By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- When the puck drops on Tuesday for the Blues and Dallas Stars (7 p.m.; FS-MW and KMOX 1120-AM), both will have one common denominator: they're missing key pieces from each respective lineup.
The Blues (37-15-4) have adjusted to life without All-Star defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who is recovering from abdominal surgery and is listed out week to week. The Stars (26-22-8), fighting for a spot with a handful of teams jockeying for one of two wildcard positions in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, will play their second game without center and leading scorer Tyler Seguin, who is out 3-6 weeks after sustaining a knee injury last Friday as a result of a clipping incident with Florida Panthers defenseman Dmitry Kulikov.
Like the Blues, who have had their defensive depth tested without Shattenkirk, the Stars will have their forward depth tested in an effort to see who can help alleviate what's missing with Seguin out of the lineup.
"It's difficult on the offensive side; he's been a big part of our 5-on-5 play," Stars coach Lindy Ruff said. "It's getting production from deeper in our lineup.
"When the (Cody) Eakin line is scoring, when the (Vernon) Fidder line that's been kicking a few in, the goals were coming pretty good. Last game, we stayed on the perimeter too much. We didn't get enough pucks inside and didn't create the second opportunities. That went for every line. Our challenge tonight against a team I feel has very good structure is make sure that we're trying to kick a hole in their defense and get inside."
Without Seguin, who leads the Stars in goals (29) and points (59), it thrusts center Jason Spezza, who is third on the Stars in points with 44, into a larger role.
"This definitely puts more responsibility on me and on Jamie (Benn) to drive the offense a little bit," Spezza said. "We have to make sure we're good 5-on-5 and be a solid line for us. We're going to get tough matchups every night.
"... We're in the thick of trying to chase down some teams. We don't have the luxury of giving up any points. Losing a guy like Tyler's a big loss for us, but it gives us an opportunity to kind of come together as a team and other guys to step up."
One thing's for certain: the Blues won't feel sorry for the Stars coming into Scottrade Center tonight, just as nobody felt sorry for them when they lost Shattenkirk.
"That's hard. They've only played two games without (Seguin)," coach Ken Hitchcock said. "It's a hard read.
"Spezza's obviously stepping up for them playing that role now. We just look at it (as a) right shot. It probably affects down the line depth, probably pushes guys up. We're all missing significant players right now this time of the year. We've had to make major adjustments without Shattenkirk also. It's how quick you can make your adjustments. You know you're going to be missing guys. It's a matter of can you keep pace with everybody else and not lose any ground when you're missing bodies."
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The Blues will make an adjustment to their lineup. Hitchcock will flip centers Paul Stastny and Jori Lehtera, as he indicated he would Monday at practice.
Lehtera had been centering the "STL Line" with Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko, and Stastny had been centering a line with Patrik Berglund and Dmitrij Jaskin.
Hitchcock is searching for some more balance. When asked, he joked, "I don't know, two days off, got bored. I'm not sure.
"Yeah we are going to tinker," Hitchcock added. "We're loading up a little bit here. We'll see. This only works if it works.
"You talk about top six and one of the strengths of our team has been depth. I don't think who Lehtera plays with; he plays the same way. He brings a lot to the game, he brings a real definition to the game. I think he can have a really strong influence on Jaskin and 'Bergy' and we're hoping Stastny and Tarasenko and Schwartz really step up and become a top six line and play a like a top six line. If they do, then it really gives us some advantages moving on. This isn't cast in stone; probably write it in pencil right now."
Hitchcock said the move isn't cast in stone.
"This one on paper should work," he said. "The top nine should work this way. It should be interchangeable. This looks like it has the potential to work, but we're going to try it now rather than wait to see if it is something we want to do later in the season. We want to try it now, take a look at it and if it works, great. If it doesn't, we can always go back where we were before and know that we're comfortable there."
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Since the trade that sent center Maxim Lapierre to the Pittsburgh Penguins for fellow center Marcel Goc, the Blues were looking for more puck possession out of their fourth line and more sustained offensive zone time.
Safe to say that there's been an added difference since the change.
The Penguins were looking for more of a player with a reckless edge, which Lapierre has given them, and the Blues were looking to alleviate some of that recklessness from all three members.
Right wing Ryan Reaves, who has two goals and a plethora of other chances in those 10 games, may be the guy that's benefited the most.
He's played 10-plus minutes in six of the past 10 games since Goc's arrival. Before that, he topped 10 minutes only three times in 45 games, and he credit's Goc.
"He's really patient," Reaves said of Goc. "I think when you look at me and 'Otter' and 'Lappy' when we played together, we were a lot of energy, but I think there was just too much energy sometimes. I think we all kind of wanted to do the same thing, get in on the forecheck, play physical and it made us kind of get caught sometimes in the offensive zone and odd-man rushes going back in our zone. I think with 'Gocher,' he's a little more patient. He lets me and 'Otter' get in on the forecheck and do our thing and then he comes and plays with the puck and lets us get back into position. I think it's really complemented me and 'Otter' really well.
"I think this allows us to keep the puck in the zone a lot more. We're getting in on the forecheck and he's playing around with it and patient with it, we can get back in a good position for him to give it back to us or we can get to the net and he can put it there. I think his patience is the biggest key to our line right now."
Hitchcock called the fourth line the team's best line in the 2-1 shootout victory against the Florida Panthers on Sunday.
"I think they'd like more minutes to be honest with you," Hitchcock said of the line. "We talked to the line; they played very good in Florida. We talked to the line about ... I don't want to say less is more, but staying in good ice a little bit longer, being a little more patient in good ice. I think sometimes there's a confusion between energy and proper play. We just felt like they were over-caffeinated and taking themselves out of good ice. They end up chasing the game.
"They ended up chasing the game a lot in Tampa (last Thursday in a 6-3 victory) and it put them in poor positions to exit the puck and stuff like that. I think they really calmed down and did a good job ... they were our best line by a long margin in the Florida game. They gave us really good minutes and they did a really good job in managing the game, keeping the puck in the offensive zone, controlling the tempo. They did a great job for us."
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Tonight will be the third of five meetings between the Blues and Stars. Each team owns a 4-3 victory on the other's home ice.
The Blues won on Tarasenko's overtime winner on Oct. 28; the Stars won here on Dec. 27, the first game following the Christmas break for both teams.
"I don't think either team's been able to control the other team for any prolonged period of time," Hitchcock said. "The two games we've played, they got off to a lot better starts than we did and we started to mount comebacks in the games. For us, I don't think either team can control the other team so you go out and play and play as hard as you can. I don't think we can control them when they get on their game and they have trouble controlling us when we're on top of our game."
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The Blues' probable lineup:
Alexander Steen-David Backes-T.J. Oshie
Jaden Schwartz-Paul Stastny-Vladimir Tarasenko
Patrik Berglund-Jori Lehtera-Dmitrij Jaskin
Steve Ott-Marcel Goc-Ryan Reaves
Chris Butler-Alex Pietrangelo
Carl Gunnarsson-Jay Bouwmeester
Barret Jackman-Ian Cole
Brian Elliott will start in goal. Jake Allen will be the backup.
The healthy scratch includes Joakim Lindstrom. Kevin Shattenkirk (abdomen) and Chris Porter (ankle) are out but Porter is set to come off injured reserve at any time.
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The Stars' probable lineup:
Jamie Benn-Jason Spezza-Erik Cole
Antoine Roussel-Cody Eakin-Ryan Garbutt
Curtis McKenzie-Vernon Fiddler-Brett Ritchie
Travis Moen-Shawn Horcoff-Colton Sceviour
Alex Goligoski-John Klingberg
Jyrki Jokipakka-Trevor Daley
Jordie Benn-Jason Demers
Kari Lehtonen will play in goal. Jhonas Enroth will be the backup.
The healthy scratch will be David Schlemko. Tyler Seguin (knee), Patrick Eaves (concussion), Ales Hemsky (lower body), Valeri Nichushkin (groin) and Patrik Nemeth (arm) are all out.