By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- When the Blues get set to face the rival Chicago Blackhawks at 7 p.m. today (KMOX 1120-AM, FS-MW), there's one element that will be needed when the puck drops.
"We need to start the game on time to start with," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said.
The last time these teams met, the Blackhawks (8-7-1) jumped all over the Blues (11-4-1), to the tune of five first-period goals en route to a 5-2 lead.
But the Blues, who played the second of back-to-back games and didn't arrive into their Chicago hotel until 4 a.m. because of heavy fog in the Chicago area that re-routed their flight to Milwaukee that forced them into a 90-minute bus ride to the Windy City, were able to storm back with four unanswered goals, including Vladimir Tarasenko's overtime winner on Nov. 4.
"I think we had extenuating circumstances," Hitchcock said. "I think both teams can take a lot out of the game, a lot of the things that went right and a lot of the things that went wrong. They were very good early, we were really good in the second period and we kind of held on and lost our energy in the third, back-to-back and travel and stuff like that."
But the Chicago team the Blues will face tonight will be a different one that it faced at United Center 10 days ago.
The Blackhawks will mark the return of defensemen Duncan Keith (knee) and Michal Rozsival.
Keith has missed the past 10 games with a torn meniscus in his right knee and Rozsival has been out all season with a broken left ankle.
Right wing Marian Hossa also missed the game with a lower-body injury.
"This is a different team," Hitchcock said. "When you add those two defensemen into the lineup and you add Hossa, this is a completely different team. They look like they're full tonight, so this is going to be a great evaluation for where we're at.
"I think a guy like Duncan just completely changes the dynamic for both teams. He's as dangerous defensively as he is offensively. This will be a good challenge for us."
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With the departure of forward Martin Havlat, Ryan Reaves will return after being a healthy scratch the past two games.
Or is Reaves really healthy?
Reaves, who has no points in 12 games, has been hampered by the right knee injury sustained during training camp.
"I think it slowed me down a little bit coming out of training camp," Reaves said. "When you're this deep with a team and guys are fighting for spots and you're kind of a step behind, it definitely doesn't help your cause. I clearly haven't been where I was to end last season. When you have depth like this, it's tough to stay in the lineup. I'm making strides with the injury, trying to get back up to speed. Today's a good test and it's going to be fun."
Playing catch-up during the season makes it tough.
"It makes it tougher in the sense that when you're getting into games and you still have a little bit of an injury, it shows a lot more," Reaves said. "When those cracks show and guys are trying to take a spot, it's easier for that to happen. I think it's tougher in that sense. It's been getting better every day. It's obviously not 100 percent but it's definitely getting there. It's going to be tested.
"I'm not a very big fan watching from the stands. It drives me crazy. I want to be out there helping the team and doing what I can. ... A couple games, I've been just a step behind, a step late getting to pucks and maybe getting in on the body and keeping the puck in. Those things are things I need in my game to play well."
Hitchcock wants to see the Reaves that finished last season.
"Get his two steps back that he had last year at the end of the year," Hitchcock said. "He's got to find those two steps. He can't be chasing the game. When he gets up to speed ... he's had some games where he's up to speed and then he's fallen off again, he's got to get those two steps back in the game. We've worked really hard with him from a conditioning standpoint, from a fitness standpoint here in the last week. Hopefully we get the see the real Ryan this time."
As for Havlat, he cleared waivers Saturday and Hitchcock was asked again about the sudden void. He didn't want to comment on the reasoning, just that he was surprised.
"He was one of the best players in the game in New Jersey," Hitchcock said of Havlat. "Like I said, we could have used the guy.
"You're always surprised when a guy doesn't come back to your team."
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The Blues head into the game with the Blackhawks 0-for-6 on home ice, including 0-for-21 at Scottrade Center on the power play.
Getting Kevin Shattenkirk back in the lineup certainly levels things back out, but having a strong man-advantage will make life at Scottrade Center much easier.
"We don't have any here at home yet, but within the past few games, I feel like it's been clicking," said defenseman Colton Parayko, noting the Blues' 3-for-8 stretch since Shattenkirk's return. "We've scored a few. Shatty's back. He adds quite a bit, he's quite a player back there. That's always great to have.
"I just think we're getting accustomed to each other and figuring out where each other are. Obviously there's going to be bumps in the road. It could be five games in, could be 50. It's just the way we approach them and working towards it and doing the things we can to make it successful."
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Speaking of Shattenkirk, he took in the World Cup qualifying match Friday at Busch Stadium between the United States and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, a match the US won 6-1.
"The soccer game was fun," Shattenkirk said. "You get to support the red, white and blue obviously and it was cool to see the transformation of Busch Stadium. I think that was fun and to see all the people come out and support them."
Shattenkirk happened to be sitting next to the section that fielded the supporters from St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
"I happened to be sitting next to their section," Shattenkirk said, "and it was very cool to see how proud they were to have gotten a goal and be up on the U.S. early. There might have been some false hope there, but it looked early on like they were going to take it to them. Bit it was very cool. A lot of the U.S. fans were embracing that and you could see them around the stadium talking to the St. Vincent fans."
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The Blues are trying to get their first period scoring for/against issues solved quickly.
Headfing into tonight's game, the Blues have been outscored 17-10 in the first period but are 17-10 in favor of in the second and 16-9 in favor of in the third period.
So what seems to be the cause?
"I think we're just kind of playing wait and see right now and waiting to see what the pace of the game is, how the other team's going to come out," Shattenkirk said. "Especially when you're playing on the road, you want to play strong defensively and keep the game low-scoring and keep it tight. I think we play our best when we're aggressive and I think that's what we have to do tonight. We have to get out there right away and make sure that we establish our game. It's easier to do on a home sheet.
"A few mistakes, a few sloppy plays, but those risks, they're not risks in the second and third period because the D's pinching, we have the forwards covering back over. We're just not getting to that skating game that we're so good at and I think that's what drives our team, when we're working as five, we can be aggressive and take those risks and not get exposed."
Eight of the 17 allowed in the first period have come in two games. Five against the Blackhawks and three in the last game against the New York Rangers.
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The Blues' probable lineup:
Alexander Steen-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko
Scottie Upshall-David Backes-Robby Fabbri
Magnus Paajarvi-Scott Gomez-Troy Brouwer
Dmitrij Jaskin-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Reaves
Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo
Carl Gunnarsson-Colton Parayko
Joel Edmundson-Kevin Shattenkirk
Jake Allen will start in goal. Brian Elliott will be the backup.
The healthy scratch includes Robert Bortuzzo. Paul Stastny (foot), Jaden Schwartz (ankle), Steve Ott (upper body) and Patrik Berglund (shoulder) are out.
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The Blackhawks' probable lineup:
Marko Dano-Jonathan Toews-Marian Hossa
Artemi Panarin-Artem Anisimov-Patrick Kane
Teuvo Teravainen-Marcus Kruger-Andrew Shaw
Brandon Mashinter-Tanner Kero-Ryan Garbutt
Duncan Keith-Niklas Hjalmarsson
Trevor van Riemsdyk-Brent Seabrook
Trevor Daley-Michal Rozsival
Corey Crawford will start in goal. Scott Darling will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include David Rundblad, Andrew Desjardins and Viktor Tikhonov.