By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The Blues didn't pass their big-game test when the Los Angeles Kings were in town Thursday, dropping their California record to 1-6-0.
There's no time to rest, as the Blues will get a double dose of adversity: another big test and another California team in the Anaheim Ducks, who only boast the best record in the NHL at 36-9-5, good for 77 points.
The Ducks, coming off a 4-2 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks Friday night, had won 18 of 19 games prior to Friday. They also will test the Blues much like the Kings did in a 4-1 loss.
"When you have the most points in the league, when you've won 18 out of 19 (before Friday), that's what the media talks about," said defenseman Ian Cole, who will draw back into the lineup tonight. "I always knew they were a good team, but that's what you're always hearing about. Everyone's aware of the situation. Everyone knows they went into Chicago and lost last night, a team that's fired up and that's ready to bounce back against us.
"You have two teams that have had a lot of success this season and are definitely looking to bounce back from some games that they think they could have played a lot better in."
The Ducks were here six weeks ago and handed the Blues a 5-2 setback when Anaheim scored three goals in the game's first seven minutes.
"I guess we're in the same boat, two teams that want to bounce back," defenseman Jay Bouwmeester said. "Last time they were in here, we didn't put our best foot forward for sure. We just have to be ready to go from the start. That's where we got in trouble the other night and then same as the last time they were here."
Added coach Ken Hitchcock: "These games, like the one against Los Angeles, they really give you a measuring stick of where your team game's at. All the players love playing in these type of games."
"It'll be a good challenge for where our team's at right now," right winger T.J. Oshie said. "I think tonight we;ll simplify our game and get us back to where we want to play."
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With Alexander Steen returning to the lineup tonight after missing 11 games with a concussion, the Blues are rolling some different line combinations. Or at least that's what they'll start the game with, ones that were rolling during the morning skate Saturday.
Steen was back in his usual slot on the left wing with David Backes and Oshie, but Patrik Berglund was centering Jaden Schwartz (who had been playing with Backes and Oshie in Steen's absence) and Chris Stewart, Vladimir Sobotka was centering Brenden Morrow and Vladimir Tarasenko and Derek Roy was centering Magnus Paajarvi and Ryan Reaves.
"We've got what we think we'll start the game with, but then who knows," Hitchcock said. "We want to see how things look. We've got some real flexibility in some of the things we got going. We'll just see how it looks moving forward.
"We think we've got four good lines going right now. If something it looks like it's working or not working, we're not going to wait on change. We're going to go right away with it. The combination that works; we know how good the Berglund, Sobotka, Tarasenko line is. If we get down to three lines, that's one we'll probably push forward on."
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With eight healthy defensemen going again for the Blues, it's been a revolving door for the Blues' sixth slot, and Cole and Jordan Leopold have alternated games this past week. Cole will play tonight after sitting out in favor of Leopold Thursday. Leopold will sit out tonight.
"From one to eight, we have such a strong group of d-men that any of the eight guys can play any night and can play successfully any night against any team," Cole said. "It's really nice as a team to have that situation. Obviously as a player, you want to be playing every single night and playing every single game. That want-to-play continuously for a long stretch definitely puts you on your toes every time you touch the ice."
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Count Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau among those impressed by the Blues.
"Everything's impressive," he said. "Their six 'D' are six experienced, veteran 'D.' They got four lines ... when you've got Derek Roy on your fourth line, you've got something going. There's no weakness in their team. They're big, they're physical. They do so many good things. You have to be at your absolute best, and hopefully you catch one of their goalies on a less-than-great night to beat these guys."
Boudreau, whose team played back-to-back against the Blackhawks and Blues six weeks ago, will see a team in the Blues that plays a different style than Chicago.
They're two completely different style teams," Boudreau said. "These guys are power, run right through you, go to the net kind of team. Chicago is beat you with speed, 'D' joining rushes, making it miserable for you as far as skating goes. Two great teams, but two different outlooks on how they go about it."
As has been customary throughout the season on back-to-back games, Ducks veteran Teemu Selanne will not play against the Blues tonight. He was also a healthy scratch against the Blues the last time the Ducks were in here.
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The Blues' probable lineup:
Alexander Steen-David Backes-T.J. Oshie
Jaden Schwartz-Vladimir Sobotka-Vladimir Tarasenko
Brenden Morrow-Patrik Berglund-Chris Stewart
Magnus Paajarvi-Derek Roy-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.
Jordan Leopold, Carlo Colaiacovo and Adam Cracknell are healthy scratches. Maxim Lapierre (lower body) is on injured reserve.
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The Ducks' projected lineup:
Dustin Penner-Ryan Getzlaf-Corey Perry
Matt Beleskey-Nick Bonino-Jakob Silfverberg
Kyle Palmieri-Saku Koivu-Andrew Cogliano
Patrick Maroon-Mathieu Perreault-Tim Jackman
Cam Fowler-Ben Lovejoy
Hampus Lindholm-Francois Beauchemin
Mark Fistric-Bryan Allen
Frederik Andersen is expected to start in goal. Jonas Hiller is expected to be the backup.
Teemu Selanne, Daniel Winnik and Sami Vatanen are healthy scratches. Luca Sbisa (hand), Viktor Fasth (muscle inflammation) and Sheldon Souray (wrist) are all on injured-reserve.