Tuesday, October 27, 2015

(10-27-15) Lightning-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- They've been close friends since the Blues drafted them, then when they became teammates with the now-defunct Peoria Rivermen of the American Hockey League and then as practice friends during the summer.

But when the Blues (5-2-1) host the Tampa Bay Lightning (5-2-2) at 7 p.m. today (NBCSN, KMOX 1120-AM), goalies Jake Allen and Ben Bishop will stare at one another for the first time as opponents.

Both will start for their respective teams tonight.

Bishop, who was drafted by the Blues in the third round of the 2005 NHL Draft, was traded away to the Ottawa Senators in 2012 for a 2013 third-round draft pick in part because the Blues were in a dilemma at the time in which goalie they wanted to keep and develop.

Allen, picked by the Blues in the second round of the 2008 NHL Draft, was the guy the Blues chose to keep, and hence, the hometown kid Bishop -- from nearby Des Peres -- was dealt.

The Lightning acquired him from the Senators in 2013 for a fourth-round pick and forward Cory Conacher.

"No, not at all," Bishop said when asked if he is upset about leaving his hometown team. "It could have been a blessing in disguise to get out of there and not have that pressure of not trying to make it in front of all your family and friends. It's just to just kind of get away and not have that pressure. That doesn't bother me at all. I'm in a good spot now; we have a great team. Everything's worked out. They've had successful seasons and I've personally had successful seasons. I think both teams were winners. I hold no grudges."

Bishop went on to help lead the Lightning to the Eastern Conference title last season before they eventually lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Final. His career has blossomed since his departure from St. Louis.

"You learned a lot," Bishop said. "It's probably one of the tougher things to do, to come up and play for your home team as a kid. There's a lot of pressure. I remember going to Canada and they were talking about the pressure it was going to be to play in Canada, and I was like, 'Oh, this is nothing.' You really learn kind of how to handle a lot of pressure at a young age trying to make it. I have a lot of good friends over there. It's a great organization, they've got great people in there. I have a lot of respect for them. Obviously they helped grow to where I am today. I owe them a lot."

Bishop, 1-2-1 with a 3.28 goals-against average and .891 save percentage against the Blues, was a teammate of Allen's with the Rivermen from 2010-12.

Both have the utmost respect for one another, have trained together and roomed together last summer at a hockey camp. They've never faced each other before.

"It's going to be fun to play against 'Bish,'" Allen said. "Me and him are good buddies still to this day. We see each other every summer. First time I actually get to play against him. Spent a couple years with him; he taught me a lot as a young guy. I'm really happy for his success, but it's going to be fun to go up against him tonight.

"It's going to be a real good test. You look at the forward lineup, actually their whole team, from 'Bish' right out, they're pretty impressive. Lineup's a skilled, fast team. If we're not on our toes, they're going to make us look silly. We know we've got our work cut out for us tonight and it's going to be a good challenge to see where we're at. ... Hopefully you come out on top and get some bragging rights this summer, maybe owe me a dinner or two. It'll be fun to go up against his team and him."

Bishop agreed.

"I'm sure there will be something on the line," Bishop laughed. "I'll have to talk to him. There will be no friends tonight. I don't think you'll be seeing us meet at center ice, but we're both going to be trying to win the game. He's a really good goalie, so you're going to have to play really well to try and beat him.

"It'll be fun. ... He's a good kid. Having watched him grow through his career from Day 1 in Peoria and to get a chance to play with him. We're still close friends, we roomed together at a camp this summer. It'll be a lot of fun to go against him, maybe get a little bragging rights a little bit with whoever wins."

If Blues fans see and hear a number of Lightning fans in attendance, they'll likely be wearing Bishop gear. He'll have plenty of family and friends in attendance.

"It's just another game, but it's always fun," Bishop said. "Being out east, you only come here once a year. It's kind of a little bit bigger than most games. It'll be a lot of fun to play in front of family and friends that don't get a chance to come down to Tampa."

- - -

For Allen, he's looking for better results.

He feels his start to the season hasn't been bad, that just some poor bounces have gone against him in the 1-2-0 start. Allen has a 3.02 GAA and .899 save percentage thus far this season.

"That's the way the hockey world goes," Allen said. "They're unfortunate breaks, but those are bound to happen throughout the year and hope to get them out of the way early and get them out of the way for the year. Can't do anything about those. Have to sort of shake them off and keep playing. I've felt like I've done a good job of that, but still, I need to find this team get wins.

"I need to find a way to get wins. I thought I've played well, but well is not good enough in this league. You need to find a way to get wins. I'm not unhappy with my start. I've felt I played well each game. It's just I need to find that extra way to get a win."

- - -

The Blues get a boost back with the addition of Robby Fabbri and Scottie Upshall to the lineup.

Fabbri has missed the past six games with a concussion sustained Oct. 10 against the Minnesota Wild. Upshall missed Saturday's 3-2 overtime loss to the New York Islanders after becoming sick late in the day.

"I feel as good as I did before the injury," said Fabbri, who received medical clearance Monday afternoon. "That's a good sign, and I have to try and carry that into tonight. ... The biggest thing is catch up where I left off and just keep building from where I am and just keep improving every game and every day.

"I have a lot of energy, a lot of excitement. ... We're in a tough situation here, but I feel I can fill in as best as possible."

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock wants to ease Fabbri back into the game with responsibilities. But Hitchcock has always said in the past when players are ready to play, they go in with no  reservations.

"I think we've got to be smart here with it," Hitchcock said. "I think it's just more responsibility. He's looked awfully good for a week, but I think we've got to be smart. We've kept him pretty much 5-on-5. Yesterday was really the first day he's spent any time back on the power play like he did in exhibition. We've got to be just smart, get his 5-on-5 game up to speed and then kind of leak into the special teams because he was on both ends of special teams during training camp and exhibition games and then we kind of weened him off of that just to get his focus on 5-on-5."

Fabbri, a center by trade, has been relegated to playing left wing during his brief NHL career. But it's more by design and not by choice.

"He's not comfortable there," Hitchcock said of playing center. "We used him there early in training camp, he was not comfortable. He feels better on the wing right now, so we're going to keep him there.

"This is against men. He just feels like it happens pretty quick down below the tops of the circles and it's a little more difficult for him to sort out. ... He can play either wing, but he's more comfortable playing in the wing position right now."

Fabbri, who played center during his days at Guelph of the Ontario Hockey League, will adapt to wherever he's needed.

"I've sort of adapted and feel comfortable at both positions," Fabbri said. "I've been a center my whole life. Once I get more developed in this league, if that's a spot they want me to be at, then I'll feel comfortable being there."

- - -

The Blues beat the Lightning twice last season and have won five of the past six matchups, including three straight at Scottrade Center, but it's not for a lack of execution by Tampa Bay.

The Lightning's last visit in here, a 2-1 overtime loss, saw the Blues score a late Vladimir Tarasenko goal and win it on Jaden Schwartz's overtime tally.

"Ultimately we've struggled on the scoreboard, but last time we played here, we actually played really well," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "We ended up losing in overtime when potentially, we felt like when we left the game, we deserved a better fate. Then when they came down to our place, they knocked us around a little bit. There's a reason they've been at the top of the standings year after year. They're well-coached, they're big, they're strong, they play their system, they've done it for a long time. They're a hard team to play against."

Hitchcock, whose Blues won 6-3 in Tampa in one of the more complete games the Blues played last season, likes the matchups.

"It's tempo; these are fun games," Hitchcock said. "Tempo's white-hot. It's fun to coach in, fun to play in. Two teams that get after it pretty good. I think we're built a little bit different than they are. They do what they do well and we do what we do well. Both teams had each other's number in each game last year. They were way better here than we were, and we were better in their building than they were. Both are going to be good tests for each team."

- - -

Hitchcock was asked about preparing for goalies and in particular Bishop and how it affects the game planning. He had some interesting answers when Montreal's Carey Price's name came into the equation.

"Price is psychological. He's in people's heads," Hitchcock said. "There's too much talk about him. It's approaching (DominikHasek status. It's not good for the league when it gets like that because you're already down 1- or 2-zip before you play the game. Somebody's got to figure out a plan, but I think it's always the same stuff. You talk about traffic, you talk about blue paint, you talk about where you've got to go, but it's hard to do that stuff when you're in the game because it happens so quick. I think there's a difference between the way Carey plays and the way plays. Ben plays deeper than Carey does, so there's other things you look at that maybe you can take advantage of. When you get where Carey's at right now, he's in people's head, and he's becoming the number one topic after every game. That's where Hasek was for years and that's troubling."

- - -

Both teams are without players due to injury, and the Lightning will likely be without center Cedric Paquette (undisclosed) because of an injury originally sustained Oct. 15 against the Dallas Stars blocking a shot. Also, center Brian Boyle, who's missed the past two games with an undisclosed injury, could return after skating Tuesday morning.

But Cooper said if Boyle can't play, the Lightning will likely employ 11 forwards and seven defensemen. And that means Nikita Nesterov would join the Lightning lineup.

The Blues are without Schwartz (ankle), Paul Stastny (foot), Kevin Shattenkirk (lower body) and Patrik Berglund (shoulder).

"You look no further than the team we're playing tonight," Cooper said. "Schwartz goes down, Stastny goes down, Shattenkirk goes down. You need guys to fill the void. Good teams like St. Louis can not miss a beat when they lose some of their guys. Fortunately for us in the last couple years, that's how it's been with us. We've been able to fill holes with players."

In light of the Blues' inability to potentially find a trade partner for a variety of reasons, including the price being too high or the unwillingness to part with a particular player, including defensemen, GM Doug Armstrong has brought in veteran forwards Martin Havlat and Dainius Zubrus on professional tryouts, much like what the team did before signing Upshall and Scott Gomez.

Havlat, 34, spent last season with the New Jersey Devils, where he had 14 points (five goals, nine assists) in 40 regular season games. 

The 6-foot-2, 209-pound left wing was originally drafted by the Ottawa Senators in the first round of the 1999 NHL Draft and went on to be named to the 2000-01 NHL All-Rookie Team in his first season. 

Overall, Havlat  has appeared in 14 seasons, including stints with the Senators, Chicago Blackhawks, Minnesota Wild, San Jose Sharks and Devils.  A 2006-07 All-Star, Havlat played in 788 games, accumulating 593 points (241 goals, 352 assists). The Mlada Boleslav, Czech Republic native has 52 points (21 goals, 31 assists) in 75 career postseason games. 

Zubrus, 37, spent last season with the Devils, where he posted 10 points (four goals, six assists) in 74 regular season games.

Originally drafted by the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round of the 1996 NHL Draft, the Elektrenai, Lithuania native is a veteran of 18 seasons, including stints with the Flyers, Montreal Canadiens, Washington Capitals, Buffalo Sabres and Devils. The 6-5, 225-pound forward has 584 points (225 goals, 359 assists) in 1,243 games and 35 points (11 goals, 24 assists) in 92 career postseason games. 

"Yeah, what's really affected us is that we've lost players that play in all three specifics," Hitchcock said. "So that's what has been the big adjustment for us. You can lose players, but when you lose players who play in every aspect - we've lost guys who are prime penalty killers, prime power-play guys, prime 5 on 5 guys, so we've had to adjust through the lineup on that. It seems that the biggest adjustment for us has been on killing penalties. We haven't had the same group of six guys for any game yet. We just constantly rotated guys around because of the injuries here. We're hoping that this week we get some stability on who's going out and killing penalties and who can play on the two power play units."

- - -

The Blues' probable lineup:

Alexander Steen-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko

Dmitrij Jaskin-David Backes-Scottie Upshall

Robby Fabbri-Scott Gomez-Troy Brouwer

Steve Ott-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Reaves

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Carl Gunnarsson-Colton Parayko

Joel Edmundson-Robert Bortuzzo

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

Healthy scratches include Chris Butler and Ty Rattie. Jaden Schwartz (ankle), Paul Stastny (foot), Kevin Shattenkirk (lower body) and Patrik Berglund are all on injured-reserve.

- - -

The Lightning's projected lineup:

Jonathan Drouin-Steven Stamkos-Ryan Callahan

Ondrej Palat-Tyler Johnson-Nikita Kucherov

Alex Killorn-Valtteri Filppula-Vladislav Namestnikov

J.T. Brown-Brian Boyle-Erik Condra

Victor Hedman-Anton Stralman

Braydon Coburn-Andrej Sustr

Matthew Carle-Jason Garrison

Ben Bishop will start in goal. Kristers Gudlevskis will be the backup. 

Healthy scratches would include Nikita Nesterov and Kevin Poulin. Injuries include Andrei Vasilevskiy (blood clot) and Cedric Paquette (undisclosed).

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