Monday, December 8, 2014

(12-8-14) Panthers-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- Having played a combined 1,400-plus regular season and playoff games, Monday will be one of those rare firsts for Blues goalie Martin Brodeur.

Brodeur, who spent his entire 21-year career with the New Jersey Devils before signing with the Blues recently, will play his first home game when the Blues host the Florida Panthers at Scottrade Center.

Brodeur only encountered this occasion one other time when the Devils played at the Meadowlands, so it's been a while in that regard.  

"I'm looking forward to it; I think it's an advantage to play in your home building," said Brodeur, who is 40-16-2 in 65 career games against the Panthers. "Fans are always a big component and a reason the guys have success in their building. It'll be interesting to see how it is."

Brodeur, who earned career win No. 689 on Saturday and first with the Blues when he relieved Jake Allen in a come-from-behind 6-4 win on Long Island against the New York Islanders, will look across the ice and see a familiar face in Roberto Luongo, a teammate at the international level with Canada many times.

"I got to play with him in the (Winter) Olympics and World Cup and World Championships," Brodeur said of Luongo. "He's from my hometown back home, St. Leonard (Quebec). We had the same goalie coach playing Midget AAA. We got a lot of good action. 

"He's a good goalie, good guy. I think for him, it was a tough situation in Vancouver and finally went back to Florida. I'm sure he's happy about that."

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock was reminded of the times Brodeur and Luongo spent as teammates and that there will be an all-Canadian matchup Monday. 

"You've got 80 years of matchup," Hitchcock joked, noting Brodeur's (42) and Luongo's (38) respective age. "Never mind the All-Canadian. Two really good friends, two guys that have had a lot of success as a tandem at the international stage. 

"Two really interesting guys, easy-going, make their teammates really comfortable. Both guys for me have similar personalities. You really can't tell if it's an exhibition game or you're fighting for a gold medal. Both guys seem to have the same disposition about themselves."

Brodeur, who earned an extra $20,000 for the win (a bonus clause in his contract that he earns $10,000 per point the team earns while he's in goal), apparently hasn't relayed that message to some of his teammates.

When asked about the jostling from a reporter after the win Saturday, David Backes shot back: "In all honesty, I have no idea what the (heck) you're talking about, so if you want to fill me in, I can answer the question more intelligently."

When explained more detailed, Backes seemed quite amused.

"Oh really? Well, we hadn't given him grief yet, but starting now, we'll definitely do that," Backes joked.

"You get a guy like that playing his first home game, he'll be ready, the fans will be ready and we'll see what kind of performance we can put on tonight," Backes added.

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The Blues' 6-4 victory culminated what Hitchcock called a continuation of the 4-3 loss Thursday at Nashville and despite being down 3-0 on Long Island, the Blues' coach felt his team was playing the right way.

"I think it's just a continuation of what happened in the last two periods in Nashville," Hitchcock said. "This is really five periods where we've started to really play a strong game. I think when we play the way we've played the last five periods, even though we were down in the Islanders game, I thought we were in control of our own destiny because we had done a lot of good things. 

"If we can eliminate the big mistakes where we allow easy scoring opportunities and continue to build on some of the stuff we've been doing, we're getting better now. Starting to really show marked improvement throughout the lineup."

It all started with checking, an area Hitchcock stresses adamantly.

"That's how you create offense in the league," Hitchcock said. "You create it from your puck management and your checking. The last five periods, we started to do a good job of both. That's how you create zone time, that's how you create opposition out, that's how you get them on a three-quarter ice game where they're changing and you're going back at them. That's how you score, that's how you create in this league. It's a hard way to play, but the teams that buy in ... look at the difference. A team like Chicago, they've really bought into that formula, they've bought into it again and they've had good success. The more teams that do it, you can really see it in their game."

Backes and T.J. Oshie, who both had strong games Saturday, both were catalysts in the checking game.

"That's what we need," Hitchcock said. "Doesn't matter who's playing with those two guys, whether it's (Alexander) Steen, (Patrik) Berglund, at the end (of Saturday), it was (Steve) Ott. They have to lead us in the way we need to play. 

"When your leaders do that, then it forces other people to follow suit and that's what's happening. Not only are they getting scoring opportunities, they're able to impose their will on the opposition, and when they do that, it creates matchup problems for us in a more positive sense down the line. We're not asking them to do every job. We're not asking them to do every job. They do a lot of the heavy lifting, which opens up space underneath and that's the strength of our hockey club. Now they're starting to do the heavy lifting."

- - -

The Blues will be without defenseman Carl Gunnarsson (upper body) and Steen (lower body) for tonight's game against the Panthers (7 p.m. on FS-MW and KMOX 1120-AM).

Gunnarsson took an apparent elbow/shoulder to the jaw/head area from the Islanders' Anders Lee in the second period and is believed to be suffering from concussion-like symptoms is being evaluated this afternoon by team doctors, and Steen, who took part in warm-ups Saturday but did not play, will miss a second straight game.

"Gunny's got problems from the hit and we'll evaluate that later today and see what the doctors say and Steen is not ready to play, so we held both guys off the ice today for maintenance issues," Hitchcock said. "We'll get a further update on Gunnarsson and give it to you after the game."

The NHL Department of Player Safety announced Monday afternoon that Lee will have a hearing today regarding the hit to Gunnarsson.

Defenseman Jay Bouwmeester (groin) will miss his eighth consecutive game.

"He's skated once in the last three days," Hitchcock said of Bouwmeester. "We'll give you a further after the game."

- - -

With three assists in the win Saturday, Joakim Lindstrom doubled his point total for the season (six).

Lindstrom, who was a late addition to the lineup when Steen could not play, was a healthy scratch in the previous two games and four of eight games.

When asked to describe what he saw in Lindstrom, Hitchcock said, "Puck patience."

"When you come from a big-ice game, you always think you're rushed here, you always think you don't have time, you always think you've got more pressure than you do," Hitchcock said. "He's starting to realize that he's got way more time on the ice than he thinks. He's got patience in his game. Now all of the sudden, the player that we saw at the World Championships is now starting to show his way. You can see it starting to come about two weeks ago at practice, but it wasn't moving into the games yet, and now you see a guy who's got patience on the ice. He's moving his feet, he's strong on the puck. He's a lot bigger guy than people think and he's a lot stronger guy than people think, but now all of the sudden, he's got the patience in his game, the disposition on the ice where he's not thinking he's rushed so much. Now he's able to make the plays that we've seen for two years at the world stage."

- - -

Hitchcock is very impressed with Panthers rookie defenseman Aaron Ekblad, the top overall pick of this past summer's NHL Draft.

Ekblad, who is on a four-game point streak, has six points in that span and is playing like a boy among men.

He's only 18.

"I think he looks like he's 25 years old," Hitchcock said of Ekblad. "Maturity in his game, maturity in his play, his composure, it's really impressive. You saw flashes of it at the worlds last year. The stage doesn't seem to scare him and he makes very composed plays under pressure. ... You've got a guy like that that young that plays with that kind of maturity, that's a huge bonus."

- - -

The Blues have held the Panthers scoreless for 166:53, including two shutouts in both meetings last season. The last goal allowed was to Mike Santorelli on Nov. 17, 2011. They've won four in a row against Florida, with the last loss coming on Oct. 31, 2009 (4-0 in St. Louis).

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Patrik Berglund-David Backes-T.J. Oshie

Jaden Schwartz-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko

Steve Ott-Paul Stastny-Joakim Lindstrom

Chris Porter-Maxim Lapierre-Ryan Reaves

Chris Butler-Alex Pietrangelo

Petteri Lindbohm-Kevin Shattenkirk

Barret Jackman-Ian Cole

Martin Brodeur will get the start in goal. Jake Allen will be the backup.

The healthy scratch includes Magnus Paajarvi. Injuries include Alexander Steen (lower body), Brian Elliott (knee), Jay Bouwmeester (groin) and Carl Gunnarsson (upper body) and they are out.

- - -

The Panthers' projected lineup:

Jonathan Huberdeau-Nick Bjugstad-Tomas Fleischmann

Sean Bergenheim-Jussi Jokinen-Brad Boyes

Brandon Pirri-Vincent Trocheck-Jimmy Hayes

Tomas Kopecky-Dave Bolland-Derek MacKenzie

Willie Mitchell-Dmitry Kulikov

Brian Campbell-Aaron Ekblad

Dylan Olsen-Erik Gudbranson

Roberto Luongo will start in goal. Al Montoya will be the backup.

Injuries include Scottie Upshall (ankle) and Aleksander Barkov (hand). Scott Thornton is a healthy scratch.

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