Tuesday, January 13, 2015

(1-13-15) Oilers-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- Jake Allen was suddenly thrust into action on Saturday, a game which was supposed to be seventh consecutive game without action.

But after coach Ken Hitchcock gave Brian Elliott the hook in the first period after he allowed three goals on 10 shots, Allen was called upon to stop the bleeding and inject some life into a team not prepared to play.

The Blues rallied for a 5-4 victory against the Carolina Hurricanes and Allen will get the start today when the Blues (26-13-3) host the Edmonton Oilers (10-24-9) at 7 p.m. (FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM).

"I was definitely not anticipating to get in the net, but you've got to be ready no matter what; you never know what's going to happen," said Allen, who is 12-5-2 with a 2.69 goals-against average and .901 save percentage. "... I don't think you can blame Ells for any of those goals. I just wanted to get in there and give the guys a chance to come back."

He stopped 19 of 20 shots and all three shootout attempts to win for the first time since Dec. 16. 

Allen had not played a game since Dec. 27, when the Blues fell 4-3 to the Dallas Stars. It was time for Allen to hit the reset button, work with goalie coach Jim Corsi and get Elliott back into a routine after missing a month with a right knee sprain.

"You always want to be in the net," Allen said. "That's the main objective, but to be able to have that long stretch of games off, I was able to get some extra work in practice and get back to basics, get back to my habits again. It was something like 10 practices before that last game against Carolina, but it really sort of paid off. I felt good, I felt comfortable, confident and I'm looking forward to get another chance tonight.

"Even though I lost a couple games in a row, I think I felt good in there. Pucks weren't just bouncing my way. I just wanted to get back to working hard and get those pucks bouncing my way and just be ready for my next opportunity and give the guys a chance when I get in there. I felt I did that (against) Carolina and fortunate enough to get another start tonight."

Hitchcock said Allen's work with Corsi was beneficial.

"He looked tight; he looked comfortable and tight, which is a good sign for us," Hitchcock said of Allen's play Saturday. "But we need to get both guys going back to where they were before the injuries took place. They were in elite form at that time and we need both guys back playing the way they were before. 

"This was a scheduled start for Jake and then Brian's going to get the Thursday-Saturday games. Hopefully we can get another continued good performance. He's had a lot of work with Jimmy, tightened up where he was before before he got put in that position where he was playing all the time. Hopefully he can get back to it."

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The revolving door for the Blues' sixth defenseman took another opening.

Ian Cole, a healthy scratch the past three games and eight of 16, will enter the lineup tonight and play alongside of Barret Jackman, which means Chris Butler will be a healthy scratch after playing in 11 of 12 games.

Cole has three goals and five points in 34 games.

"I'm just trying to stay sharp and get ready," Cole said after the morning skate.

Butler is coming off a game in which he played the second-fewest minutes of the season (10:37) and was a minus-4 in the game.

Hitchcock was asked if he struggled Saturday.

"I think on the back end we kind of struggled at times and then we were really good at the end," Hitchcock said. "But I think we struggled as a group. For the first time in a long time, we got pinned in our own zone, which hasn't been common for us. I think any time you get pinned in that much, you're going to get exposed, especially when you can't hook and hold and pin guys on the boards anymore.

"'Buts' will continue to move along and alternate and then whoever grabs a spot gets it. I think just keeping both guys engaged is important. We'll stay with that." 

Does Cole offer something based on the opponent?

"I hope so," Hitchcock said. "How about I answer that about 10:30."

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The Blues' penalty kill continues to climb the ladder at an opportune time.

It's 12-for-12 the past four games (all wins) and 21-for-22 the past seven games and is 19th at 80.3 percent. They were 23rd just a few short weeks ago.

"Not red-hot, bigger investment," Hitchcock said when asked about it. "More active listening and learning. More meetings after the meetings rather than sit in the meeting, absorb the information and leave. There's more dialogue, way more investment, big-time momentum changes for us in a positive direction now. ... It's been momentum-building now for the last three weeks or so. It's been momentum-building rather than momentum-killing."

Two of the catalysts have been top defensive pairing Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester. Their play on the penalty kill is rubbing off in even-strength play, and Pietrangelo's plus-minus particularly has improved from a season-worst minus-12 to it's current standing at minus-5.

"It's mostly them. Less time in our zone, better on transition and it's added significantly," Hitchcock said. "I think the other thing is when we decided to put the five-man group together and use it, especially on home ice, it's really helped us. Those five guys have played a lot of hockey together and when we put the group together, it just took off. Even when we don't get the matchup we want on the road, those guys are spending way less time ... they're making the play out. They're not getting bogged down. They're playing smart, territorial hockey when they're not under pressure rather than try to make a play. I think the attitude of make a play put us in bigger trouble because that first play didn't get out and then we got occupied and got scored on."

- - -

Defenseman Carl Gunnarsson has made an impact in not only the team's game, not only partner Kevin Shattenkirk's game but also his own.

Gunnarsson, who's missed a combined 17 games (10 for a recent concussion and seven recovering from off-season hip surgery at the start of the season), has played in five straight and hit the 20-minute mark (21:31) Saturday for the fourth time this season.

"Shatty's been lights-out since Day One. Gunny started slow, got really good and then got hurt," Hitchcock said. "Now he looks like he's back up and running. It's a very significant pair for us. 

"We traded a good player (Roman Polak) to get a top-four defenseman and the guy that's playing now is a top-four defenseman. He plays like a top-four guy, he acts like a top-four guy, he's a lot stronger than any opposition realizes. He's really calm under pressure, he transitions the puck, he and Shatty work well together. The last three games, he's been back and up to speed where he was before he got hurt. This has kind of been a stop-and-start year for him, but he's had sequences like the last three or four games where you see why he's going to really help us because he's a guy that can play 20 minutes and not miss a beat and he can play against top players, he can kill penalties, he can play that the end of games. This is the type of guy that we wanted."

- - -

Former Blue Derek Roy, now a center for the Oilers, will skate in the 700th game of his NHL career tonight.

Roy, who was recently acquired from the Nashville Predators for forward Mark Arcobello, has six points in seven games since joining the Oilers.

He admitted the trade from Nashville, one of the NHL's best teams to the NHL's worst, was tough but finding a prominent role made it a smooth transition.

"I came into Nashville and we had more centermen than I thought there was going to be," Roy said. "Guys were playing well and the young guys were playing real well. I was playing on the wing a lot of games and it was tough, but when you go to a place where you know you're going to play center every night and be counted upon to score goals and make plays and make a difference every night, it sparks your game."

Coach Todd Nelson likes Roy's game. He will play with Nail Yakupov and Benoit Pouliot tonight.

"He's always been a smart player and he's able to create some offense," Nelson said of Roy. "Right now, he's accepting the fresh start and taking advantage of it."

- - -

The Blues' probable lineup:

Alexander Steen-David Backes-T.J. Oshie

Jaden Schwartz-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko

Dmitrij Jaskin-Paul Stastny-Patrik Berglund

Steve Ott-Maxim Lapierre-Ryan Reaves

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Carl Gunnarsson-Kevin Shattenkirk

Barret Jackman-Ian Cole

Jake Allen will get the start in goal. Brian Elliott will be the backup.

Healthy scratches include Martin Brodeur, Joakim Lindstrom and Chris Butler. Chris Porter (ankle) is out indefinitely.

- - -

The Oilers' probable lineup:

Taylor Hall-Ryan Nugent-Hopkins-Jordan Eberle

Benoit Pouliot-Derek Roy-Nail Yakupov

Rob Klinkhammer-Anton Lander-Teddy Purcell

Matt Hendricks-Boyd Gordon-Luke Gazdic

Andrew Ference-Jeff Petry

Oscar Klefbom-Mark Fayne

Nikita Nikitin-Justin Schultz

Ben Scrivens will start in goal. Viktor Fasth will be the backup.

Healthy scratches include Matt Fraser and Keith Aulie. Tyler Pitlick (spleen) is out indefinitely.

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