1 lead in the third period, had the game in complete control before succumbing late, allowing two goals before losing in a shootout.

On Tuesday, the Jets were more physical and really intense.

"They played fast and a team that, I don't want to say they take chances, but they're not scared to step up and make you make a play before you want to," Backes said. "We weren't quite as sharp to make those plays before we wanted to, and the result was a lot of turnovers where it was not clean, not getting the puck deep and being able to forecheck. The result was a lot of skating, some frustration, some ebbs and flows to the game wasn't typical the way we'd like to dictate it, and that's a credit to them.

"We've got to get back to our game and make sure that we can keep a little bit more there and not be running and gunning with a team of that caliber of forwards."

* More injuries -- The Blues placed left wing Magnus Paajarvi (upper body) on injured reserve after being injured Saturday at Nashville.

Hitchcock initially listed Paajarvi, who's played four games, as day to day.

Also, veteran left wing Brenden Morrow took a cross check early in the third period and did not return to the game against the Jets Tuesday.

Morrow was not on the ice Wednesday and is also listed as day to day with an upper body injury. Should Morrow not be able to travel on the upcoming three-game trip that will take the Blues to Florida, Tampa Bay and Montreal, a call-up from Chicago of the American Hockey League is likely.

"(Morrow) got cross-checked there in the third period. He's day to day until we get you an evaluation ... upper body, day to day," said Hitchcock, who was initially hopeful Paajarvi could travel. "We'll let you know on him and 'Magnum P.I.' We'll let you know here tomorrow morning. Both guys are day to day and hopefully both guys can make the trip."

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Steen's winner late in regulation helps Blues down Jets

Left wing's 11th goal of the season leads
NHL, comes with under minute remaining

ST. LOUIS -- Alexander Steen may not want to talk about being in the same company as Alexander Ovechkin and other goal-scoring leaders, but the Blues' left wing has no choice.

Especially since he's finding ways to score clutch goals.
The puck is finding Steen's stick, and he's finding the back of the net with precision and accuracy.

(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
Blues players David Backes (left) and T.J. Oshie watch as Alexander
Steen's shot beats Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec in the final minute Tuesday.
Steen's 11th goal of the season with 59.4 seconds remaining Tuesday night at Scottrade Center led the Blues to a 3-2 win over the Winnipeg Jets. It also moved Steen into the NHL lead in goals, passing Ovechkin who has 10.

Steen took an open shot-pass from Jay Bouwmeester into the slot and beat Ondrej Pavelec as the puck caromed off the right post and Pavelec's backside and into the net.

"As we walked the line and it comes back, I know I've got a little bit of space," said Steen, who has 11 goals on 31 shots and Ovechkin has his 10 on 78 shots. "It's a great read by Bouw and a great pass. Once I get it, I kind of figured I had a little bit of time. It's nice to see it go in.

"I'm going low glove. I got fortunate though. It hit the post and then hit (Pavelec), I think and went in. I thought I hit the post and didn't go in. It was nice when I heard the buzzer go."

Steen's teammates are marveling at his success, and feel it's well-deserved.

"It's pretty impressive isn't it? We all know he's pretty deserving," said defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, who scored a goal and assisted on Steen's game-winner. "He works his tail off day in and day out. He's one of the hardest workers I've ever seen in any sport. He deserves all the success. We've just got to make sure he keeps going. We've got some pretty good supporting cast to help him out as well."

The Blues remembered how they gave a point away to the Jets 11 days ago. They were determined not to squander a lead again.

The Blues dropped a 4-3 shootout decision in Winnipeg Oct. 18, a game in which they led 3-1 with under seven minutes to play before allowing the Jets to rally.

"We said that in the locker room here. I think Shatty said it right before we were walking out," Blues right wing T.J. Oshie said. "That was a tough one to give up with the week off having that loss and that kind of taste in your mouth, but it was good to get the win here in regulation."

Brenden Morrow scored for the Blues (7-1-2), who have earned points in nine of 10 games this season. Jaroslav Halak stopped 21 shots to improve to 7-1-1 on the season.

"This was not a work of art today, but it's two points. Move on and get some rest," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We're in that thing right now where we're really over-playing players. That's not how we're built. We've got to find a way not to over-play players and get more from the rest of the group. We've got to get a lot more from some people if we expect to get to the next level."

Blake Wheeler and Bryan Little scored for the Jets, who wrapped up a four-game trip 1-2-1 but feeling like they could have earned more. Pavelec stopped 30 shots as the Jets have played in five straight one-goal games and six out of seven.

"We gave ourselves an opportunity to win the game," Jets coach Claude Noel said. "The frustrating part is we're finding ways to lose the game.

"... Really disheartening. We've got to find ways to repair these areas, they become different every night."

Steen's goal was his seventh in five games, and he passed Ovechkin. Three others have nine. Coupled with Oshie's dogged determination on the puck to help set up the second goal and his ability to force Jets defenseman Tobias Enstrom into an interference penalty to set up Steen's winner.

"He's just such a major factor," Hitchcock said of Oshie. "He's just such a major factor on our team. Him and Steen are the conscience of the team. It's good to see."

Morrow's second goal of the season put the Blues ahead 1-0 6:36 into the game when Pavelec gave up a big rebound off Ryan Reaves' shot from the right circle. Morrow came in off the back side and one-timed the rebound into the empty side.

The Jets tied the game when Derek Roy (interference) and Morrow (roughing) took simultaneous penalties, giving Winnipeg a two-minute 5-on-3 advantage. Morrow drew his penalty when he reacted to Olli Jokinen delivering a shoulder check that sent Alex Pietrangelo into the corner boards.

Wheeler whacked in a rebound off an Andrew Ladd shot on the power play. Halak stopped the initial shot, but lost sight of the puck as it popped up high and toward the back post. Wheeler finished into the empty side at 11:20 of the first. It broke an 0-for-26 skid on the power play for the Jets.

The Blues felt they had the game in control early. They had the lead and were keeping the puck in Winnipeg's zone and pressuring well, but the penalties changed the momentum, according to Hitchcock.

"What turned the momentum of the game around was the 5-on-3," Hitchcock said. "We had it killed off. We made a couple mistakes. We got caught out on the ice long, but we had the penalty killed off. ... That's what really turned the game. We were playing great, we were rolling four lines and everybody was in the game and they got momentum of being able to play their players off that 5-on-3. That changed the game completely around."

Neither team could light the lamp in the second period, but the Jets nearly scored late when Wheeler was sent in alone from the blue line as he split the Blues' defense, but his backhand attempt hit the left post with 55 seconds left in the period.

St. Louis regained the lead thanks to Oshie's dogged determination to win a loose puck and keep possession. He then faked a shot and fed an on-rushing Pietrangelo, who was able to beat Pavelec high short side with an open side to shoot at 4:16 into the final period to break a 1-1 tie.

"That's the work ethic from Osh," Pietrangelo said. "I knew it was coming. He's got that fake in him, he's got that patience.

"I'm surprised I didn't panic. Lucky enough, he had that fake. When someone gives you an open net, when he works that hard to get that puck, you want to make sure you score for him."

The Jets were able to come back and square the game 2-2 when Oshie failed to keep a puck in the Winnipeg zone on the power play, and Little was able to convert Ladd's pass at 10:27 on what amounted to a 2-on-0 play.

It was the second straight game the Blues allowed a shorthanded goal.

Halak preserved the tie when he was able to get a glove at point-blank range on Michael Frolik's backhand off a deflected shot with five minutes remaining in regulation. Halak made a number of quality saves in the game.

"Another great game," Pietrangelo said of Halak. "He's been great all year."

Added Hitchcock: "Jaro was terrific tonight. We needed him, and it was good to see."

(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
Alexander Steen (right) scored his NHL-leading 11th goal of the season
Tuesday night in a 3-2 win over the Winnipeg Jets.
The Blues, after giving up the shorthanded goal, were really determined to get a result out of the power play late, especially after giving up the lead with their power play.
"Yeah, obviously," Oshie said. "I think more so, we were focusing on getting shots. if not getting a goal, building momentum to get it into OT there."

Said Hitchcock: "Those are our best players right now. They went out there and played very determined when the game was on the line."
The game marked the first time a team from Winnipeg visited St. Louis since April 8, 1996, when the original Winnipeg Jets franchise faced off against the Blues.

(10-29-13) Jets-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- When Blues coach Ken Hitchcock spoke in regards to two injuries that occurred during Saturday's 6-1 win against the Nashville Predators, the veteran coach was concerned about them being long-term.

Two days later, the injury news wasn't as bad as initially thought, and one of them (Chris Stewart) will be in the lineup when the Blues (6-1-2) host the Winnipeg Jets (5-6-2) Tuesday night at Scottrade Center.

Stewart did not play the third period Saturday night after taking a nasty shove into the corner boards from Nashville's Patric Hornqvist but was at practice Monday after a day off Sunday. The news was also good in regards to Magnus Paajarvi, who also suffered an upper-body injury in the first period. He missed the final two periods Saturday and is listed as day-to-day.

"I was in a bit of pain, that's for sure," Stewart said. "I came back and tried it for a shift and it didn't feel good. It was a smart decision to shut her down and get some rest. These last couple days, I took the steps in the right direction."

Stewart returned for a shift and took liberties with Hornqvist, accumulating 14 minutes in penalties.

"Me personally the way I grew up, I'm not going to let anyone take liberties on me," Stewart said. "I fight my own battles. I thought I did a good job letting him know and what's done is done."

Stewart, who is yet to score this season, played his two best games of the season, according to Hitchcock, against Vancouver and Nashville. He did so by playing with Patrik Berglund Saturday. He'll play with Derek Roy and Vladimir Sobotka today when the Blues (6-1-2) host the Winnipeg Jets (5-6-2) at 7 p.m. (FSN, KMOX 1120-AM).

"He's at the puck now," Hitchcock said of Stewart, who has two assists in nine games. "He's not looking for space, he's fighting for space, so he's at the puck.

"I think the change in the line kind of gave him a little bit of a wake-up call. We like him with Sobe, we've always liked him with Roy, but he needed to be at the puck rather than looking for the space. He was getting a ton of odd-man rushes. In the Winnipeg game, he had three 2-on-1's alone, but that's not his game. He was getting discouraged because he was missing so many opportunities off the rush but he wasn't getting the quality o-zone chances he did last year. By putting him with Bergy, it forced him back into his game. He was very, very effective. We can go back and add that element with Sobotka now and I think really help us solidify a second line."

Adam Cracknell, who's played in one game this season, will take Paajarvi's spot in the lineup Tuesday night.

- - -

Not only is Alexander Steen facing his hometown team, one in which his father Thomas played with for 14 seasons, but it's also a chance for Ryan Reaves to face his native team.

Both Steen and Reaves were born in Winnipeg.

"It's not anything too big for me," said Reaves, whose father Willard was a running back in the Canadian Football League for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers as well as played in the National Football League for Miami, Green Bay and Washington. "... My family watches every game. All my buddies back home obviously support the Jets when I'm not there. I'm sure they'll be watching. I guess it is special."

- - -

The Jets, who finish up a four-game trip here, recalled defenseman Ben Chiarot from St. John's of the American Hockey League to take the place of Paul Postma, who was placed on injured reserve with a blood clot.

"Ben Chiarot was playing well in St. John's," Jets coach Claude Noel said. "What we did was we rewarded him for fine play. That's usually what we do. We talked to the coaching staff down there and determined he was going good, so that's why he got the call."

The Blues and Jets have met once this season, on Oct. 18 in Winnipeg in which the home side rallied from a 3-1 third-period deficit and take a 4-3 shootout victory.

"The game lasts 2 1/2 hours, not two hours. We stopped playing," Hitchcock said. "We stopped playing and it wasn't because we were playing back-to-back. It wasn't a lack of energy. We got a little bit sloppy with the puck and paid for it. It's a good lesson for us. Winnipeg's a team that's got a lot of transition in their game. They transitioned it and got those two tying goals."

Which is why the Jets, who are 1-1-1 on the current trip, expect the Blues to come out with a purpose.

"For us, we know it's going to be a heavy game," Noel said. "The last time we played these guys, they were on a back-to-back. The third period, we caught them a little bit fortunate and we ended up scoring a couple goals and took it to a shootout. They're fresher tonight and will be ready to go.

"It'll be a heavy game, it'll be a tough game to win, but that's the beauty of playing these games and winning them. We'll be tested. They don't give you very much. You have to earn every inch of ice against them. It'll be a good test for us."

- - -

The Blues' probable lineup:

Alexander Steen-David Backes-T.J. Oshie

Vladimir Sobotka-Derek Roy-Chris Stewart

Jaden Schwartz-Patrik Berglund-Vladimir Tarasenko

Brenden Morrow-Adam Cracknell-Ryan Reaves

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk

Jordan Leopold-Roman Polak

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

Ian Cole is the lone healthy scratch. Maxim Lapierre will serve the final game of his suspension tonight. Magnus Paajarvi (upper-body) is day-to-day.

- - -

The Jets' probable lineup:

Andrew Ladd-Bryan Little-Devin Setoguchi

Evander Kane-Mark Scheifele-Blake Wheeler

Chris Thorburn-Olli Jokinen-Michael Frolik

Eric Tangradi-James Wright-Matt Halischuk

Grant Clitsome-Dustin Byfuglien

Tobias Enstrom-Zach Bogosian

Mark Stuart-Adam Pardy

Ondrej Pavelec gets the start in goal; Al Montoya is the backup.

Jets healthy scratches include Patrice Cormier, former Blue Anthony Peluso and Ben Chiarot. The Jets are without injured players Jim Slater (lower-body), Jacob Trouba (neck) and Paul Postma (blood clot)

Monday, October 28, 2013


Stewart, Paajarvi avoid serious injuries;
Lapierre awaiting his turn; Cracknell to play Tuesday

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- A difference of 48 hours proved to be beneficial for a pair of Blues players thought to have serious injuries.

Both wingers Chris Stewart and Magnus Paajarvi left Saturday's 6-1 win at Nashville with upper-body injuries and initially, Blues coach Ken Hitchcock thought both might have suffered "significant" injuries.

But Stewart, who was shoved into the offensive zone corner boards hard by the Predators' Patric Hornqvist halfway through the second period and missed the third, was on the ice Monday for practice at the Ice Zone and didn't skip a beat. He will play Tuesday when the Blues (6-1-2) host the Winnipeg Jets.

Paajarvi, on the other hand, will miss the game against the Jets and is day-to-day after being checked in the offensive zone by the Predators' Victor Bartley midway through the first period. He played a couple shifts after but missed the final two periods.

"Stewy feels fine, no issues, ready to go," Hitchcock said. "Magnus is going to be day-to-day. He won’t play on Tuesday and then we'll just evaluate him on the road trip and see how he feels.

"It's not long-term with Magnus, but he's certainly not going to be ready for Tuesday. So (Adam) Cracknell will come in and play on Tuesday."

Cracknell, who's played in one game -- at Winnipeg Oct. 18 -- without a point, is ready to step in.

"You always feel bad for a teammate that gets hurt," Cracknell said. "You never want to see a teammate get hurt and that's the reason why he's playing. That's why we have extra guys.

"My job is to step up and make sure that role's filled. Hopefully he's healthy and back at it soon, but I can take care of what I do, and that's playing well and help the team keep winning. My last game was against Winnipeg and my next one's against Winnipeg so I know what to expect. It's just being ready and making sure my minutes are good minutes."

Hitchcock liked Cracknell's game and feels he will fill in nicely. Cracknell centered the fourth line with Brenden Morrow and Ryan Reaves.

"I don't think you want to start absorbing a bunch of injuries just to test it out," Hitchcock said of the team's depth. "The thing for us is when you've got people that can play multiple positions … so a guy like Cracknell can come in, he can play anywhere in your lineup. He can play up or he can play down. It's a good thing for us. Adam is a really smart guy. He's a real pro and he can come in and fit in, and we know he's going to help us. The game he played in Winnipeg, he was one of our better players. So, I don't think it's going to change. He's a good player for us right now."

* Familiar faces -- With Paajarvi out and Cracknell in Tuesday, Hitchcock juggled the lines somewhat and went back with a familar trio.

After using Vladimir Sobotka between Paajarvi and Vlarimir Tarasenko Saturday night, Hitchcock went back with Patrik Berglund centering Jaden Schwartz and Tarasenko Monday at practice.

Stewart, who began the season with Derek Roy but played with Berglund and Schwartz Saturday, was back with Roy Monday with Sobotka on left wing.

"I think the one guy that's going to move here is Tarasenko," Hitchcock said. "I told Vlad today that depending on the opponent, depending on the matchup, he's probably the one guy that's going to move ... him and Stewy. So don't be too surprised if him and Stewy flip a little bit during the game or even from game to game. We'll see."

* Lappy patiently waits -- Center Maxim Lapierre, whose five-game suspension stemming from his check from behind on San Jose's Dan Boyle Oct. 15 ends following Tuesday's game, has been patiently waiting for his time to get back into the lineup.

But five games seems like five weeks with the lengthy layoff between games for the Blues, who after Monday will have played the fewest games in the NHL with nine.

"It is really long right now," Lapierre said after practice. "I can't wait to come back and be a part of the group. We're hoping that Dan's going to feel better soon and my part is just one game left and we'll see after.

"It's different practicing and playing, but I know 100 percent I did everything I needed to do off the ice through my suspension to be in great shape."

Lapierre, who is eligible to return to the lineup when the Blues play at Florida Friday, doesn't feel like his game will change much from the hard-checking, agitating role he plays but after seeing Boyle knocked out following the play, it makes players think twice about what they tend to do.

"Obviously I've got to come back and play the game I've played all my career," Lapierre said. "I'm not going to lie. A hit like that always makes you think a lot, (but) I'm not going to change my role. I might take a different approach from now on. I'm not saying I'm not going to be physical, but I'm definitely not going to finish a hit on a rim."

Hitchcock said he understands initially when a player comes off a suspension, he might play a little differently but doesn't expect anything different from Lapierre.

"Yeah, I think sometimes everybody gets wrapped up in the emotion of the game," Hitchcock said. "I have no doubt that he's going to come back and play well. He's not a player that's going to make his living playing careful. He plays a reckless style. We’re hoping that he keeps it up. It’s an unfortunate situation that happened, but in our view that was a hockey play that went bad. It’s move on and get ready. He’s an important forechecking player for us. He’s really good, he’s got a great stick on the forecheck, that’s the type of player we signed and that’s the guy we want on the ice.

"He’s just a good player. He’s a very effective player for us. He’s good on PK, he’s got great energy. We miss him. We miss his personality in the locker room. He’s got an enthusiasm to compete and play. I’m really looking forward to getting him back."

Lapierre took a fair amount of criticism, particularly from Sharks players and their fans. However, he doesn't consider himself to be one of the players termed "dirty."

"Honestly, like we said in the meeting with Brendan (Shanahan), I think I've been a player that's talked all my career and say things on the ice and be an agitator," Lapierre said. "I don't consider myself as a dirty player. If you look on average, I've been in the league maybe eight years, I've averaged 200 hits a year and two were bad. It's never fun to see an event like what happened with Dan Boyle, but if I look at the percentage, I don't think I'm a dirty player."

With the Blues avoiding serious injury to both Stewart and Paajarvi, Lapierre said when he gets back in and others will help the Blues to not skip a beat if injuries occur.

"We see it when guys like Cracks and Magnus come into the lineup, they're great players and I think we're lucky to have those players working hard every day, they're getting ready every day to help when it's time," Lapierre said.

* Tidbits -- Jaroslav Halak will get the start in goal when the Blues host the Jets. Brian Elliott made his only start of the season when the teams last met, a 4-3 shootout win for the Jets in a game the Blues squandered a 3-1 lead with less than seven minutes to play. ... Defenseman Barret Jackman left practice early Monday but Hitchcock said he will be good to go Tuesday after blocking a shot Saturday at Nashville.

"He had kind of a scheduled short practice," Hitchcock said of Jackman. "He blocked a shot and we wanted to get him up and running for a little bit. He'll be good to go tomorrow."

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Blues soar to 6-1 win over Predators

Steen nets two more goals, ties Ovechkin for league lead; Oshie,
Schwartz, Pietrangelo each with goal and assist; Halak strong in goal

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Alexander Steen is doing his best to keep pace with another well-known Alexander.

But the Blues' Alexander wants to make one point crystal clear when comparing himself to Washington Capitals sniper Alexander Ovechkin: cool it with the scoring pace.

"It's only nine games ... nine games," Steen said after catching Ovechkin for the NHL lead in goals with 10 in the Blues' 6-1 victory over the Nashville Predators Saturday night. "He's been doing it for years. I've been doing it for nine games."

(St. Louis Blues/Getty Images)
The Blues' T.J. Oshie (right) battles Nashville's Shea Weber for position on
the ice Saturday night at Bridgestone Arena.
Steen might not be the guy one would pick to trade punches with Ovechkin when it's all said and done, but he's doing his best in the early part of the season. He scored twice Saturday.

Steen's teammates are taking notice and will be a constant reminder if Steen can stay on Ovechkin's pace.

"We let him know all the time," Blues right wing and linemate T.J. Oshie said, "but he seems to stay level-headed and keeps working hard. He deserves everything he gets."

Ovechkin and the Capitals played against the Calgary Flames late Saturday night, but for the moment, Steen is on level par with him. Steen and the Blues have two games in hand when all is said and done.

"He feels like he's fresh on the ice and when you're fresh, you're confident," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of Steen. "That's how he's feeling right now."

The Blues got contributions from a number of players even after losing forwards Chris Stewart and Magnus Paajarvi to upper-body injuries in the game. Oshie, Jaden Schwartz and Alex Pietrangelo each had a goal and an assist, Vladimir Tarasenko and Jay Bouwmeester each had two assists and Derek Roy scored for the Blues, who erased the bad memory of a 3-2 overtime loss against the Vancouver Canucks on Friday.

"I thought we played really well, but it was a strange game," Hitchcock said. "For the two teams that play each other, we don't give up many scoring chances and they don't give up many and there seemed to be a lot of scoring chances.

"We had a lot of scoring chances ourselves. We seemed to have a lot of odd-man rushes today. It was a 6-1 game, but it didn't feel like a 6-1 game. ... Our players that have carried us all year offensively did a great job for us."

The Blues (6-1-2) also got a strong game in goal from Jaroslav Halak, who stopped 22 shots and was solid, particularly in the first period, as coach Ken Hitchcock went back with his No. 1 guy on back-to-back nights for the first time this season. Halak improved to 10-3-3 in his career against the Predators.

"We needed Jaro to be good today," Hitchcock said. "There were a lot of scoring chances against us, bang-bang plays at the net. ... We needed our goalie to be good and he was."

St. Louis has now won a franchise-best four straight in Nashville dating back to Feb. 4, 2012. The Blues have won seven of eight against the Predators. The Blues also improved to 10-0-1 in Saturday games dating back to last season, outscoring their opponents 47-18.

"The way last night ended, it was good to get right back on the horse," Bouwmeester said. "We played a pretty solid game. Jaro made some good saves early on and as the game went on, we kind of took over. That's how we want to play."

Added Oshie: "It was hard to fight through their checking. They did a great job those first two periods of just coming at you. Those are tough games. It was a different pace than last night's game. I think we handled it really well."

The Predators (6-5-1) lost for only the second time in regulation in their past eight games. Nick Spaling scored a shorthanded goal and Carter Hutton stopped 21 shots before being pulled in the third period in favor of Magnus Hellberg, who made his NHL debut.

Steen's goal surpassed his total of eight he scored in 40 games a season ago seven seconds into the Blues' first power play of the night. Steen, who has five goals in four games and has scored in eight of the Blues' nine games, snapped a wrister from the left circle past Hutton, who was screened by Chris Stewart, 5:27 into the opening period.

The Blues, who were looking for a better start as opposed to a lackluster beginning Friday at home against the Canucks, outshot the Predators 17-8 in the opening period.

"We got out of the gates a lot quicker than we did [Friday] night against Vancouver," Steen said. "Pretty solid and straight-through from the start of the game to the finish. ... It was a mixture of things. We talked about it and we wanted to come out with a lot more jump [Friday], but we'd been away from the game for a week and Vancouver's played 13 games. We came out a lot harder today, which I think is expected. I don't think guys felt tired. I think it was the opposite. We're back in the rhythm of things."

Oshie gave the Blues a 2-0 lead 7:34 into the second period when he redirected Pietrangelo's point shot from the high slot past Hutton with David Backes parked in front of the Predators' goalie.

Vladimir Sobotka's nifty pass to Schwartz off a 2-on-1 gave the Blues a 3-0 lead when Schwartz one-timed a shot from the right circle at 11:36 of the second period on the Blues' third shot of the period.

The Blues lost Paajarvi after the first period after he took a hit, played a couple shifts but was done for the night, and Stewart, who got shoved into the corner boards by Patric Hornqvist midway through the second period, was lost for the third period after he also returned for a few shifts despite Hitchcock saying he probably shouldn't have allowed Stewart to return to the game. Both will be re-evaluated but sounds like the team will be making some call-ups from their American Hockey League affiliate in Chicago.

"He got whacked in the boards there," Hitchcock said of Paajarvi. "We'll give you a better evaluation here tomorrow, but he's got a pretty good upper-body injury right now. We'll get a better evaluation here in the next couple days."

Stewart came back in the game and took his frustrations out on Hornqvist that drew 14 minutes in penalties with seven minutes left in the second.

(St. Louis Blues/Getty Images)
Blues players (from left to right) Roman Polak, Vladimir Sobotka, Vladimir
Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz celebrate Schwartz's goal Saturday.
"Stewy got hurt pretty good. He tried to come back. He was angry," Hitchcock said. "I probably shouldn't have put him out there. When he came back to the bench, I thought he was alright, but I probably shouldn't have put him back out there knowing that he's banged up."

With the Blues on a power play to begin the third period, a bouncing puck eluded Sobotka at the right point, and Spaling pounced with a breakaway. He beat Halak high stick side just 52 seconds into the period to make it a 3-1 game. The goal ended a shutout streak in this building for the Blues at 132:59.

But that all was for naught as Steen got his second of the game from an improbable spot when he was able to take in a puck behind the Nashville goal and bank it in off Hutton's back at 4:07. Steen's 10 goals came on 26 shots this season.

Roy took a Tarasenko feed and raced in on a 2-on-1 and fired a high wrister that chased Hutton from the game at 7:48.

Pietrangelo's first of the season came via the power play. His blast beat Hellberg with Steen setting a screen in front at 12:58.

It was the kind of bounce-back game the Blues needed and putting an exclamation point on a resounding win helps matters.

"Guys are playing unbelievable right now," Steen said. "... It's what we're about in here, team stuff."

(10-26-13) Blues-Predators Gameday Lineup

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- He'll quietly go about his business off the ice, but when it comes time to strap the laces and hit the ice, both teammates and the opposition know when they come across Vladimir Sobotka.

The Blues multi-purpose, all-versatile forward will be rewarded by coach Ken Hitchcock tonight by playing up on a line with Magnus Paajarvi and Vladimir Tarasenko. That means Derek Roy will slide down and play between Brenden Morrow and Ryan Reaves.

Sobotka, who scored in the third period to tie Friday night's 3-2 overtime loss to the Vancouver Canucks, logged 16 minutes, 14 seconds of ice time and won six of seven faceoffs. As has been the case since he was acquired from the Boston Bruins in 2010 for prospect David Warsofsky, Sobotka has been used in a multitude of fashions, except on defense and in goal ... although Sobotka admitted Saturday morning before the Blues (5-1-2) take on the Nashville Predators (6-4-1) tonight at Bridgestone Arena that he in fact began his playing days as a d-man.

"I'm not going to change my game at all," said Sobotka, who has five points in eight games. "I'm going to try to do the same stuff that I've been doing since the first game.

"I'm trying to hold onto the puck in the corner and make a play and be more stronger on those board battles."

Hitchcock called Sobotka the best player on the ice for both teams Friday, and said the time is now to get the Trebic, Czech Republic native a more prominent role.

"Enough is enough," Hitchcock said. "He was the best player on the ice for both teams. That's why he's moving up the ladder today.

"I can pop him in and out anywhere, and it's really effective. I just need him up the ladder more here. He's earned the right. That's the internal competition of your team. He's earned the right to play up the ladder right off the bat rather than the score. If he's a guy that plays 18-20 minutes tonight, then he's earned it quite frankly. He's got speed, he's got tenacity ... this is the best he's played for a long time. This is the best he's played since I've had him here anyways."

Hitchcock said he would have played Sobotka 60 minutes -- well, 65 Friday -- if he had to. That's how good he's been. but in typical Sobotka fashion, it's a team concept first with him.

"That feels great, but we didn't win last night," Sobotka said. "... I felt good, but we lost. It didn't feel that good, but I felt comfortable on the ice making plays. That's my game, play hard and win the board battles. It's real important."

And with Sobotka's versatility to play any of the forward positions, Hitchcock is in a good spot where he can use him at any time and in any position whenever he needs it.

"He's such a versatile guy," Hitchcock said. "How many guys can you throw out there at center, left or right wing in the same period and he doesn't miss a beat? Pretty intelligent player. I think he's one of the most underrated players in the league. What's coming forward now is his puck patience and his ability to hang onto the puck and make plays in the offensive zone is really improving right now."

Sobotka is not one to complain about playing on the fourth line. He takes it as a challenge.

"If I start on the fourth line, I'll say (to myself), 'You have to earn those minutes on the ice and play good to hopefully get on the second line or third line,'" Sobotka said. "It doesn't really matter. I'm playing 16-17 minutes every night. I don't feel like I'm playing (on) the fourth line.

"This year, I played right wing, center, left wing ... I'm all over the place. I feel really comfortable with that. I play with all the lines, all the players since I've been in St. Louis. I feel comfortable with that. ... It's probably in me to be, how do you guys call it here, a versatile player."

And probably what's gone unnoticed is Sobotka's ability to win faceoffs, which he said is something he's put a lot of focus on.

After winning 86 percent of his draws Friday, Sobotka has now won 47 of 66 draws, good for 71.2 percent. Sobotka credits a workout drill involving a stick-like rope that helps with his hand coordination.

"I've been really working on that all summer, doing some drills for faceoffs," Sobotka said. "It's working out really well for me right now."

Indeed it is, and in a contract year nonetheless. The Blues need to be looking to lock up Sobotka as soon as possible, as his stock continues to rise by the second.

- - -

Roy recalls his first NHL game. It came Dec. 13, 2003 with the Buffalo Sabres, who were playing in Minnesota that night. Ten years later, as is the case with most NHL players who reach certain milestones, it's all about being fortunate and relatively injury-free.

"I had to travel to Minnesota and I got there late (flight)," said Roy, who will play in his 600th game tonight. "It was one of those long days. I think I ate Subway before the game because I had nothing else to eat. It was a tough one and I think we ended up losing actually. ... Just to get that first game, I think my first shift, I had a real good chance. That would have been a real good story.

"I don't have a good story about my first game. I think we lost 2-1. I played a decent amount (17:08), but it was just exciting to play that first game."

Roy's 600th game comes playing for his fourth NHL team, with previous stops in Dallas and Vancouver as well before signing with the Blues in the summer.

"It's a lot of years in this league, a lot of battles," Roy said. "I've had to fight through a lot of things and injuries and everything that comes with it."

Roy, who has two goals and six points in eight games but none in the last two, understands playing between two bigger bodies like Morrow and Reaves tonight makes him the playmaker.

"We started off the game last game with different players and ended up with different," Roy said. "You've just got to work hard, especially with those guys on my line. Just try and work as hard as I can and make plays."

- - -

The Blues' probable lineup:

Alexander Steen-David Backes-T.J. Oshie

Magnus Paajarvi-Vladimir Sobotka-Vladimir Tarasenko

Jaden Schwartz-Patrik Berglund-Chris Stewart

Brenden Morrow-Derek Roy-Ryan Reaves

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk

Jordan Leopold-Roman Polak

Jaroslav Halak will start in goal after stopping 21 shots Friday; Brian Elliott will be the backup.

Healthy scratches include Adam Cracknell and Ian Cole. Maxim Lapierre remains suspended and will miss tonight as well as Tuesday before being eligible to return Nov. 1.

- - -

The Predators, who are 5-1-1 in their last seven after starting 1-3-0, will roll out the following probable lineup:

Colin Wilson-Mike Fisher-Patric Hornqvist

Gabriel Bourque-Matt Cullen-Craig Smith

Filip Forsberg-David Legwand-Nick Spaling

Matt Hendricks-Paul Gaustad-Eric Nystrom

Seth Jones-Shea Weber

Mattias Ekholm-Kevin Klein

Victor Bartley-Ryan Ellis

Carter Hutton starts in goal; Magnus Hellberg is the backup.

Healthy scratches are Viktor Stalberg and Rich Clune. Injuries include Roman Josi (concussion) and Pekka Rinne (hip), who is out a minimum of four weeks after surgery to clean out an infection in his hip.