Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Depth paying off for Blues on 'D'

Cole, Colaiacovo fill in nicely with Leopold injured,
Shattenkirk ill; three-game trip begins Wednesday at Colorado

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- In the NHL, teams will face adversity in a number of different ways, most notably it typically has to do with how they handle the injury bug.

The Blues (17-3-3) were relatively injury-free for the first month of the season but have since seen their share of injuries.

Guys like Magnus Paajarvi, Brenden Morrow and now Ryan Reaves have been shelved at times this season, and the Blues have had the depth up front to offset their losses.

(St. Louis Blues)
Blues defenseman Ian Cole (28) has helped fill the void on the blue line.
It gets a little trickier on defense, and the Blues were playing without one-third of their top six on 'D' Monday night against the Minnesota Wild.

They didn't miss a beat.

Jordan Leopold (hand) is out up to two months or longer, and Ian Cole has stepped in and filled the void. Monday, Kevin Shattenkirk came down with the flu. Who stepped in and filled nicely? Carlo Colaiacovo, who the Blues signed to a one-year contract on Nov. 12.

Not many teams could survive losing two of their top six on defense, but with general manager Doug Armstrong's commitment to keep a nice supply of depth on hand, the Blues can plug gaps as if those players were never gone.

"That's the plan," Cole said. "That's what we have to do as teammates. One guy goes down -- Leo or Shatty or whoever -- we have to be able to step in and play just as well as the guy that goes out.

"Leo is such a good player, I step in, I try to play the same, simple game and really help out Roman (Polak) as a d-partner. Coco did the same thing (Monday). He took over Shatty's spot on the power play. ... Enough can't be said for the team that we've put together. Obviously Army's done a great job and the coaching staff has prepared us well to hop in there and hopefully not miss a beat."

Colaiacovo was signed because the Blues did not feel any of their prospects at the American Hockey league level were ready to make the jump up, nor did they want to bring a young player up to simply sit as a seventh defenseman. All he did was play 14-plus minutes in Monday's 3-0 victory and assist on Vladimir Sobotka's goal on Colaiacovo's first shift and first shot.

"Carlo brings a good element to us," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "You forget how well he passes the puck. He gets us into a lot of transition that not many guys can do. His first touch is excellent.
Carlo Colaiacovo

"I think the other thing that's happening is that the Cole and Polak pair is becoming a good pair. They're becoming very sound and solid. They're playing simple. Coley's starting to see the ice a little bit better. Things aren't as fast. He's starting to get comfortable playing and they're starting to play the game the way we want them to, too. I think our transition back there's getting better throughout the group. We're still obviously getting the good performances from 19 (Jay Bouwmeester) and 27 (Alex Pietrangelo) every night, but I think we're starting to get better transition across the board."

And bringing in Colaiacovo, the Blues added an element familiar with the system. Before he signed with Detroit in the summer of 2012, Colaiacovo spent four seasons in the Blues' system.
"I think the familiarity with each other, guys have played together for a long time," Colaiacovo said. "We practice those details when we can. Guys really feed off each other and work off each other, always talking about different things and different plays, making different adjustments in games.
"It's something that's worked, something that's been successful for this team and we're going to continue to need it."

* Three game trip -- The Blues headed to the West Coast to begin a three-game trip, beginning with a rematch with the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday (8 p.m. on FSN, KMOX 1120-AM).

The last time these two teams met, the Blues ran away with a 7-3 victory in which they outscored the Avalanche 4-0 in the second period in a game that got heated with a trio of fights.

It could get very interesting at Pepsi Center when the puck drops, and it's a place the Blues haven't won since April 12, 2009, going 0-6-2 since that 1-0 victory. In goal for that game? Chris Mason.

"I think probably too much is made of it, but we're going to just have to be ready ... first of all, they're a good team," Hitchcock said of the Avalanche, 17-5-0 under first-year coach Patrick Roy. "They're playing well again. We've got to find a way to win in that building. It's a difficult building to win in. It's a fast game there.

"I'm more concerned about us playing better in that building. I haven't seen us play to our capabilities in that building yet, so I'm more concerned about the way we play."

The Blues have three wins in Colorado going back to the 2006-07 season and are 3-11-2 there since 2005.

"You've got altitude issues and you don't have a chance to get used to it, and they've got a fast team," Hitchcock said. "They've built their team around that building. The rink's fast, the boards are fast, the team's fast. They're a young team that plays with a lot of energy at home. It's a tough building to win in."

After Wednesday, the Blues will then play an afternoon game Friday at San Jose before finishing the trip Monday at Los Angeles.

"Big tests because they're all great teams," Hitchcock said. "Every one of these teams has got a great record right now. It's pick your poison.

"Dallas was hot, Minny was hot. You just pick your poison. It's one day at a time and just try to play as well as you can for as long as you can. With playing every second day or sometimes even shorter than that, you've got to let go of the game, good or bad. You've got to let go right away. I think we've done a good job of letting go, moving on to the next day, the next event. I like our attitude ... we're playing one day, the next (day), we're showing up ready to go to work."

Hitchcock said that Jaroslav Halak (13-3-2 with a 2.21 goals-against average and .911 save percentage) will get the start against the Avs. It's quite possible Brian Elliott (4-0-1 with a 1.79 GAA and .932 save percentage) could face the Sharks, as Hitchcock said after Elliott beat the Stars this past Saturday that Halak would play against the Wild and Elliott would go against Colorado or San Jose.

Also, Shattenkirk was at the rink Tuesday after spending Monday battling the flu in bed. Hitchcock said he expected Shattenkirk to play Wednesday after he exercised and rode the bike but didn't skate. If Shattenkirk plays Wednesday as expected, Hitchcock was not sure which defenseman would sit.

Blues blank Wild 3-0

Steen scores twice, Halak earns 27th career shutout, 18th with the Blues

ST. LOUIS -- Three seems to be the magic number for the Blues on home ice.

When the Blues score three times, count it as money in the bank.

And when their goaltender can toss a goose egg into the mix, it makes this hockey team and Scottrade Center that much tougher to conquer.

The Blues improved to an incredible 45-0-1 in their last 46 games when scoring three times. Alexander Steen helped consummate that statistic when he dumped a puck into an empty net with 1 minute, 22 seconds remaining. It capped off a 3-0 victory against the Minnesota Wild Monday night.

(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
Vladimir Sobotka (17) got the Blues going early with a goal in the first
period of a 3-0 victory against the Minnesota Wild on Monday.
Blues offense had things going early, then turned to their goalie to finish off another victory.

Jaroslav Halak didn't have much work early, but the Blues goaltender saved his best for last, turning aside all 22 shots he saw.

It was Halak's 27th career shutout, a franchise-record 18th as a member of the Blues and second this season.

Halak, who is 13-3-2 with a 2.21 goals-against average and .911 save percentage, was busiest in the third period when Minnesota outshot the Blues 12-1. He turned aside all 12 shots, including a couple of high-percentage looks.

"The first two periods, it was no shots again, no action for me, just a couple shots," Halak said. "I just needed to stay focused tonight. It wasn't easy, but going into the third and having the lead, that's what we wanted."

Steen's 18th and 19th goals pulled him within one of the Washington Capitals' Alex Ovechkin for the NHL lead, and Vladimir Sobotka scored his second in as many games.

The Blues are now a League-best plus-32 in goal differential despite missing Kevin Shattenkirk (flu) Monday.

"I just thought our 5-on-5 play was really good today," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "I thought this was one of the best games we've played 5-on-5 for a long time. I thought any of the scoring chances they got were on the power play. I thought 5-on-5, we really competed and I thought we created a lot of pressure and presence, especially in the first two periods."

Minnesota thought it had a 1-0 lead 30 seconds into the game when Zach Parise deflected in Ryan Suter's shot from the left point. But the goal was immediately waved off, with the call that Parise's stick was above the crossbar, and after a lengthy review, it was determined video was inconclusive.

Obviously, both sides had a difference in opinion.

"I think what saved us was the call on the ice," Hitchcock said. "It has to be really definitive. When you see it from the low angle -- we never saw that low angle until after the game -- the stick was up there pretty good. It's hard to turn that over. It's in somebody else's hands, but unless it's really definitive when the referee waves it off right off the bat, not many times do those go against you.

"It could have had maybe a little bit of difference in the game, but the way we played in the first period, man we were really going. Every part of our game was going in the first period, which was nice to see."

"To me it was clear it was a good goal," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "The call on the ice impacts it. Fair to say we came unraveled for a few minutes after that. It was a big moment in the game.

"It’s bad enough we should be up 1-0 and now all of a sudden we’re down 1-0. But we still had plenty of game in front of us and not going to make excuses but it was very disappointing."

Added Halak: "It was luck on our side tonight, on my side. If it was probably a little bit lower, it would be a goal. Giving up a goal from the first shot, that's not how we want to start a game. I'm glad it was no goal and after that, we kept playing. It didn't bother us."

The Blues immediately pounced on the opportunity of the video review, with Sobotka scoring when he collected a rebound of a Carlo Colaiacovo shot from inside the blue line and beat Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom 50 seconds later for a 1-0 St. Louis lead. It was Colaiacovo's first point in his first shift since signing a free-agent contract Nov. 12.

"I'm just trying to get my speed and go to the net," Sobotka said. "It was a good shot by Carlo and I just found the puck in front of the net and I put it in.

"We talked about that we need a fast start. They're playing hard, kind of similar to us. I think we did a good job."

Colaiacovo, signed by the Blues on Nov. 12, stepped in for Shattenkirk, who was ill.

"Lucky play. Obviously I was pretty fortunate for it to happen the way it did," Colaiacovo said of the first goal. "I'll take them when I can get them. I'm going to contribute any way that I can. If that's the way I can, great.

"That's one thing that this team is really good at, establishing the cycle in the offensive end, getting the d-men involved and getting shots through with traffic. You can see forwards are looking for deflections, they're setting themselves up with good screens. That's how you create offense in this league. We've done a pretty good job of it as a whole. Tonight was just another example of it."

The Blues were doing a solid job getting shots from the point and putting bodies in front of Backstrom, and Steen benefited with his first goal in five games when he took in Jay Bouwmeester's shot from the left point and beat Backstrom with a backhand upstairs at 13:38 of the first period for a 2-0 Blues lead. After a 13-game point streak, Steen had only one assist in the past four games.

"Our 'D' did a good job of getting pucks through," Steen said. "The first two were a result of that."

The middle period saw no scoring, but Halak made a key point-blank stop on Zenon Konopka with 1:49 left off a rebound at the top of the crease, and the Blues' Jaden Schwartz -- off a 3-on-2 rush -- rang a shot off the left post with 15 seconds remaining.

Halak also was up to the task on Dany Heatley twice. He went from post to post to save a shot off a one-timer from the right circle late in the game, and Steen's empty-netter with 1:22 remaining sealed the Blues' victory. Steen trails Sidney Crosby by two points for the overall NHL points lead (30-29).

"A lot of credit goes to Jaro," defenseman Ian Cole said. "They didn't get a ton of chances, but the ones they did were really good ones. He made some unbelievable saves. Defensively, any time there's a shutout, you've got to be very happy with how we played."

(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
The Blues' T.J. Oshie (right) looks to redirect a shot past Wild goalie Niklas
Backstrom on Monday night.
The Blues kept their franchise-best start to a season going, improving to 17-3-3. They are 11-1-2 on home ice, and they're 9-1-1 in their past 11 games and 12-2-1 in the past 14. They're also 11-3-2 against teams with a .500 record or better, 6-1-1 against teams in the top 10 in points.

The Blues have won six in a row against the Wild, outscoring Minnesota 19-7 over that span. They are 8-0-3 in the past 11 against Minnesota at Scottrade Center dating back to the Wild's most-recent regulation win there Oct. 20, 2007.

Backstrom stopped 18 shots for the Wild, who were shut out for the first time this season. Minnesota (15-6-4) came in 6-1-0 in its past seven and 9-1-1 in November.

"When you can roll four lines and six defensemen in this League, it makes yourself a very tough team to play against," Colaiacovo said. "I believe that's what we are. We've just got to keep it going.

"Overall, we played a solid team game. We did a lot of good things well and we got a good win out of it."

Monday, November 25, 2013

(11-25-13) Wild-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- Less than two weeks after signing a one-year, $550,000 contract, Carlo Colaiacovo will make his second debut with the Blues on Monday.

Colaiacovo was brought back to the team after defenseman Jordan Leopold (hand surgery) was lost for two months to provide veteran depth. After being bought out of the final year of his contract with the Detroit Red Wings this past summer, the 30-year-old Colaiacovo was without a job but keeping in hockey shape in Toronto.

Colaiacovo got the call from the Blues and a contract was consummated quickly.

"That's what I was told. Hopefully that's the case. If it is, it's exciting for me," Colaiacovo said regarding his insertion into the lineup. "... At the end of the day, I'm confident in myself, I'm confident in my abilities that I can come in here and play a simple game, use the experience of my partner and the guys on the backend and just focus on getting a win."

Colaiacovo, acquired in a trade from the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2008 along with Alexander Steen for Lee Stempniak, has been a healthy scratch for six games while getting himself in game shape working with the team in a daily basis.

"I've done a lot of hard work off the ice to keep myself in the best shape possible for a situation like this," Colaiacovo said. "I feel really good on the ice. I think for me, it's just the excitement of finally getting back into a game. I've played a lot of hockey over my career. I've faced scenarios like this where I haven't played in a long time and I've always fared pretty well. At the end of the day, I've just got to focus on keeping things simple, using my smarts, using my instincts and focusing on playing well."

Colaiacovo will get his chance against the Minnesota Wild (7 p.m. on NBCSN, KMOX 1120-AM) because fellow defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk was not at the morning skate. Coach Ken Hitchcock said Shattenkirk is sick -- the Blues (16-3-3) have been dealing with the flu bug off and on the past week or so -- and will sit out tonight's game. Hitchcock said that Colaiacovo was in the lineup regardless of Shattenkirk's situation.

"He's sick, so our preference with anybody that has sickness this year is just to keep them away from the team," Hitchcock said of Shattenkirk. "... We'll read it into the rest of the day, but our preference is to keep him away from the group and let him get some sleep and rest.

"As soon as a guy calls in sick, we just tell him to stay home. Every team goes through it. We've been lucky that guys have come back and played the same day that they've been sick, or the night before. This is now player No. 5. You just manage it properly. If the other four all came back and played in the game, we expect that to be happening again. But you never know. We're not going to risk one hockey game to add another six or seven players because a guy's in here. Back to the infirmary."

Hitchcock is confident inserting Colaiacovo into the lineup.

"He's been ready for a week," Hitchcock said. "Regardless of whether Shatty plays or not, Carlo's in for sure. He's playing.

"He's a great puck distributor, he's smart, he plays sneaky-good minutes. He's a real complimentary player. He can play minutes killing penalties, he can play on the power play ... he can add to the group. I think when you work as hard as he's worked and do the things that we ask him to do, I think Brad thought he was up to speed conditioning-wise a week ago, we kept him the extra week to work him right through it and he's ready to go."

Colaiacovo, a left-handed shot, was taking line rushes on the right side playing with Barret Jackman and will play with him tonight.

"I think the familiarity with the way we play and the players we have, definitely helps," Colaiacovo said. "It creates a comfort level for me that I'm able to go out there and do good at what I'm doing. Obviously I feel comfortable with who I'm playing with. I know them both on and off the ice."

- - -

Ryan Reaves' broken right hand will sideline the Blues' enforcer for six weeks before he's reevaluated, the team announced Monday. He had surgery to repair the damage done as a result of a fight Saturday against Dallas. Magnus Paajarvi draws back into the lineup after being a healthy scratch Saturday against the Stars.

Paajarvi, who scored his first goal as a Blue Tuesday at Buffalo, will play on his off-wing with Brenden Morrow and Maxim Lapierre.

"First of all, before he got hurt, he was playing great," Hitchcock said of Paajarvi, who has one goal in seven games. "We were really happy with him. He was playing third-line minutes, exactly as advertised. Right wing is more comfortable for him, so this is a real opportunity for him. We were happy with the game he played in Boston. If he's going to build on that, that's good stuff. We'd like him to stay healthy here because the way we play and the energy that he brings, I think is really going to be positive for us. We need him to get back where he was before the injury because he was a really effective player for us."

Hitchcock said Paajarvi will eventually work his way up the lineup.

"I think the coach mis-uses him a little bit," Hitchcock said. "I think we have other people playing well in that spot. As I said during training camp and the first part of the season, he's not as advertised. I think he's a way better player offensively than he's given credit for ... way better. I think he does things naturally offensively that he did in Sweden that he's comfortable with doing here. I think at the end of the day, he's going to end up as a second-line winger, but I think because of the way we're built and the way we're structured, we use him as a third- or fourth-line winger. I think the details of the checking part of his game, we still need to get a lot of work. At times he gets on the wrong side of the puck, but I think offensively, he's way, way better than advertised."

- - -

The Wild (15-5-4), who have been shuffling the deck as well, will get veteran Mike Rupp (lower body injury) back in the lineup against the Blues. He has not played a game this season. Goalie Josh Harding (lower body injury) stayed back in Minnesota after returning there Sunday following an injury that occurred during the pre-game warm-up against the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday. Mikael Granlund (upper body injury) will miss his second straight game.

"He just stayed back," Wild coach Mike Yeo said of Harding. "Just day to day and obviously we'll see what happens here in the next couple days.

"Obviously it's tough to tell on a morning skate. We've got to see (Rupp) in some game action. It's a different pace once the puck drops but anxious to have him back. ... I was hoping to have (Granlund) here today, but we're going to keep him off again today and we'll call it day to day too."

- - -

The Blues' probable lineup:

Alexander Steen-David Backes-T.J. Oshie

Jaden Schwartz-Vladimir Sobotka-Vladimir Tarasenko

Derek Roy-Patrik Berglund-Chris Stewart

Brenden Morrow-Maxim Lapierre-Magnus Paajarvi

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Barret Jackman-Carlo Colaiacovo

Ian Cole-Roman Polak

Jaroslav Halak will start in goal. Brian Elliott will be the backup.

Adam Cracknell will be the healthy scratch. Kevin Shattenkirk (sick) will be a game-time decision. Jordan Leopold (hand) and Ryan Reaves (hand) are on injured reserve.

- - -

The Wild's probable lineup:

Zach Parise-Mikko Koivu-Jason Pominville

Jason Zucker-Charlie Coyle-Justin Fontaine

Matt Cooke-Kyle Brodziak-Nino Niederreiter

Mike Rupp-Zenon Konopka-Dany Heatley

Ryan Suter-Jonas Brodin

Marco Scandella-Jared Spurgeon

Clayton Stoner-Nate Prosser

Niklas Backstrom will start in goal. Darcy Kuemper will be the backup.

Matt Dumba is the lone healthy scratch. Josh Harding (lower body), Keith Ballard (upper body), Mikael Granlund (upper body), Torrey Mitchell (leg) are out with injuries for the Wild.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Blues lose Reaves for four weeks with broken hand

Enforcer came into his own as regular in lineup;
opportunity for Paajarvi, Cracknell to fill void

ST. LOUIS -- For the first time in four seasons, Ryan Reaves has been establishing himself as one of 20 players in the Blues' lineup on a regular basis.

Reaves has been more known as the energy guy who energizes the home crowd with bone-crunching hits and dropping the gloves but has since added an offensive flare to his arsenal with two goals and two assists in 22 games but a number of scoring chances.

So when the news came down Saturday night that Reaves suffered a broken right hand in the first period as a result of a fight where he pummeled Dallas Stars defenseman Brenden Dillon that will shut down the Blues' enforcer for four weeks, it puts a chink in the Blues' armor and Reaves' spirits a bit.

(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
Blues enforcer Ryan Reaves (75) suffered a broken right hand as a result
of this fight with Dallas Stars defenseman Brenden Dillon Saturday night.
"It's a tough time, especially when I finally kind of established myself on the team, somebody who can play every night," Reaves said. "I've just got to make sure I take care of myself over the next couple weeks. When I am ready to play, just come back hot and make sure I'm doing all the things I was doing before."

"It sucks. He’s a great guy," Blues right winger Chris Stewart said of Reaves, a close friend. "He's probably one of my best friends on the team, too. So not having him around on the road trips, it's going to be tough for me personally. Like I said, it is bad timing, but if it is going to happen, I'd rather it happen earlier in the year than late down the stretch. There's still ton of hockey to play and come March and April, this will be a distant memory."

The whole fight began initially when Reaves laid a hard, legal check on winger Valeri Nichushkin that send the Stars' rookie into the Blues bench. Dillon was one that stepped to the forefront and stick up for a teammate even though Reaves was not sure if a fight was what he was looking for.

"It was a pretty big one," Reaves said of the hit on Nichushkin. "The guy's in our box. Any time you see that, you usually stir something up.

"I wasn't surprised. (Dillon) looked at me but didn't really drop his gloves too quick. I didn't know if he was asking or not. I expected that kind of response."

And the response from Reaves came in the form of continuous blow after blow after blow. He had initially got cut from Nichushkin's skate that required stitches but then it was disclosed after x-rays were taken that a broken hand came as a result of the fight.

"I didn't feel anything until I was getting stitched up," Reaves said. "(Assistant trainer Chris Palmer) came to put ice on my hand and I just kind of winced a little bit so they said let's take a quick x-ray, said it was broken. I didn't feel it when I was fighting or any particular punch. I don't know when it really happened.

"I got cut when I hit Nichushkin. I don't know what cut me or what happened, but I was leaking pretty hard before the fight. ... I was just coming off to get zipped. I wasn't even thinking about this until they put the ice on there. I caught (Dillon) in the back of the head a few times. I honestly couldn't tell you which one it was."

Reaves was so oblivious to his hand being broken, he had planned on going back into the game.

"At first, I just told them to tape it up and they said OK," Reaves said. "Right before they did that, they said you can't because if I get hit again, it might need surgery for sure or it might be a little worse. They ended up shutting me down.

"I thought I was going back out. I asked them if they could just tape it and they said OK, sure. Another doctor said no, it's probably not smart."

With Reaves out, it gives Magnus Paajarvi or Adam Cracknell the chance to step into the lineup on a regular basis.

Paajarvi is likely to get the bulk of the playing time in Reaves' absence and on the right wing, beginning with a home game Monday against the Minnesota Wild.

"It's very sad to see what happened to Revo," Paajarvi said. "... I've felt good out there. I've felt better and better once I've got in. I mean it's a tough lineup, probably the best team in the league right now. It's exciting to be here and obviously I want to be in the lineup. I don't want to be (on the) outside. When I get the chance, I'm going to do what I can and whatever I need to.

"It doesn't matter for me, none whatsoever. Left or right, if I end up on either side, it doesn't really matter for me."

The Blues will miss Reaves' toughness in the lineup, and he formed quite the chemistry playing with center Maxim Lapierre, but Blues coach Ken Hitchcock feels there's enough toughness on the roster to fill the gap left by Reaves' absence.

"I don't think it's going to be difficult at all," Hitchcock said. "We've got guys like Stewart and (David) Backes and Lappy that do more than take care of themselves. I don't think this is going to be something we can't overcome. We're going to miss (Reaves') presence, especially in the locker room and his physical nature, but every team goes through this stuff. We'll find a way to move on."

Backes agreed.

"Yeah, we've got guys that are willing to do what it takes, whether it's defend your teammates or for me, it's more between the whistles and playing hard and making sure the other team doesn't have any easy ice. If it comes to dropping the gloves, we've got plenty of willing combatants."

Roman Polak and Vladimir Sobotka can also be thrown into this group.
(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
Vladimir Sobotka (right) dropped the gloves with Dallas' Rich Peverley in
what turned out to be the opening act of fights between the teams Saturday.

"Yeah, obviously you don't want to be fighting too many heavyweights or anything like that, but we're a team that prides ourselves on team toughness," Stewart said. "I've said it before, but you go through our lineup and we've got five or six guys who are willing to stand up for their teammates on the drop of a dime. It's going to suck to be without Revo for the next month, but we've got some guys that can step up."

Reaves will be looked at by team doctors Monday and a decision on surgery will be made then with general manager Doug Armstrong.

"I've got to talk to the doctors tomorrow to see what's going on," Reaves said. "I think even with surgery, I think it's almost the same rehab time. I think it just depends on how it heals.

"We're going to weigh all the options and talk tomorrow, talk to Army and see what he thinks and go over it with all the specialists, all the brains of the doctor's office."

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Blues cruise past Stars 6-1

Six different goal scorers light the lamp; Elliott
strong in goal; Reaves lost four weeks with broken hand

ST. LOUIS -- Once the St. Louis Blues caught up to the Dallas Stars' speed, they were able to put the game in cruise control Saturday.

In the end, the Stars' road winning streak ran into a major speed bump.

The Stars came into their game against the Blues winners of six in a row away from home, but one of their new Central Division rivals and top teams in the Western Conference had other ideas.

(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
Brian Elliott (left) makes one of his 34 saves in a 6-1 victory over the Dallas
Stars Saturday at Scottrade Center.
The Blues got goals from six scorers, with T.J. Oshie leading the way with a goal and an assist in a 6-1 victory against the Stars at Scottrade Center.

"I thought we struggled at the start of the game to catch up to the speed," said Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, who got his 621st career victory to move past Bryan Murray into eighth place on the all-time list. "As much as you talk about the speed of Dallas, I thought we struggled to get up to tempo in the first period. They were on us pretty hard and I thought as the game wore on, we got more and more up to the tempo of the game and started to counter-attack and get some scoring opportunities because of it."

Vladimir Sobotka, Vladimir Tarasenko, David Backes, Derek Roy and Chris Stewart also scored for the Blues, who got two assists from Alex Pietrangelo.

Brenden Morrow had an assist against his former club to give him a point against all 30 NHL teams.

St. Louis improved to 10-1-2 on home ice, 8-1-1 in their past 10 games overall and 11-2-1 in their past 14.

"We started trading chances there for a little bit, and that's not our game," Oshie said. "We got a hold of it pretty quick and it seemed like they had some trouble with our reloads and our tracking and our forecheck. That's what all our offense came off of.

"When we can go at them in waves with four lines, not just three but four, I think that's when we're at our best. Tonight, having six different scorers shows that."

Brian Elliott remained unbeaten in regulation, improving to 4-0-1 making 34 saves as the Blues continued their franchise-best start. They are 16-3-3 and have beaten the Stars six of the past seven times.

Elliott, who has a 1.79 goals-against average and .932 save percentage, and Jaroslav Halak have formed one of top tandems in the League. It's very reminiscent of the Jennings Trophy season the duo had following the 2011-12 season.

"You always want to get in there and fight for the guys and be a part of it," Elliott said. "I think that's what our strength is as a tandem. We can push each other.

"I think Jaro's playing well and I want to play well so we can just keep moving this train forward."

Brenden Dillon scored for the Stars, and Kari Lehtonen stopped 13 shots before being pulled early in the third period in favor of Dan Ellis; Dallas (11-9-2) dropped its fourth straight in St. Louis.

"I felt I had a bad night," said Lehtonen, who came into the game 8-3-0 with a 1.62 GAA and .946 save percentage lifetime against the Blues. "They stayed patient and got a couple of opportunities and scored.

"There's going to be a bad game at some point and it came tonight. I just have to forget about this one."

Outshot 12-4 in the first period, the Blues scored on half of theirs to take a 2-1 lead.

Sobotka's power move around Stars defenseman Sergei Gonchar, and a shove from behind by Dallas forward Jamie Benn, pushed Lehtonen deep into his net, but the puck crossed the goal line 1:39 into the game. It was the 100th career point for Sobotka, which includes 30 goals.

"We're a momentum team," Oshie said. "When nothing's going our way, I think we play really well. When we get off to a good start like that, we seem to feed off it and keep going."

The Stars tied it when Dillon's shot from the middle of the ice inside the blue line bounced past Elliott, who seemed to be screened by Pietrangelo, at 10:53.

Tarasenko gave the Blues the lead nine seconds later when he powered his way past Cody Eakin and snapped a shot through Lehtonen.

Sobotka was the opening act in the fight department, taking on Rich Peverley, but Ryan Reaves was the main event, as he pummeled Dillon in a fight 12:09 into the game after a solid hit that sent rookie Valeri Nichushkin flying into the Blues' bench.

Reaves hit Dillon so hard, he would not return to the game, and Hitchcock confirmed afterwards that Reaves suffered a broken hand -- he has a split over his right pinky and ring fingers -- and will be out four weeks.

"We get to take a hard look at Cracks and Magnus on a full-time basis," Hitchcock said of Adam Cracknell and Magnus Paajarvi. "Magnus has played a lot of right wing, so this is a good fit to get him going and Cracks has played a lot of right wing. We got replaceable (players).

"I know Revo only played five shifts before he got hurt, but they were five really good shifts. We're going to miss him, but other guys are going to step up. ... He hit that fella quite hard."

The Stars entered the Blues zone with speed in the second period but mishandled the puck; the play turned into a 2-on-1 for Backes and Jaden Schwartz. Backes kept the puck and wristed a shot from the slot past Lehtonen to give the Blues a 3-1 lead at 6:56. It was Backes' 10th goal in 22 games after scoring six in 48 last season.

Roy, who played part of last season for the Stars, deflected a Steen shot past Lehtonen 50 seconds into the third period, a power-play goal and his sixth point in six games, to give the Blues a 4-1 lead. It was Steen's first point in four games after briefly holding the NHL lead in goals and points last week.

(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
Vladimir Sobotka (17) gets knocked into Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen as
he scores the first goal of the game Saturday night.
Stewart's shot from the left dot, assisted by Morrow, gave the Blues a 5-1 lead 5:39 into the third period, chasing Lehtonen.

Oshie's eighth point in six games came on a deflection of Pietrangelo's right-point shot past Ellis 11:02 into the third period, making it 6-1.

On the heels of an emotional 3-2 shootout victory Thursday against the Boston Bruins, the Blues kept to their winning ways instead of going through an emotional letdown. They went through it following a 2-1 victory against Pittsburgh and subsequent 3-2 overtime loss to Phoenix. Not so Saturday.

"I guess that's a good learning experience for us after an emotional win coming back trying to play the same way," Pietrangelo said. "I thought we did that tonight. It's a good answer, a good learning lesson obviously."

(11-23-13) Stars-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- Brenden Morrow knew the day would come sooner or later.
At some point in time after he was traded away from the only team he's ever known, Morrow was going to face the Dallas Stars.

Morrow, the 34-year-old left wing who now dons the St. Louis Blues jersey, will line up against the team that took him with the 25th pick in the 1997 NHL Draft when the Blues and Stars meet for the first time this season as Central Division rivals Saturday night.

Morrow, who's played in 865 career games over 14 seasons, 835 of them have been with the Stars, including the last seven as their captain.

"It's going to be strange," Morrow said after the morning skate Saturday. "I think there's nine or 10 fresh faces over there, so it's not like I know the whole team but it's still some great memories of that franchise and I'm still real close with a lot of the players there. It's going to be a strange game.

"There's going to be a little bit more intensity into it tonight. Usually it's messing around and joking around. I still haven't put a whole lot of thought into how I'm going to feel. It just feels like another game at the moment right now, but once I get out there and see all the guys and the puck's dropped, there might be some different feelings going through my mind."

When Morrow was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins before last season's trade deadline, it ended his captain's reign with the Stars and Morrow more or less sent the baton over to current Stars captain Jamie Benn, who Morrow took under his wing after the Stars drafted him in the fifth round in 2007.

"We got to build a pretty good relationship," Benn said. "I was a few years younger than him. He's done a lot for me and it was nice to catch up for dinner with him last night. I'm looking forward to tonight and I'm sure he's going to look a lot different with that Blues jersey on.

"I guess it's going to happen. It's going to be a little different. He was obviously a big player, a big part of me developing into the player I am today and just growing up and being a professional and the way he treated others. He kind of took me under his wing when I first came in as a rookie."

Morrow spent Friday night with some of his former teammates over dinner, and there were some playful jabs exchanged. But when the puck drops Saturday, it's all business.

"I still care about how that team's doing and how those guys are doing," Morrow said. "I keep an eye on some games when I get a chance, but once the puck drops tonight, I know who's team I'm on."

Best Stars memories for Morrow?
"The first season going to the Stanley Cup Finals ... the only time I've been there so that was a great time," Morrow said. "Getting to play with my hockey idol Brett Hull in Dallas was pretty special for me and then we had a good run in '08. Those are probably my top three memories of that franchise."

- - -

Blues center Patrik Berglund (upper body) will be a game-time decision after skating for the second straight morning skate. Berglund, who's missed three games, said he feels better after skating Thursday in Boston and Saturday.

"The rehab has been good and skating and shooting's been much better. We'll see," Berglund said. "Hopefully I can be out there and playing."

Added Blues coach Ken Hitchcock: "We put him through the paces again today. If he feels fine, then a good chance he plays, yeah."

Hitchcock said it's been a big difference with Berglund's big body out of the lineup.

"He’s really competitive on the puck," Hitchcock said. "I think when you play against teams like Washington and Boston, you get a real good look at what happens when you don’t have size in the lineup … because they do. They’ve got competitive big guys in the middle of the ice and I thought it really showed on the road trip."

- - -

Jaden Schwartz may have been the last person to know the first goal the Blues scored in Boston Thursday was his.

The goal that tied the game 1-1 late in the first period was initially given to Derek Roy, whose shot from the top of the left circle slow-motioned through three pairs of skates -- including goalie Tuukka Rask -- before the puck found the back of the net.

Schwartz was tangling to the left of Rask with Bruins defenseman Matt Bartkowski before the two went down. The puck apparently grazed the skate of Schwartz and the NHL officially changed it late Friday morning.

"My parents told me ... well, a couple people told me that they thought it went off my skate," Schwartz said. "I was getting mauled in front, so I had no idea.

"I think it went through (Rask's) legs and just hit me. I was getting in front of the net and the guy was kind of on my back and tying me up."

- - -

After a pair of strong starts by Jaroslav Halak in Buffalo and Boston, Hitchcock will go with Brian Elliott in goal tonight.

Elliott, who is 3-0-1 with a 1.94 goals-against average and .921 save percentage, last started the Blues' 4-2 win against Carolina a week ago today. Elliott came on after Halak was pulled from a 4-1 loss to Washington last Sunday.

"We need to reward good play," Hitchcock said. "Heck, he’s played great. He’s played great every game. We need to reward good play. He’s deserved probably to play more just based on his play, so this is an opportunity with us playing every second night for four more games here, an opportunity for him to hopefully get a couple of more starts here."

- - -

The Blues are in a similar position today as they were beating the Pittsburgh Penguins two weeks ago.

That 2-1 victory over the Penguins was an emotional win, and the Blues (15-3-3) came out flat in their next game against a Phoenix, a 3-2 overtime loss.

After an emotional 3-2 shootout win Thursday against Boston, Hitchcock is interested to see how his team responds tonight.

"I don’t know. With these days off that the players get, I don’t know what takes place the next day," Hitchcock said. "Because you’ve got a day away and you’re trying to do four jobs in one day. We tried to keep it a little loose today and see if we can get more energy than we can from perfection. We’re in that time where you just can’t practice. You have to save your energy for games and boy we would love to have a couple of hockey practices. We’re a literal team not a visual team, and when we practice we really play well. We’re not getting that opportunity right now so we’re going to have to do it with energy. This is going to be a big challenge for us because Dallas plays with high energy."

- - -

The Stars (11-8-2), who have played the fewest home games in the NHL this season, will be shooting for their seventh straight road win tonight.

"Our goalie's been unbelievable," defenseman Stephane Robidas said of Kari Lehtonen, who will start tonight and is 10-4-2 with a 2.08 GAA and .931 save percentage. "Kari's been standing on his head, especially that last game in Vancouver (a 2-1 Stars win). He stole the game for us.

"I think overall we've been playing a good team game. We keep things simple. We try to play a fast, high tempo North-South game."

But the Stars certainly respect their opponent here in the Blues.

"Right now, they're going as good as any team in the league," Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. "Obviously their record speaks for itself. Their special tams are good, they've got a good mixture of size, their backends is one of the top backends in the league. That size alone on the backend is something with that mobility."

- - -

The Blues' probable lineup (with the status of Berglund a game-time decision):

Alexander Steen-David Backes-T.J. Oshie

Jaden Schwartz-Vladimir Sobotka-Vladimir Tarasenko

Brenden Morrow-Derek Roy-Chris Stewart

Magnus Paajarvi-Maxim Lapierre-Ryan Reaves

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk

Ian Cole-Roman Polak

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

Healthy scratches include Carlo Colaiacovo and Adam Cracknell. Patrik Berglund (upper body) is a game-time decision. Jordan Leopold (hand) is on injured reserve.

- - -

The Stars' probable lineup:

Jamie Benn-Tyler Seguin-Valeri Nichushkin

Erik Cole-Cody Eakin-Alex Chiasson

Antoine Roussel-Vernon Fiddler-Rich Peverley

Dustin Jeffrey-Shawn Horcoff-Ryan Garbutt

Brenden Dillon-Stephane Robidas

Alex Goligoski-Trevor Daley

Sergei Gonchar-Jordie Benn

Kari Lehtonen will start in goal. Dan Ellis is the backup.

Healthy scratches for the Stars include Kevin Connauton and Aaron Rome. Veteran Ray Whitney (groin) is on injured reserve.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Blues win battle of heavyweights in Boston

Roy scores goal, shootout winner that gave St. Louis 3-2 victory;
Halak strong night in goal, denies three of four Bruins shooters in shootout 

BOSTON -- Anyone for a Blues-Boston Bruins series in June?

It would make quite a Stanley Cup Final.

But this was November, and this was as playoff-esque as a game can be this early in the series.

Derek Roy converted on the Blues' fourth shootout attempt, beating Tuukka Rask high stick side and Jaroslav Halak stopped three of four Boston Bruins shooters and the Blues won a battle of inter-conference heavyweights, 3-2 Thursday night at TD Garden.

(St. Louis Blues photo)
Derek Roy (left) is congratulated by teammate Maxim Lapierre after scoring
the shootout winner Thursday night in Boston.
Alexander Steen also converted a shootout attempt for the Blues, who continued their franchise-best start to a season and improved to 15-3-3. It was their sixth straight win in Boston and it improved the Blues' NHL-best inter-conference record since the 2010-11 season at 32-9-5. The Blues improved to 14-0-1 when scoring three or more goals this season.

Roy and David Backes scored regulation goals for the Blues, and Jaroslav Halak had another strong game in goal, stopping a season-high 29 shots.

Gregory Campbell and Carl Soderberg scored for the Bruins, who got 24 saves from Rask on a night where legendary defenseman Bobby Orr dropped the ceremonial first puck celebrating their 90 years of Bruins history.

Orr must have been impressed enough to see visions of the 1970 Cup Final between his Bruins and the Blues, a series in which Boston swept 4-0, but by the way this game was played Thursday, it wouldn't be far-fetched to think it could be a seven-game series and each game coming down a one goal.

It was a hard-hitting, big, strong and physical game, and although the Blues had their moments where mistakes were glaring, they held the fort strong enough to earn two points in a tough building.

"If that's the level, that's a pretty high level," said Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, who tied Bryan Murray for eighth place on the all-time coaches wins list with No. 620. "I thought Boston played really well in the first and third and we played very well in the second.

"I think we know there's another level out there. I think going home getting ready for it is going to help us. We got the information that we needed. I thought both teams put a lot of pressure on each team's defense. I don't think either team had a fun time in their own end because we were either forechecking them or they were forechecking the heck out of us. It's a very intense, hard hockey game."

If the skills competition wasn't part of the rules to end regulation games, this one might have gone long into the night.

"Credit to their team, credit to our team and I think credit to the refs, too, to let the players decide," said Backes, whose tip-in goal in the second period gave the Blues a brief 2-1 lead. "... Two periods of penalty-less hockey and guys really putting their bodies on the line and making plays all night. We'll take two points any way we can get them.

"It was whoever was going to stay with it the longest. We might have been able to play a couple more games worth of hockey."

And when the Blues weren't at their best, their goalie was.

Halak, who came in 6-3-1 with a 1.86 and .941 save percentage lifetime against the Bruins, was up to the challenge on many high-percentage looks for some skilled Bruins players.

His best save came with nine seconds in overtime, when he denied Soderberg on a breakaway attempt, throwing out the left pad to preserve the tie game and give the Blues a chance to win it.

"I expected that it was going to be a tough game," Halak said. "They're a really good team with some big guys that drive the net and go to the front. ... We did a great job tonight just battling and sticking to it.

"I'm always involved and I was into the game. having more shots, it's obviously more fun, but at the same time, sometimes even when you have less shots, you can get more scoring chances. Tonight, I think guys did a great job of keeping them on the outside and just blocking shots."

Hitchcock said beforehand the Blues were going to need Halak to be good.

"He was our best player tonight," Hitchcock said of Halak. "We needed him to do that, especially when you're on a road trip.

"We've had a pretty good go here on the road trip. We really needed him today and he stepped up big time."

Blues were outplayed for the most part in the first period, with the Bruins holding and maintaining plenty of offenzive zone time, but Halak was good early.

Campbell got the scoring rolling with his first of the season, converting a changeup of a shot from the right circle with 1:40 left in the first period. Ian Cole had a chance to get the puck out of the zone, failed and then lost his edge along the right wall. The Bruins kept the puck in the zone and Campbell slid a shot inside the right post for a 1-0 Boston lead.

But the Blues responded just 31 seconds later when Roy's shot from the top of the right circle somehow found its way through three sets of Bruins skates, including Rask as Jaden Schwartz and Bruins defenseman Matt Bartkowski were battling in front to make it 1-1.

"I didn't even know I scored it," Roy said. "I just tried to pull it to my forehand and shoot it and get it towards the net because I knew there were a couple guys there. It happened to go in. My linemen battled getting to the net so it was a great job by our line tonight."

It was a critical time to answer the call when Boston had a lead and momentum.

"Yeah, getting back on it. We made a big error and we needed to get back," Hitchcock said. "We've done that a lot this year. I think that's one of the best qualities we've had is answering the bell right away to get back on the horse right away. It was good for us."

The Blues got the lead when Backes got his ninth of the season, and Kevin Shattenkirk earned the 100th assist of his NHL career. Backes won the draw back to the right point, where Shattenkirk fired a shot that Backes deflected past Rask with 3:56 left in the second to give the Blues a 2-1 lead.

Set plays are something the Blues have been good at, and winning faceoffs followed by goals have been a plus.

"I don't know that it's a secret formula, but it's shots and traffic and getting to the hard areas and finding pucks through," Backes said. "Shatty's got a great shot getting it through and I was able to find a piece of it and redirect it and we'll take two points."

But Soderberg, a 2004 Blues draft pick, found himself open at the top of the right circle and fired a wrister past Halak with 1:19 remaining in the second to tie the game 2-2.

Roy had a chance to win the game in the overtime when Steen worked for a puck to create a breakaway. Roy had Rask beat high glove side but his shot clanked off Rask and the cross bar 52 seconds into the extra session.

"I was talking to Bernie (Federko) and we do video on the other goalie and that was my move on (Rask), just coming with speed and go high glove and try to surprise him," Roy said. "I surprised him, but I hit the cross bar so I wanted to redeem myself in the shootout and coach put me out there and gave me a shot at it."

Patrice Bergeron opened the shootout and beat Halak with a little snap move to give Boston a lead, but the Blues' goalie would slam the door shut on David Krejci, Jarome Iginla and Chris Kelly.

(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues' Alexander Steen (20) gives chase to Boston's Milan Lucic in
Thursday night's 3-2 shootout win for St. Louis at TD Garden.
"I was kind of deep in the net," Halak said of Bergeron's attempt. "I dropped my glove and he was able to make the shot over my glove. Good shot by him. I'm glad that our guys didn't give up and scored the big two goals in the shootout.

"If he scores, you just have to put it behind you. That's it, go out and stop another one."

T.J. Oshie was denied for the first time this season (3 for 4), but Steen was able to go backhand, forehand and beat Rask five-hole, which set up Roy's heroics, and he went top shelf to end it in the fourth round.

"It shows he's got confidence in me going to the shootout," Roy said of Hitchcock. "I just wanted to help my team win the game. I happened to do that and I was in a position to do that."

Hitchcock said it was a no-brainer.

"We have five guys that we kind of rotate and go through ... I usually look at body language on the bench and Roysie was perked up. He wanted to go," Hitchcock said. "He told guys on the bench he was going to do that move and did it and got away with it."

If this was a primer of things to come for these two teams, it would make a great final.

"Both teams really respected each other, but it was really a hard game," Hitchcock said. "It was physical in a way ... not running over each other. It was physical in a way where there was a lot of weight and heavy play out there. I think for a lot of guys, this was very demanding."

Added Roy: "I think we were fighting for every inch out there. Guys were jumping on faceoffs, pucks were getting chipped in, there was a lot of physicality out there. We held our own, we did a good job and all our 'D' and Jaro as well. He played real good for us."