Saturday, February 1, 2014

(2-1-14) Predators-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- The news on Blues forward Vladimir Sobotka initially wasn't serious initially when he took a spill late in Friday's 3-1 loss at Carolina Friday night.

After being evaluated by team doctors Saturday afternoon, the news was more serious.

The Blues announced that Sobotka will be reevaluated in four weeks after suffering a lower-body injury which will force him to miss the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Sobotka, 26, was expected to play for the Czech Republic and be a first-time Olympian. 

Sobotka was tripped up by Hurricanes defenseman Justin Faulk. Sobotka could not put any weight on his left leg, and will miss  the first of multiple games today when the Blues (36-12-5) play host to the Nashville Predators (25-23-8) at 7 p.m. (FSN, KMOX 1120-AM).

Ryan Reaves will draw back into the Blues' lineup after being a healthy scratch the previous two games

The Blues felt like there was no ill-will towards Faulk, as Sobotka was in a vulnerable position chasing the puck behind the Carolina goal with his back to the Hurricanes defenseman.

"It's hockey. It happens," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said following an optional morning skate Saturday. "The player he went up against the boards is not that player's personality at all. 

"Right now, you're day to day or week to week; one or the other. ... If it's week to week, then it puts him in a tough spot."

Sobotka had x-rays after the game Friday and Hitchcock said team doctors were looking over him Saturday.

Sobotka has played in 46 games and posted 25 points, including 18 assists. He was the NHL's top faceoff specialist this season at 60.9 percent.

Expect the team to recall a forward from the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League either Sunday or Monday. The likely candidates are Chris Porter or Adam Cracknell, but Hitchcock was high on Sergey Andronov during training camp, who also had a brief stint with the Blues in December. Or perhaps Dmitrij Jaskin will come up. However, the Blues will only recall him if he gets to play, and not sit out as a healthy scratch.

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Ian Cole, who was a healthy scratch Friday, will get back into the lineup tonight and Jordan Leopold, who was a minus-1 in 13 minutes 52 seconds of ice time, will be scratched against the Predators.

Hitchcock was asked if the rotation will continue between Cole and Leopold, as well as Carlo Colaiacovo, who will sit out for the 14th consecutive game.

"Until someone grabs a spot," Hitchcock said. "Until someone either plays his way out or in. Just keep going. 

"Better play would be an easier term to use. I think it's Leo getting back up to speed and Coler continuing to grow and making fewer mistakes and continuing to use his mobility and size as a real tool. Cole's improved a lot, but then there's times when he falls back in old habits and Leo's just trying to get back up to speed. I think our experience in playing Leo when he's come back from long-term injury on back-to-back hasn't been great. He played OK yesterday, but we'll put Cole in today off back-to-back, get fresh legs."

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After some recent struggles, including a game a week ago today when Chris Stewart only played 5:32 in a 4-3 shootout win against the New York Islanders, the Blues' power forward will start tonight on the top line with David Backes and Alexander Steen in light of Sobotka's injury.

Stewart, who played 14:48 Friday night, was thrust into the role because Hitchcock liked his game.

"Quite frankly good play. He played well," Hitchcock said of Stewart. "He deserved to go up there. He was strong on the puck. He was strong on the puck, he made plays, I think he created five scoring chances. He was on for five for and two against. He was plus-3 for the evening, which is a good sign.

"He had patience in the offensive zone and wasn't panicking with the puck. He made some plays. ... He's making good decisions down low. And it's like anything else, you reward good play, and he played well yesterday. You reward that type of play."

Does this mean Stewart has shaken his recent ails?

"I think we need more body of work, but I think if he continues to show puck patience and gets better with checking, he obviously looks like a top-six forward that can really help you," Hitchcock said. "But we've got to continue to see him get back to the level that he was at the start of the year. 

"Derek Roy has stepped right back and become a good player again. Stewy is starting to show improvement again. It's just the inner workings of a hockey club. You want to see the response the right way, not the wrong way. I want to see a consistent response. Derek's had three pretty strong games. He's done what he's done well, he's competed hard. He deserves a lot of credit for taking a tough situation and making the best of it. Whether you call it a wakeup call or anything, he's had a great attitude and what was expected; Stewy is no different. He was not happy playing there (on the fourth line), but he's had a good attitude. So when the opportunity was there for him, he didn't need to resurrect his personality to get there. He was ready to go, so it's a good sign."

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Reaves being scratched the past two games had nothing to do playing poorly, according to Hitchcock. The team has higher expectations for Reaves.

"What's changed for Revo and us is our expectations for him are really high," Hitchcock said. "Our expectations for him ... he was an OK player and did some good things, but our expectations are that he is a top-nine forward now, not a fourth-line player. We really feel like based on foot speed, size, hockey sense, we expect him to act and play like a third-line player, not a four. From a physicality, puck-management standpoint, we have really high expectations for him. We've said this before: there's going to come a period of time where we expect him to kill penalties. It's not based on play. 

"He could have gone and played on the fourth line and been fine. It's based on expectations, and our expectations for him are high. We really think that he has the potential to be an impact player, so we want to see more. I gotta feeling we're going to see that tonight."

What's changed the team's perception?

"The game's slowed down in his head, and all of the sudden he wasn't chasing the game anymore," Hitchcock said of Reaves. "His reads on the game, his hockey sense and his intelligence are good. When the game slows down in your head, you're able to keep up mentally. Then you really have a chance to do good things." 

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Backes tied a career-high with his eighth power play goal of the season Friday. It also gave the Blues 44 such goals for the year, tying Pittsburgh for the league lead

Roy notched his 12th power play assist of the year Friday, which leads all Blues forwards. For Roy, it is his most special teams assists since equaling that output during the 2010-11 season with Buffalo

While taking the loss, Jaroslav Halak stopped 28 of the 30 shots he faced.  Halak embraces a heavy workload, as over his career (regular and postseason) he has posted a 68-28-9 record, including a 2.39 goals against average and a .932 save percentage when facing 30 or more shots in a game.

The Blues tied a season high with 25 blocked shots, led by Roman Polak's seven, the second most by any Blue in a game this season

Backes scored his 38th career power play goal as a Blue, tying Jorgen Pettersson for 17th in franchise history. He is now one shy of Chris Pronger for 16th all-time. Backes will play in his 543rd game tonight, which will tie him with Keith Tkachuk for 12th on the all-time franchise list.

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The Blues' probable lineup:

Alexander Steen-David Backes-Chris Stewart

Jaden Schwartz-Derek Roy-Vladimir Tarasenko

Magnus Paajarvi-Patrik Berglund-T.J. Oshie

Brenden Morrow-Maxim Lapierre-Ryan Reaves

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk

Ian Cole-Roman Polak

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

Healthy scratches include Jordan Leopold and Carlo Colaiacovo. Vladimir Sobotka (lower body) was hurt late in the third period in Carolina Friday night and was placed on injured-reserve. He will be reevaluated in four weeks.

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The Predators' projected lineup:

Gabriel Bourque-David Legwand-Craig Smith

Patric Hornqvist-Mike Fisher-Eric Nystrom

Simon Moser-Colin Wilson-Taylor Beck

Rich Clune-Colton Sissons-Paul Gaustad

Roman Josi-Shea Weber

Michael Del Zotto-Seth Jones

Mattias Ekholm-Ryan Ellis

Carter Hutton, who played in Friday's 3-2 overtime win against New Jersey, will start on back-to-back nights. Devan Dubnyk will be the backup.

The healthy scratch is Victor Bartley. Pekka Rinne (hip infection), Matt Cullen (upper body), Nick Spaling (lower body) and Viktor Stalberg (upper body) are all out.

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