Monday, March 17, 2014

(3-17-14) Jets-Blues Gameday Lineup

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The Blues' MO has been when one player steps out, another steps in and fills the void.

That's the present situation with news coming Sunday that Vladimir Tarasenko will miss six weeks after injuring his right hand Saturday night against the Nashville Predators.

Tarasenko will have surgery performed on Wednesday with what is believed to be ligament issues.

"We've got good depth. That's one thing that's going to help us, but it sucks losing a guy like him," Blues winger Jaden Schwartz said of Tarasenko. "He's been playing real well this year. He's always an offensive threat. We've done it before. Guys are going to have to step up and play more minutes. We haven't had a problem yet and we know we've got the guys who can do it.

"I was surprised. I knew he was hurting after the game, but you don't know how serious it is until you hear the news. ...We'll miss him for sure."

The team recalled Dmitrij Jaskin from the American Hockey League's Chicago Wolves and he is expected to play tonight when the Blues (46-14-7) host the Winnipeg Jets (31-29-9) at 7 p.m. (FSN, KMOX 1120-AM).

It will be a great opportunity for Jaskin as well as Magnus Paajarvi, who's nursing an upper-body injury, to step in and play a top nine, or perhaps a top six role in the lineup.

"Paajarvi is looking at this as a great opportunity to get in and do some damage," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "The positive part for Tarasenko, he's going to come back as fast as he can and because it's a hand injury, he's going to come back in amazing shape and he's going to be able to hit the ground running. He's going to be a guy that's going to hopefully be able to help us. 

"Knowing him, he's going to get back as soon as he can and work his tail off. Probably six, seven days post-surgery, he's going to be able to start skating full-blast so he's going to be in great shape. We can turn this into a positive. Jaskin and Paajarvi, young players are going to get an opportunity to really move up the ladder and we think both of them have earned the right to show us what they've got."

Tarasenko appeared to hurt himself late in the third period against the Predators, when he was checked by Nashville's Viktor Stalberg.

"It was the result of a turn-back, a turn-back into the coverage instead of keep skating," Hitchcock said. "He almost got dinged about six minutes into the game doing it and then got dinged. 

"Good lesson. When you're in d-zone coverage and you're on the exit, just keep going. Don't turn back into the check. The same thing happened to him in Colorado where he turned back into the check. I'm sure the next time he gets a step on a guy, he's just going to skating."

Tarasenko, 22, has appeared in 64 games this season and is sixth on the team with 43 points (21 goals, 22 assists). He has 62 points (29 goals, 33 assists) and in 102 career games. 

Jaskin, 20, has dressed in 42 games for the Wolves this season, ranking third on the club with 29 points, including 15 goals and 14 assists. He's made nine appearances for the Blues, posting two points, including his first career National Hockey League (NHL) goal on Dec. 28 vs. the Chicago Blackhawks.  

"I think I know my role, especially today," Jaskin said. "I'm going to play with the two best guys probably on the team, two of the best guys in the NHL. I'll just try to do the best for them and keep on working.

"I don't think it's going to change my role, but I'm going to get more opportunities and get more scoring chances and more time on the ice. I'm just going to do hard work for the guys and try to make some chances for them. Maybe they make some chances for me. ... You always feel better when you get a couple more chances."

Hitchcock chooses to view the Tarasenko injury more as an opportunity for someone else.

"I don't look at it as a loss," Hitchcock said. "It's not like the guy left the country. He's hurt. I look at it as somebody's opportunity. There's 15 games left in the year. There's a ton of opportunity for people and there's a ton of opportunity for more injuries for every team. I look at this as who's taking this time and who's going to get this opportunity. I don't think we're even close to scratching the surface offensively what we're capable of. We've had some guys who have had good years, but we've got a lot of guys who have a lot more to give and it's their opportunity now. If I'm Jaskin, Paajarvi, Derek Roy ... if I'm these type of players, I'm looking at it going, 'Man, this is my chance to shine.' 

"I can tell you Tarasenko is looking at this like, 'If you think you're going to keep me out of the playoffs, you're nuts.' And he's going to get back as fast as he can. We could end up with a really positive situation here. A guy gets to be reconditioned for playoffs and comes back and helps us, and then you've got guys who are capable of stepping up, especially guys like Jaskin and Paajarvi. An opportunity they've been looking for for the whole season."

Hitchcock expects Paajarvi to back and going "in a few days." 

- - -

Blues right wing T.J. Oshie is questionable, leaning towards doubtful, for tonight's game as his fiance Lauren was expected to deliver the couple's first child, a girl.

Oshie said on Sunday if all goes well, he might "come down and strap on the boots," and the Blues are supportive of whatever decision is made.

"It's up to him. It's 100 percent up to him," Hitchcock said of Oshie. "Whatever 'Osh' wants to do, we're fully supporting him. If he wants to play, he can play and if he wants to stay with his new family, he's welcome to do that too."

Teammate Maxim Lapierre, whose wife delivered the couple's first child as well, daughter Milya, roughly three weeks ago, knows what Oshie is facing.

"It's an unreal moment," Lapierre said. "I still remember when they put you in that little room as a dad and you're alone for 10 minutes before you come in the room. This is when you realize in the next few minutes your lives are going to change. It's just unbelievable. You just kind of fall in love with somebody you don't really know. It's a crazy feeling. It's unreal and good luck to Osh and his wife and the baby ... it's going to be an unbelievable day.

"It's his decision. If he's not here, we're going to miss him a lot. I think today is a family-first day. There's no works to describe how nice of a day that is."

- - -

Hitchcock said Jordan Leopold was cleared by doctors to resume playing after the defenseman missed 10 games with a high ankle sprain suffered Feb. 8 against the Jets. But Leopold came down with the flu and will not play, but Hitchcock said he's expected to be ready to play Wednesday against the Blackhawks.

- - -

The Blues announced Monday morning that they have signed defenseman Thomas Vannelli to an entry-level contract.

Vannelli, 19, was the Blues' second-round pick (47th overall) in the 2013 NHL Draft. He played in 59 games for the Western Hockey League's Medicine Hat Tigers and posted 41 points (14 goals, 27 assists).

The 6-foot-2, 165-pound Minnetonka, Minn. native played 11 games for the United States Developmental Team last season. 

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup (based on Oshie's availability):

Jaden Schwartz-David Backes-Alexander Steen

Patrik Berglund-Vladimir Sobotka-Dmitrij Jaskin

Brenden Morrow-Derek Roy-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 will be the backup.

Healthy scratches include T.J. Oshie and Carlo Colaiacovo. Vladimir Tarasenko (hand), Jordan Leopold (ankle) and Magnus Paajarvi (upper body) are out.

- - -

The Jets' projected lineup:

Andrew Ladd-Bryan Little-Michael Frolik

Evander Kane-Eric O'Dell-Devin Setoguchi

Dystin Byfuglien-Olli Jokinen-Blake Wheeler

Matt Halischuk-Patrice Cormier-Anthony Peluso

Zach Bogosian-Tobias Enstrom

Mark Stuart-Jacob Trouba

Adam Pardy-Keaton Ellerby

Al Montoya will start in goal; Michael Hutchinson will be the backup.

Healthy scratches include Eric Tangradi and Paul Postma. The Jets have a slew of injured players, including Ondrej Pavelec (lower body), Mark Scheifele (knee), Jim Slater (lower body), Chris Thorburn (talus), James Wright (ankle), Grant Clitsome (back) and John Albert (upper body).

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