By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- With a full complement of healthy bodies at his disposal, Blues coach Ken Hitchcock has roster decisions to make.
There are times when those decisions will involve sitting out players as healthy scratches. One of those decisions will be to play left Chris Porter against the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday and scratch Patrik Berglund.
Porter will start the game playing with the Blues' top-line forwards David Backes and T.J. Oshie. Alexander Steen will start with Paul Stastny and Dmitrij Jaskin.
And considering that just one week ago, the Blues lost 3-1 at Philadelphia in a game that was heavy and full of emotions, perhaps bringing Porter in gives the Blues a missing element after losing that game last week in the final 10 minutes.
"Energy is going to be there," Hitchcock said of Porter, who has two points in 15 games this season. "I think he's an underrated player offensively. This is giving him a chance to really jump up and play on a good line, play on a top nine role. We're hoping that he relaxes and just plays and brings the normal energy he does. He's gonna bring great energy."
As for making Berglund, who has eight goals and 20 points in 62 games this season, a healthy scratch, Hitchcock said, "Just coach's choice. Take a break. He'll be back in on Saturday, catch his breath and get back up to speed where he was before last week."
When asked if Berglund was hurt, Hitchcock replied, "He's good enough to play."
Porter, who normally plays a fourth-line role, will get the chance to at least start in a scoring role.
"Playing with two skilled guys, I don't want to change anything that they're doing," Porter said of Backes and Oshie. "Play straight lines and try to create a little bit of room for them, have a little fun myself. ... You don't usually get these opportunities so try to make the most of it.
Having NHL-ready players on hand will make for some tough decisions ahead for Hitchcock, barring injury.
So what will play into deciding who plays and who sits?
"You want to make everyone part of the mix, but I think you base it on expectations on where they are in the lineup," Hitchcock said. "If they're higher up in the lineup, you expect production. If they're maybe down a little lower, you expect higher energy, error-free hockey. I think it depends on the role they have whether they're doing the job or not. It's the great thing about competition within a team. Every team goes through it, every team has it. It's good stuff. So that's kind of what you do is based on where you play the player and how much you expect from him; more how much you expect from that position wherever they fit in, whether it's top nine or 10, 11, 12, 13 or top three or top four defensemen or bottom three, whatever."
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Defenseman Jay Bouwmeester will return after missing two games because he was sick, and defenseman Znynek Michalek, who has been skating but has not played since Feb. 14 with a concussion, is close to making his Blues debut. Michalek was acquired at the NHL Trade Deadline along with a 2015 conditional third round pick for prospect Maxim Letunov.
"Bouw's good to go," Hitchcock said. "Michalek's not ready, but 'Bouw' is."
Olli Jokinen (upper body), injured last Saturday against the Toronto Maple Leafs, will sit out again.
Jokinen will either play on the weekend one of the games, or he'll start playing full time on Tuesday.
As far as Michalek, who has skated regularly now for the better part of a week and said Wednesday he feels symptom-free, it's up to him when he plays.
"It's now (Michalek's) call, so when he taps us on the shoulder, he's in," Hitchcock said. "Haven't got the tap yet so not in."
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The Blues (42-19-5) are two points behind the Nashville Predators for first place in the Central Division with two games in hand and are looking for some revenge against the Flyers, who are (28-27-13) and really up against it trying to chase down the Boston Bruins for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference.
The Flyers are nine points behind the Bruins and haven't win since defeating the Blues 3-1 at Wells Fargo Center a week ago tonight.
"They were pretty aggressive. They played well," Oshie said of the Flyers, who scored three times in the game's final 10 minutes to erase a 1-0 deficit. "They played physical against us. Obviously we had a tough third period, but for the most part, there's bodies getting thrown around on both sides. Expecting a lot of the same tonight. When you play a team close together, it seems like some of those emotions kind of carry over to the second game. Should be a physical battle tonight, should be fun and we're ready for the test."
The Blues want to take advantage of one of the worst road teams in the NHL with nine wins. Only Toronto, Buffalo and Edmonton have fewer wins away from home.
"They're a physical team, we're a physical team," Porter said. "I'm going to try and bring that physicality and energy like I always do. Hopefully we have a better outcome than we did last time."
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With a victory tonight, Hitchcock will join the NHL's 700 club as far as coaching victories are concerned.
Hitchcock, who is 699-424-95 with 88 ties in his coaching career, will join Scotty Bowman (1,244), Al Arbour (782) and Joel Quenneville (745) in the 700 fraternity. All are former Blues coaches.
Flyers coach Craig Berube was an assistant and player under Hitchcock and is very fond of his relationship with the 63-year-old.
"I was an assistant with the (Flyers' American Hockey League affiliate, the Philadelphia Phantoms) when Hitch was coaching the Flyers," Berube said. "I played junior for him, he coached me and assistant coach in the NHL, too.
"... When Hitch got to the NHL, he became more of a defensive-minded coach. He went to Dallas and realized you've got to play good defense to win and he brought that structure to Dallas and ended up winning a (Stanley) Cup there. He demands a lot of little things that happen on the ice that are important."
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Defenseman Robert Bortuzzo will play in his fourth game with the Blues tonight against the Flyers, but with how impressive the Thunder Bay, Ontario native has been, it seems like Bortuzzo has been here all season.
He has one assist in three games -- the primary assist on Barret Jackman's crazy goal to beat Winnipeg on Tuesday -- but Bortuzzo has made the solid transition from one team to another, which is usually something that takes some adjusting for NHL defensemen.
"No, not on those type of players," Hitchcock said. "Defending defensemen, they just play. We think Michalek's going to be the same. They have a definition to their game. They're shot blockers. They don't need a ton of chemistry. They play a simple game.
"Robert plays a real simple game. He advances the puck quickly, Michalek's the same. Those guys adjust easily. The skilled guys, it's the guys you need on the power play, it's the guys that offer you a lot on transition that have a different adjustment because each team uses their defensemen in transition in a different way. But because both of these guys are defending players, I think they just fit in seamlessly. They know how to play, they know how to do it. They do their thing that they do well and they always work from a defensive base out."
Bortuzzo's ice time has been 16 minutes, 30 seconds, 17:19 and 13:18 and has eight shots on goal and 13 hits. He became the first Blues defenseman in franchise history and second player overall (Backes) to record six hits and six shots on goal in the second game against the Maple Leafs. The only other defensemen in NHL history to register six shots and six hits in one game are Winnipeg's Dustin Byfuglien, New York Islanders' Johnny Boychuk, Los Angeles' Drew Doughty and Jake Muzzin and Minnesota's Jared Spurgeon.
Bortuzzo feels like the transition has been seamless.
"Things have gone pretty smooth so far," Bortuzzo said. "Every day is a learning process. I'm trying to take as much information in every day as possible. Whether that's questions or video I have with the coaches or other defensemen on the team. We're just building on every day and trying to get better here.
"They've done an amazing job, whether it's communicating on the ice or just being good teammates in the room. You can tell why the team's had success; it's a close-knit group there."
Bortuzzo's added grit, combined with that of Petteri Lindbohm has made the Blues a tougher team to play against in the defensive zone.
"You've got to add a guy like Lindbohm into this mix, too. He started to bring it, so it's not just Robert," Hitchcock said. "It's Lindbohm, too. They've brought a different size, a different element into our team. We're a little harder to play against back there, which is a good sign. It's both guys; it's not just one."
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The Blues' probable lineup:
Chris Porter-David Backes-T.J. Oshie
Jaden Schwartz-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko
Alexander Steen-Paul Stastny-Dmitrij Jaskin
Steve Ott-Marcel Goc-Ryan Reaves
Carl Gunnarsson-Alex Pietrangelo
Petteri Lindbohm-Jay Bouwmeester
Barret Jackman-Robert Bortuzzo
Brian Elliott will start in goal. Jake Allen will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Patrik Berglund and Chris Butler. Kevin Shattenkirk (abdomen) and Zbynek Michalek (concussion) are on injured-reserve and Olli Jokinen (upper body) is day-to-day.
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The Flyers' probable lineup:
Brayden Schenn-Claude Giroux-Jakub Voracek
Matt Read-Sean Couturier-Wayne Simmonds
Zac Rinaldo-Michael Raffl-Ryan White
Chris VandeVelde-Pierre-Edouard Bellemare-Vincent Lecavalier
Nick Schultz-Mark Streit
Nicklas Grossmann-Andrew MacDonald
Carlo Colaiacovo-Luke Schenn
Steve Mason will start in goal. Ray Emery will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include R.J. Umberger and Brandon Manning. Radko Gudas (knee) and Michael Del Zotto (upper body) are out.