By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The Blues know that after their game Monday against the Colorado Avalanche (7 p.m. on NBCSN, KMOX 1120-AM), they won't play another game until Jan. 29, or 10 days, following the NHL All-Star break.
The Blues (28-13-4) remember the last time they played the Avalanche (19-17-10) before a break. It was their last game before Christmas, and Colorado thoroughly dominated a 5-0 victory at Pepsi Center, leaving that nasty feeling of arguably the Blues' worst loss of the season for four days.
"We don't want to fall into that trap again," Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "A game that we really just let get away from us and I think it's a lesson learned hopefully tonight when we go out there and we remember what that felt like. It was pretty embarrassing to get trounced like that. We especially don't want that to happen in our building."
The Blues are 4-0-1 during a seven-game homestand and are focused more on the task at hand than getting a week off before resuming practice on Jan. 26.
"It doesn't matter if (the break) is good timing or bad timing," said captain David Backes, who will play in his 613th career game and tie Al MacInnis for 8th on the all-time franchise list. "We've got one task to finish before we get there, and that's a good two points tonight against Colorado. We've seen that they can lay it on us if we don't bring our 'A' game.
"Before the last break we had for Christmas, we played them and it wasn't very pretty. Maybe you guys can stop talking about a break and talk about the game tonight, stay focused on it, get two points and then you can call me about the break all you want."
Games will be played Tuesday and Wednesday, so the Blues will get a head start on their mini vacation for a couple days ahead of some teams, and most will take advantage of the extra time by getting away from St. Louis.
Backes is making the nine-hour drive to the Minneapolis area, while Maxim Lapierre is headed off to Orlando for some rest and relaxation.
"No, I don't worry about it," Hitchcock said. "I worry about it when they come back. That's my job. I'm going to need a break from them, they're going to need a break from me. It'll be good for everybody. It's how you take care of yourself in the break. It's the mental and physical rest that's going to be important, but then you don't want to get too far away from it. I'll do the worrying back on the 26th when we practice, but I think the break will do us good as long as we stay in the moment right now.
"A lot of teams don't get their break until even Thursday; some teams are playing Wednesday, so we got these extra two days and we decided, 'Let's take advantage of it. Let's give them a longer break and then lets work a little bit harder when they come back.'"
And what will Hitchcock be doing during his time off?
"I'm getting away from you guys," he joked. "It'll feel real good. Not talking for a few days will feel real good."
With players being off for so long, does the coach have to worry about players indulging during the time off?
"I leave that in my strength and conditioning coach's well-healed hand (Nelson Ayotte) and God help them if they do," Hitchcock joked.
The Blues just want to end on a strong note before resuming on the 29th against Central Division-leading Nashville.
"It's very important," Shattenkirk said. "It's a division opponent, a team that is below us in the standings and we don't want to let them gain those two points on us. I think they've been playing a lot better lately as far as their team goes. They always seem to play a pretty hard game against us too. We always have some chippy games against them and we can't really get caught up in that because when we do, we start to take too many penalties and allow their top players to get power play time and that's when they start to really take off as a team."
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Hitchcock tinkered with his lines again Monday.
He switched Jaden Schwartz and Patrik Berglund, putting Berglund with Jori Lehtera and Vladimir Tarasenko and Schwartz with Paul Stastny and Dmitrij Jaskin, who will return to the lineup after being a healthy scratch for two games.
Hitchcock called it an "experiment," and with T.J. Oshie (ankle/foot) taking another morning skate off (he will play), it enabled the coach to work on some things.
Of course, he made no guarantee that the changes will stick.
"You put the words right there, if it holds up tonight ... if it starts tonight," Hitchcock said. "I wouldn't read too much into the lineup right now; we'll see. We wanted to see how it looked today. With Osh not taking skates and just playing in the games, it affords us to experiment a little bit. It's looking for now, looking for the future.
"We'd like to be able to spread out the wealth a little bit. We don't want to interrupt the twosomes. Jaskin played great against Colorado, so we want to get him back in up and running, get him back healthy again and going. I think in the next 10 games or so, we're going to certainly try and put these lines and try them at some period of time. Whether it's tonight or not, whether I risk it tonight, we'll see."
What does Hitchcock get out of seeing different things with line combinations at the morning skate
"Puck movement, chemistry," Hitchcock said. "Whether there's automatic chemistry ... I think when you have automatic chemistry, you see it right away. You can see it in skates, you can see it in puck movement, you can see it in little drills you do, reading off each other. If you see it right away, it usually locks in."
Jaskin will replace Joakim Lindstrom in the lineup, and the two games off gave him a couple days to step back and regroup.
Or did it?
"No, we wanted him to go forward a little harder," Hitchcock said. "I think one of the problems with a young player is you have to play so hard and you have to play so physical to stay in the lineup ... his game is based on physicality, it's not just knocking people off the puck. It's protecting the puck, it's being strong on the puck. Sometimes when a player gets a little bit comfortable, you start to lose what kept you in the lineup.
"This is a reset for him. We know we're going to go through these stages with him. The way he has to play as a young player is not going to be the way he's going to play two years from now. He's going to be able to do things naturally, but to stay in the lineup, he's got to play physical, he's got to be hard on the forecheck, he's got to almost play like a role player. We know at the end of the day, he's going to end up a top six, but right now, there's no room for that, so he's got to find a different way to play. When he plays the way he's capable of, he's very effective."
Tarasenko, who blocked a shot off the back of his leg towards the end of the game Saturday, is fine and will play.
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Stastny is not only asserting himself on the scoresheet, he's also been dominating in the faceoff dot.
After winning 13 of 15 on Saturday in a 3-0 win against Toronto, Stastny is third in the NHL (58.1 percent) behind Montreal's Manny Malhotra and Boston's Patrice Bergeron.
Stastny downplayed the feat.
"I've had some better ones, but that was pretty good," he said of his 91 percent efficiency mark Saturday. "You always want to bear down because at any point on the game, faceoffs can dictate a scoring chance for that shift."
His coach was impressed.
"To win 13 out of 15, you've got to win a lot on the right side," Hitchcock said. "He won as many on the right side as he did on the left. That's special. To win them on your non-natural side is special. He's done a great job. I'm comfortable and if you look at the game and it was 1-0, I had him taking a lot of right side faceoffs because he was winning so many, especially in our own zone. To be able to win them on that side of the ice is really helpful for us because now you can put the line out there and not really worry about whether the guy's on his natural side or you've got to put a second center out there or whatever. He can take them and win them there."
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The Blues' seven-game homestand, which will come to a conclusion when they return from the All-Star break to take on the Predators, used this opportunity to gain some ground on their divisional opponents.
Although the feat has been tough with the play of Nashville, Chicago and even Winnipeg, they have taken nine of a possible 10 points thus far.
"It's been pretty good," Backes said. "We've taken steps every game regardless of who the opponent is, we've seemed to bring our game. It hasn't been perfect, but we're making progress and that's what we've said we need to do every game. This homestand's been a good stretch for us."
With the Blackhawks falling back some, the Blues are two points clear of both Chicago and Winnipeg and four points behind Nashville in a cluttered division that has every team over .500.
"It would be a great accomplishment because coming into this homestand, we knew that we had a chance to catch some teams here with this homestand," Shattenkirk said. "You see Chicago drop a couple games; everyone's going to have their little dips in the season. It's a matter of really managing them and making sure that they don't last too long. We were able to turn things around quickly and come home and play some great hockey. It's important that we get these two and when we look back at it in a month or two, we're going to realize how important it was."
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The Blues head into the game Monday with an NHL-best plus-35 goal differential.
They're second in goals scored behind Tampa Bay with 145.
"I don't even know what you're talking about to tell you the truth," Backes said. "That's great. We're even tonight. So far, it's 0-0 and we've got another team to beat. They don't take some of those goals and put them on the scoresheet before the game starts tonight. For me, that stuff's really irrelevant. Some statistician can come up with some haiku for you that's phenomenal. For me, it's 0-0 and we've got a task to do tonight."
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The Blues' probable lineup:
Alexander Steen-David Backes-T.J. Oshie
Patrik Berglund-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko
Jaden Schwartz-Paul Stastny-Dmitrij Jaskin
Steve Ott-Maxim Lapierre-Ryan Reaves
Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo
Carl Gunnarsson-Kevin Shattenkirk
Barret Jackman-Ian Cole
Brian Elliott will get the start in goal. Jake Allen will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Martin Brodeur, Joakim Lindstrom and Chris Butler. Chris Porter (ankle) is out indefinitely.
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The Avalanche's probable lineup:
Alex Tanguay-Matt Duchene-Jarome Iginla
Gabriel Landeskog-Ryan O'Reilly-Nathan MacKinnon
Maxime Talbot-Marc-Andre Cliche-Daniel Briere
Cody McLeod-John Mitchell-Dennis Everberg
Jan Hejda-Erik Johnson
Brad Stuart-Nick Holden
Nate Guenin-Tyson Barrie
Semyon Varlamov will start in goal. Calvin Pickard will be the backup.
Zach Redmond will be a healthy scratch. Ryan Wilson (shoulder), Jamie McGinn (back), Patrick Bordeleau (knee), Jesse Winchester (concussion) and Borna Rendulic (broken leg) are out indefinitely.