Wednesday, March 11, 2015


Michalek progressing towards Blues debut; Bouwmeester, 
Jokinen could return Thursday; Tarasenko bobblehead against Flyers 

ST. LOUIS -- The sweat dropping off the face of Zbynek Michalek is another indicator that one of the Blues' newest defensemen continues to be on track for action.

When will that be? It only seems like a matter of time -- and some full practices with his newest teammates -- but for the 32-year-old Michalek, each day on the ice without symptoms from a concussion sustained on Feb. 14 is a step closer full-time action.

"Oh yeah, definitely I'm getting closer and closer," Michalek said after an optional skate at Scottrade Center on Wednesday. "I've been skating for a while now. I feel good. It would be nice to get a full practice in, too, but I'll take whatever. It's tough practicing right now with a lot of games. I'm just happy to be on the ice and shooting on the goalies.

"... I'm doing a lot of work on the ice every day. I've been on for almost one hour and I'm feeling pretty good."

Now it's just a case for Michalek, who had two goals and six assists in 53 games with the Arizona Coyotes this season before being acquired by the Blues along with a 2015 conditional second-round pick for prospect Maxim Letunov, to get some full-time practices with his teammates.

"I think so," Michalek said. "Take a few rushes and play in the zone when the guy is on you. Just the physical aspect of the game, too. Timing will come with time. Overall, my conditioning is getting where it needs to be. It's going in the right direction."

Coach Ken Hitchcock agreed that Michalek needs to practice with the team and taking some bumps and hits before getting cleared for game action.

"Unfortunately for him, he feels good, but he's had no team skates," Hitchcock said of Michalek. "So we're having to do more endurance skates with him and more work, but mostly it's been individual (work). He's really been on the ice with the whole group once. It's pretty unfair. If he can get a couple more team skates, whether it's pregame skates in the morning or do some 5-on-5 battle drills because all he's been doing is working with two or three other guys here. It's not ideal, but it's the time of schedule. It's what we're dealing with. We can't afford to put our whole team on the ice right now."

Michalek, a 10-year veteran with the Minnesota Wild, Coyotes and Pittsburgh Penguins, doesn't feel like it will take long to get acclimated with a new team, a new system and a new style.

"From what I've noticed and I've been in all the meetings, I don't see the 
system being really, really any different from what we did in Phoenix," Michalek said. "It shouldn't be a big adjustment for me hopefully. Until I go on the ice and play in the game, I won't know. I'll just wait and see."

Michalek, who has who has 38 goals and 167 points in 696 NHL games, has been injected with a dose of excitement after playing for a team looking at a rebuild and into the future (Arizona) to one in St. Louis is that will make the playoffs and compete for a Stanley Cup.

"Yeah, definitely," Michalek said. "You don't know how many chances you're going to get playing for a Stanley Cup. I'm 32 and who knows if I ever get another chance. I take it as this is it for me and I want to do my best to be prepared and I'm ready and hope to help this team make a long run. It's a good situation for myself. I'm a free agent after this season. I'm playing for my livelihood and a new contract. It's important for me; it can benefit both sides."

And with Kevin Shattenkirk (abdomen), who didn't skate with the handful of skaters on the ice Wednesday, improving every day and getting closer to returning, there will be tough choices for Hitchcock to make when filling out his lineup every day having nine bonafide defensemen to choose from.

"I think you've got to be careful because you might get a guy's name back, but you don't get the player back when you get long-term injuries," Hitchcock said. "You've got to be prepared for that. When Michalek comes back in or when Shatty comes back in, we've got to be careful on our analyzation right away because it's going to take them some time to get up to speed also. You look at (Paul Stastny), 'Stas' comes back off that injury; he's out 3-4 weeks and it takes him another two weeks before he's up to speed. We've just got to be prepared to manage (Michalek's) ice properly and make sure that our expectations don't exceed where his actual play's at."

Michalek is ready for the competition.

"It's going to be a good group of guys and just competition to get into the lineup," he said. "You take a look around this room, you have nine defensemen that can play on any given night. You have to play well and play hard to deserve your spot in the lineup. I think that's great. Having a lot of 'D' especially in the playoffs, it can go a long ways because injuries and stuff. It's nice to have definitely. It's going to be a battle just to get into the lineup for sure.

"I've just got to be myself. I don't want to change my game and try to be somebody I'm not. I just want to be hard to play against and basically be a good defender and move the puck well. I think I can move the puck pretty well and get it to our forwards definitely. There's a good group of forwards here, good skilled group of forwards. We need to play with a lot of speed, just play my game and be hard to play against, play my best every single night."

* More reaction to Jackman's crazy game-winner -- Those Blues players that talked to the media were still smiling at the way they defeated the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday when defenseman Barret Jackman fired a 74-foot wrister from just inside the center ice line past Ondrej Pavelec, who lost sight of the puck, in a 5-4 victory.

Robert Bortuzzo, playing in his third game since being acquired from the Pittsburgh Penguins, couldn't have gotten an easier first point as a member of the Blues. 

"Nope, but I'm gonna take that one," Bortuzzo said. "I didn't do too much. I actually don't think I made a great pass over to Jax. Me and (goalie coach) Jim Corsi were joking about that one today. I'm going to take it and happy to get the win."

After taking David Backes' faceoff win, Bortuzzo turned and passed to Jackman. The puck came off the boards and Jackman wasted little time throwing the puck towards the goal. There was a delayed celebration at first.

"I was more watching 'Jax' and I just saw him throw his arms in the air and the guys running over," Bortuzzo said. "At that point, it turned into excitement."

Said Backes: "For a floater to go in from the red line ... we're not going to complain about it. The fate just seemed to be. We stuck with it, we found a way to get two points, so we'll just put those in our pocket and concentrate on the game tomorrow night."

"I've seen some fluky ones and it happens," veteran left wing Steve Ott said. "I'm sure it's hard on Pavelec today waking up seeing it all over the place, but to be honest, 'Jax' is pretty deceiving on the play on the dump-in. You lose it in the glass; everybody makes mistakes and it happened to be a pretty costly one with a minute left."

* Tarasenko bobblehead -- The first 15,000 fans to enter the gates of Scottrade Center for Thursday's home game against the Philadelphia Flyers will get a Vladimir Tarasenko bobblehead.

It's the first of such a kind for Tarasenko, who said bobblehead giveaways were not part of the culture in the Kontinental Hockey League when he played.

"It's pretty cool," Tarasenko said. "I'm so proud Blues make my bobblehead."

Tarasenko, who leads the Blues in goals (33) and points (66), hasn't received his yet.

"Where is my one, like my own one," he asked. "Where's my bobblehead? I'll probably get one tomorrow ... hope so."
Vladimir Tarasenko bobblehead

Tarasenko said if he can get his hands on multiple ones, he'll send some over to his family in Russia. But in the meantime, does it look like him, though?

"I think so," Tarasenko said. "You can ask people on Twitter if you want. 

"It looks like Jay Bouwmeester more."

Tarasenko's linemates don't think the resemblance is there either.

"Not really, no," Jori Lehtera said before joking. "Only thing you can know that it's Vladi is the celebration. I told him I'm not gonna get one of those."

Added Jaden Schwartz: "I don't think the hair does, but the celebration does, and I think the smile a little bit. But I think the hair's too dark maybe. 

"Eh, its alright. I won't say no completely. It's OK."

* Revenge -- When the Blues (42-19-5) host the fading Flyers (28-27-13), the Blues will have some payback on their minds.

It was a week ago Thursday that the Blues did everything right for 50 minutes at Wells Fargo Center against the Flyers. They held a 1-0 lead before Philadelphia scored three goals in the last half of the third period (Michael Del Zotto, Wayne Simmonds and Michael Raffl) to defeat the Blues 3-1.

Philadelphia, which is clinging to playoff hopes, as they trail the Boston Bruins by nine points for the second wild card in the Eastern Conference, has not win since, going 0-2-1.

"A game were we played a pretty solid 50 minutes in their building, but you need 60 in this league to win," Backes said. "They scored three goals ... I don't know if they stole two points, but they took two points that we really wanted and the result is we're here looking for revenge in our building."

The Blues hope to get defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, who's missed to games because of sickness, and forward Olli Jokinen, who left the game last Saturday against the Toronto Maple Leafs with an upper-body injury, back to the lineup. Both skated on Wednesday.

"He says he feels really good today, so that's a good sign," Hitchcock said of Bouwmeester, who saw his NHL ironman streak come to an end at 737 games earlier this season. "I would say for us for sure, if he (had) a good day today, he's going to play tomorrow. Same with (Jokinen); if he (had) a good day today, he's going to play tomorrow."

Brian Elliott will start for the fourth consecutive game against the Flyers. He made 28 of 30 saves against Philadelphia last week. Ray Emery is projected as the starter for the Flyers.

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