Tuesday, November 11, 2014

(11-11-14) Sabres-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues are aware of the Buffalo Sabres' problems.

However, when the Blues and Sabres match up Tuesday (7 p.m. on NBCSN, KMOX 1120-AM), St. Louis (9-4-1) will not look past Buffalo (3-11-2), who are last in the NHL in a plethora of categories.

When it comes to the Sabres, they're last in the League in points (eight), goals scored (18) and goals per game average (1.12).

The Sabres have scored more than two goals in a game once; they've scored one or fewer in 10 of 15 games and have been shut out five times.

What's even worse is the Sabres have not scored a goal for 12 straight games during the first period. They've scored three times in the first period -- two in one game against the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Blues, who had their seven-game winning streak snapped Saturday against the Nashville Predators, don't care.

"All the players have been around here for a long time and we know those games, they are the hardest games to play in," Blues center Patrik Berglund said. "We know it's going to be a really hard-fought game. We've got to play them the same way as we do other teams. They want to get in here and knock us off. We've got to give them an honest game."

The Sabres have one regulation victory among their three, and Blues coach Ken Hitchcock points to that one win as an eye-opener, a 2-1 victory against the San Jose Sharks.

"I watched Buffalo beat San Jose (2-1 in San Jose)," Hitchcock said. "I also watched Carolina, who a week ago was struggling and now are off and running. You never know when a team's starting point is. Everybody in the League is pretty equal skill-wise. It's just when is your starting point. Some teams never get out of the box. It's a struggle all year. Some teams just need a kick and they get going out of the starting box. To me, we just don't want to be that team that starts Buffalo down that positive path.

"... Everybody calls it a trap game. It's only a trap game if you don't pay respect to the opponent."

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The Blues will be without Ryan Reaves on Tuesday after the fourth-line right wing was hit on the ankle by a Barret Jackman shot during practice Monday. Also, T.J. Oshie (concussion) took part in the optional skate Tuesday after a full work day on Monday, but Hitchcock said Oshie is "not ready, not close."

That's difficult to believe considering the way Oshie was whipping around the ice on Monday. He took part in a full skate, even though Tuesday was an optional.

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There's no secret the Blues are searching for more efficient and balanced ways to score goals. Getting the majority of the offense these days from the line with Jori Lehtera centering Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz (17 points in five games), the Blues know balance is key.

"We're really honest in here and obviously we know right now it's one line that contributes offensively," Berglund said. "We have a lot of good players, a lot of goal scorers in this locker room that wants to be a part of it. We just need to keep going and get better. Pucks will drop in eventually. 

"The good thing about this is we've been playing really good defensively. We haven't really let in a whole lot and obviously that's important the way we play. It's no secret more guys need to help out in scoring goals."

Aside from the forwards, the Blues feel like if they can get some goals from their backline, there can be a trickle affect and filter throughout the forward lines.

Through 14 games, the Blues have only three goals (Alex Pietrangelo, Kevin Shattenkirk and Jay Bouwmeester) from their blue line, but they have 23 points.

"There's definitely more that we can contribute," defenseman Ian Cole said. "... Maybe some more goals from us will help. I know I have zero. I can't contribute any less, but that's something we can't lay sole focus on. For us to play a solid game, we focus on playing solid defense, closing quickly, getting pucks to forwards in good situations and that's more their job to do that. If we can help out, fantastic."

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For Sabres right wing Chris Stewart, there won't be much in terms of what it will take to motivate him to face his former teammates.

Stewart, who was part of the trade last season that brought goalie Ryan Miller to St. Louis, was with the Sabres when they played against the Blues, but he was not in the lineup because of an ankle injury. So this will be his first go at his former teammates after spending parts of four seasons in St. Louis, where Stewart had 63 of his 116 career goals and 52 of his 112 career assists.

"It's always a little weird playing against your former team," Stewart said. "I think it's exciting. It's an easy game definitely to get up for. We've got a lot to prove. We got shelled last game and we've got to come out with the right mentality.

"I think you remember (getting traded) for the rest of your career. Same way when I got traded from Colorado (to St. Louis). You definitely want to have a good outing against them."

Life has certainly changed off the ice for the better for the 27-year-old Toronto native Stewart, who is a husband and a father to twin sons. And having the short commute between Buffalo and Toronto, where Stewart's family is, has been a blessing.

"Growing up," Stewart said with a laugh. "It's been different, but it's been great. It's a really good time in my life right now with the two boys at home. We're really happy at home with my family.

"My sisters have been up every other weekend. To have that helping hand right now has really been special."

Stewart got a chance to spend some time Monday night with former teammates. It was a chance to reminisce.

"Reaver had me over for dinner last night with Vova and Shatty," Stewart said. "We had a little spread. It was good to see the boys. Shatty and I were all in Reaver's wedding this summer. We've become good friends."

Stewart is especially pleased to see what Tarasenko is doing for the Blues. Stewart, along with Shattenkirk, took on the role of 'Big Brother' with Tarasenko when he first came to North America and took the Russian under their wings.

"I think I seen it two years ago," Stewart said of Tarasenko's ability. "It's good to see that he's getting the opportunity to be the player that he can be. ... He could be a 50-goal scorer in this league.

"... He's very humble. He wants to get better every game. He has a lot of respect for his teammates, Every time he scores a goal, you can see it, he's hugging the guy that gave him the pass. ... When he came over, his English wasn't too good. We tried helping him out, just little things being there for him. It's hard when you're by yourself. I don't think we had any Russian players or guys like that to help him out. To see how far he's come in the last couple years, it's amazing."

The Blues have a room with a goal and shooting gallery set up for players. Stewart remembers it fondly.

"I think I lost money to him last year," Stewart joked. "I'm not going to say how much, but it's the last time I gamble against him in hockey. There's little targets in there and we'll put a little friendly wager on the line and he went 4-for-4."

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The Blues' probable lineup:

Alexander Steen-Paul Stastny-David Backes

Jaden Schwartz-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko

Steve Ott-Patrik Berglund-Joakim Lindstrom

Chris Porter-Maxim Lapierre-Magnus Paajarvi

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Carl Gunnarsson-Kevin Shattenkirk

Barret Jackman-Ian Cole

Brian Elliott will start in goal. He is 10-0-2 with a 1.74 goals-against average and .941 save percentage with two shutouts in his career against the Sabres. Jake Allen is the backup.

Healthy scratches include Jordan Leopold, Magnus Paajarvi and Dmitrij Jaskin. T.J. Oshie (concussion) is still on injured reserve but close to returning. Ryan Reaves (ankle) is out after getting hit with a Barret Jackman shot in practice Monday.

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The Sabres' probable lineup:

Matt Moulson-Zemgus Girgensons-Tyler Ennis

Nicolas Deslauriers-Cody Hodgson-Drew Stafford

Marcus Foligno-Cody McCormick-Chris Stewart

Brian Flynn-Torrey Mitchell-Brian Gionta

Josh Gorges-Tyler Myers

Nikita Zadorov-Rasmus Ristolainen

Mike Weber-Tyson Strachan

Michal Neuvirth will get the start in goal. Jhonas Enroth will be the backup.

Healthy scratches include Andre Benoit and Andrej MeszarosPatrick Kaleta (jaw) is out.

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