Saturday, March 15, 2014

(3-15-14) Blues-Predators Gameday Lineup

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- There's going to be an experimental change on the Blues' top line tonight when they face the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena.

Coach Ken Hitchcock discussed making some changes after the 6-2 win Thursday against Edmonton that might surprise some people, and it revolves around David Backes and Alexander Steen.

The concept is simple: when the Blues take faceoffs on the right dot, Backes will take the draws and stay as the center iceman. When the faceoffs are inside the left circle, Steen will take the draws and stay as the center and Backes play on the right wing. 

The conclusion: Hitchcock wants to see how the trio with Jaden Schwartz can read off each other as the play develops and with both having strong faceoff percentages, the Blues get to start with the puck.

"Backes takes all the faceoffs on the right. That's not going to change, but he stayed at center. For me, when Steen takes the faceoffs on the left, I want him to stay at center," Hitchcock said. "But what's happened in the past is he's gone and played wing and I want to see these guys be able to read off each other more. ... I want to see if they're capable of reading off each other that way.

"With three smart players like that, they should all be able to read who's low and who's responsible. They're all responsible players. But every time we have a hockey practice, we always have Steen play left wing or right wing. But this one, I want to see him play some center ice. ... I don't want it to be so structured that you can't adjust during the game. When it does get a little bit out of sync, can they read off each other? By doing it this way in practice, they're able to read off each other and hopefully a few times it happens in the game."

Backes said it's a no-brainer idea.

"We're just out there playing, but having guys on their strong side taking draws makes a lot of sense," Backes said. "A lot of teams are doing it where they've got two centers on one line and they each take them on their own side. It ups your percentage in the faceoff dot, which means you're starting with the puck more. We'd like to do that and that's part of what we're implementing.

"It's not old-school hockey where we're staying in one lane the whole game. It's pretty inter-changeable, even when we're not taking draws on the other side. He's a smart player. I know what I'm doing most of the time out there and we tend to figure it out on the fly."

A different concept when Backes starts out on the wing is he gets to use his checking ability quicker and more often.

"That's how I establish myself here," Backes said. "You get a little more energy in the offensive zone when you're able to be a little bit more relaxed in the defensive zone. Hopefully that becomes apparent in the game. Getting in on the forecheck, getting in and making some body contacts should be a good thing as well."

And that's the big-picture idea that Hitchcock likes.

"The big plus is that Backes gets to be lead dog on the forecheck, which if I was a defenseman wouldn't be a lot of fun," Hitchcock said. "He gets to play with more tempo and more speed. He gets to play with more physical play. He gets to play down low in the offensive zone way more. That's the advantage for David. 

"For Steen, he gets to control the tempo of the game more. He gets to play in the middle of the ice, he gets to control the tempo of the game. He's around the action. Alex's greatest quality is his patience. He's got great patience in his game. This allows him to play with some patience."

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When the Blues (45-14-7) face the Predators (29-28-10) at 7 p.m. today (FSN, KMOX 1120-AM), it appears that Patrik Berglund will be in the lineup.

Berglund, who injured his right knee in the third period against the Oilers when he got undercut by Boyd Gordon, left the game and did not return. He skated for 20 minutes Friday and was on the ice again for the morning skate today and deemed himself good to go.

"I feel good," Berglund said. "I haven't talked to coach but assuming I'm in. 

"Obviously, (Gordon) hurt it pretty bad at the time. I got off the ice and took a look at it obviously and we went from there. Now I feel better and it felt good to skate. I was skating out there and I was fine."

"Looks good. We'll take him through the day," Hitchcock said of Berglund. "Right now if he looks like he did in the pregame skate, he's going to play tonight."

With Berglund poised to stay in the lineup, Hitchcock is making some slight changes and alterations to the lineup.

With Berglund likely to remain in, Derek Roy will be a healthy scratch; Brenden Morrow, who played 50 straight games before being scratched Thursday to rest, and Chris Porter will both be inserted into the lineup tonight.

After playing left wing Thursday, Berglund will move back into the middle between Morrow and Steve Ott, and Porter will play on the fourth line with Maxim Lapierre and Ryan Reaves.

"If Bergie's ready to go, Roy will sit and we'll play Bergie in the middle between Morrow and Ott and we'll use Porter on left wing with Lappy and Revo ... if Bergie is able to go," Hitchcock said. "If not, Derek will come in and play in the middle there."

Asked if more is needed from Roy, who has gone without a point in nine straight games: "No, just numbers," Hitchcock said. "A chance to use other guys in that role and see how it looks moving forward getting ready for big opponents and some playoff games and some physical games coming up. We need to make Porter part of our team, and we're looking to get a little bit more from our third line also. So we'll try this and see how it looks."

As for Morrow, the 34-year-old will sit out a couple more games just to give his body some time off with a strong stretch of games winding down and a potential rugged playoff schedule.

"(Morrow's) on schedule for probably a schedule that he doesn't like, but it's a schedule that Army and I talked about and we're going to use," Hitchcock said, referring to general manager Doug Armstrong. "He's got a couple more games here that he's going to sit out providing that he stays healthy so that we've got him ready for when we really need him in some of these big games coming up and obviously the playoff games."

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The Blues will be going for the season sweep tonight against the Predators. They most recently played here nine days ago and won 2-1. The Blues are 4-0-0 against the Predators and have never swept a season series. The last time they went unbeaten in regulation against Nashville was in 2008-09, going 4-0-2.

The Predators are coming off a 3-2 victory at Chicago Friday night and have won three in a row, scoring 11 goals after scoring only three the previous four games, all home losses.

"We need to come out buzzing here on a Saturday night in 'Nashvegas'" Berglund said with a smile. "We've been talking about it it obviously. We've been playing these games so many times in here. We know they'll be coming out flying and we know that it's going to be a tough game, but we're excited about it.

"Against Nashville and a few others, they're really good games because they never stop competing. They're really tough games. It feels like a playoff game every time you play them. It's good for us to find the level we need to play on and stay there."

The Blues will also be looking to extend their franchise-best mark of 20 straight games with a point in divisional play. They're 18-0-2 against Central Division opponents. They've also won five straight here in Nashville, a club record.

With a win, Hitchcock will tie Andy Murray for third on the all-time coaching wins list in franchise history with 118.

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The Blues' projected lineup:

Jaden Schwartz-David Backes-Alexander Steen

Vladimir Tarasenko-Vladimir Sobotka-T.J. Oshie

Brenden Morrow-Patrik Berglund-Steve Ott

Chris Porter-Maxim Lapierre-Ryan Reaves

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk

Ian Cole-Roman Polak

Ryan Miller will start in goal; Brian Elliott is the backup.

Healthy scratches include Derek Roy and Carlo Colaiacovo. Jordan Leopold (ankle) and Magnus Paajarvi (upper body) are out.

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The Predators' projected lineup:

Matt Cullen-Mike Fisher-Nick Spaling

Eric Nystrom-Colin Wilson-Craig Smith

Rich Clune-Paul Gaustad-Viktor Stalberg

Patric Hornqvist-Colton Sissons-Gabriel Bourque

Roman Josi-Shea Weber

Michael Del Zotto-Ryan Ellis

Seth Jones-Mattias Ekholm

Pekka Rinne is expected to start in goal although coach Barry Trotz was non-committal this morning; Carter Hutton is expected to be the backup.

Healthy scratches include Patrick Eaves and Victor Bartley.

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