Monday, February 3, 2014

Blues using Oshie where needed

Team's winger staying put with Berglund, not going back to Backes line 
on regular basis; replacing Sobotka tough; Jaskin has company in town

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- The success that T.J. Oshie was having playing on the top line with David Backes and Alexander Steen was quite remarkable. But in recent weeks, Oshie's role has changed.

Injury forced the separation of the aforementioned trio for a large part, and now that everyone is back on the ice together, Blues fans have been wondering when/if Blues coach Ken Hitchcock will reunite his opening night top line.

Oshie has been playing with Patrik Berglund, which isn't something new. The two have played together in the past and the two have played recently with Magnus Paajarvi.
(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
Patrik Berglund (21) is enjoying having a familiar friend and teammate on
his line again.

But Oshie, who Hitchcock calls the engine that can make any line run, isn't surprised he hasn't been sent back to the top with Backes and Steen.

"Not really. I figured he was going to break us up eventually," Oshie said of Hitchcock. "I like playing with Bergie. It's been fun playing with Mags. I'm looking forward to playing with Mo (Brenden Morrow) if that's what the lines are tomorrow. You never know if they're going to change. 

"My game doesn't change very much. Even though my linemates change, it's still getting pucks in and forechecking hard and being good on both ends of the rink."

Steen (45), Oshie (43) and Backes (41) are at the top of the scoring stats for the Blues in points, and the majority of those points have come as a result of playing together, but adding stability and balance throughout the lineup is what the Blues are looking for.

"When he's playing really well, his conscience allows the line to play the right way," Hitchcock said of Oshie. "So his competitiveness is one thing, his enthusiasm is another, but just his energy all over the ice draws people into it, so I think if anybody's feeling down or not feeling comfortable, he's a guy that can make you feel comfortable right away.

"I think Bergie and Osh are starting to have some chemistry again. I think it was a little bit unrealistic by us to think it was going to be right away, but they played very well last game against Nashville. As the game went on, they were very, very good. They had a big impact in the game. We're going to use a couple different guys there. We're going to use Brenden there at times, we're going to use Paajarvi there at times depending on the opponent, but I like the way those two guys are working together."

Berglund, who has been inserted into the lineup as a left winger on occasion, must be a driving force at center with Vladimir Sobotka (left leg injury) sidelined a minimum of four weeks. Having a close friend like Oshie as a linemate will enhance not only his game but also the third member of the line.

"Experience, but first of all, I think stability," Berglund said on what Oshie brings. "He really knows how the game works. I think he always battles in the right way and playing a very veteran game. It really helps my game to get better and to play my game. It works out good. I think we've been playing well obviously. 

"He makes my game easier. I play more calm and I know I can do more stuff, keep more possession, hold onto the puck more because even if I know lose it, he will back me up and I'll do the same with him. It's kind of a trust there."

Oshie, who has seen his time on the ice drop slightly, doesn't mind energizing a teammate.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
T.J. Oshie (right) is glad to be playing together again with Patrik Berglund.

"I try to bring energy every night and sometimes if guys feed off of that, that's great," he said. "Sometimes it's hard because you don't have that chemistry with guys, but for me, it's just another shift no matter who's out there. I think it is nice being able to switch lines and play different roles."

Taking some slack off Oshie's role and slowing down his minutes has done one thing the winger appreciates: keep him fresher late games, which is something he's certainly noticed.

"I have for sure," Oshie said. "{Going into overtime the other night, I felt a lot more fresh than I would normally feel in that situation. It's nice, but shutting down other guys other teams' top lines is fun, too.

"Guys are fine with (moving around). Obviously, no one wants to play under 10 minutes or anything like that, but guys are fine playing with different lines and no one really complains about who's playing with who. For the most part, everyone's pretty mature."

* NOTES -- The bad news for the Blues is that Sobotka was injured more seriously than they thought Friday. The good news? With a minimum timetable of four weeks and the Winter Olympics taking up two-plus weeks of the month of February, Sobotka could only miss the five games the Blues play.

"We caught a break because there's a three-week window that he's going to get healthy and hopefully be ready when we get back up and running," Hitchcock said. "... You can always replace skill, but you can't replace what he does in winning hockey games. It's going to have to be divvied up. I thought it was really evident how much we missed him in the game against Nashville. We lost a lot of key faceoffs. We were making mistakes down low that we normally don't make. That's why we worked on the things we worked on today because all the little things he has that are part of his fabric and his demeanor are going to be missed here.

"We miss a lot of the details that he can put in place. Other guys are going to have to take on some of that because not one can player absorb ... when you're playing in every situation and you're playing as many minutes as him, it's got to get divvied up throughout the group."

. . . It's no secret why the Blues recalled Dmitrij Jaskin from the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League to replace Sobotka while he's out.

Because Jaskin, who has 25 points in 32 games with the Wolves, deserves to be here.

"He's playing really well right now. This is a great opportunity," Hitchcock said. "I think every second that Jaskin plays up here or stays up here. Every time he can practice with us, every chance he can play is doing nothing but enhancing his career. He's earned the right to be here. He's been really strong down there (in Chicago) and we have no issue in playing him in any situation here at all. 

"He's going to get in the lineup this week. I'm not sure if he's going to play tomorrow, but he's going to get in the lineup this week for sure."

Jaskin, the Blues' second round pick in 2011 who has one goal in six games this season, has some extra motivation on the recent call-up.

Jaskin's father Alexei and brother Mikhail, who work for the Slovan Bratislava of the Kontinental Hockey League, accompanied Jaskin to St. Louis and will be with him should be get into any of the remaining three games the Blues have before the Olympic break.

"It's exciting," Jaskin said. "I haven't seen them since July or something like that. It's pretty exciting. 

"It's always nice to be called up. (We) hit the road and got here as quickly as I can."

. . . The Blues will have a couple changes to the lineup when they host the Ottawa Senators Tuesday night. Jaroslav Halak will be back in goal against the Senators, and Jordan Leopold will go back in on defense, replacing Ian Cole, who had a turnover that led to Nashville's first goal late in the second period.

"Until someone grabs it," Hitchcock said of of the left defensive role with Roman Polak. "Everybody sees the giveaway, but the play was there and we weren't there for (Cole). The play to the front of the net is an option we use all the time. We left the front of the net with our defenseman (Jay Bouwmeester) and we weren't there with our forward. Two guys were standing beside (Cole). We only needed one there. We weren't in position to exit or for coverage and the puck went right where a player should have been standing."

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