Tuesday, November 17, 2015

(11-17-15) Blues-Blue Jackets Gameday Lineup

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- David Backes doesn't mind playing on a line with Vladimir Tarasenko.

On that note, who really would mind?

Backes got his first taste with the Blues' leading offensive threat, and he was reunited with an old friend and linemate in Alexander Steen during a 3-2 victory against the Winnipeg Jets on Monday.

"That’s fine by me," Backes said smiling. "I think the big thing is we win the game and that's really what matters. The shake-up, being able to score a couple, it feels good, but if we don't win the game it's all for naught. Great efforts by a lot of guys (Monday) allowed us to win this game.

"... Going into the game I was wondering what it was going to look like. I think Vladi's been here three years and I don't know if I've started a game with him, played a full game with him. You don't know what that's going to be like and then you're out there (and) he makes a lot of time and space. Steener was fantastic, creating plays and making plays happen and I was the beneficiary of a few of them."

Backes' two goals and an assist fueled the offense in the victory, and he now has five goals in the past eight games after no goals in 10 to start the season, which was the longest drought of his career to start a season.

But Backes won't relish in the numbers. He's more concerned about wins, and the Blues (12-5-1) have another challenge Tuesday when they face the improved Columbus Blue Jackets (6-12-0) -- 6-4-0 in the past 10 games with new coach John Tortorella -- at Nationwide Arena (6 p.m. on FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM).

"I can't think about that too much," Backes said of his offensive production. "We have to think about wins and filling that win column up and the goal column will take care of itself and the personal stats category."

When the opposition's top line is on the ice, Backes is usually the center asked to step out and shut it down. There's more to Backes' game than just parking himself in front of the net on the power play or setting up shop in the slot waiting to wire a wrister or slap shot.

"He's a guy who's asked to do a lot of things," defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who played in his 300th game as a Blue on Monday, said of Backes. "At any given moment, he's asked not to score goals and to shut down the other team's top line, but any player will tell you when you're scoring and things are coming to you, you feel better. I think (Monday) was a reward for how hard he played on Saturday. He (got) to play with two skilled guys who can get them the puck in good situations. He makes a great play on that (game-winning) goal."

When the Blues suddenly lost their two-goal lead against the Jets, who tied the game with two goals in 36 seconds in the second period, Backes answered with what proved to be the game-winner.

"I thought he was energized," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of Backes. "The line had some penetration early in the game in the offensive zone. He spent more time in the offensive zone so he got his energy level to stay at a high level. 

"I thought the second goal was a great goal. A typical Backes goal. That's good. You wanted to see someone rewarded for their work. One of the things David has been doing a lot has been working a lot, but it's been in our zone. He had an opportunity to spend more time in the offensive zone which is a real good sign."

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Hitchcock switched players around on both offense and defense Monday to infuse some new energy into the lineup following a pair of losses to the New York Rangers (6-4) and Chicago Blackhawks (4-2).

Hitchcock was looking for more balance throughout the forward lines since the Blues were primarily getting most of the recent production from Steen, Tarasenko and Jori Lehtera.

Moving Backes to the top line and playing Lehtera with Dmitrij Jaskin and Troy Brouwer produced decent results Monday despite all of the offense coming from the top line again.

"I thought there was some good things," Hitchcock said. "In the third period, Lehtera's line played very well. I thought we got some real good minutes from (Kyle) Brodziak's line' I thought (Jeremy) Welsh was good. He was hard on the puck, he was heavy on the puck, That was good for us. That was really helpful. 

"It's a hard game against Winnipeg because it's a three-line game and they've got three really good lines. It's hard when you're protecting and they're playing with everything coming at you with a lot of size and a lot of weight it was hard for a line like (Scott) Gomez's to get into the game (Monday)."

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There was an open window for Jake Allen to get a start in back-to-back games, something Hitchcock has rarely done. But Allen only faced 18 shots Monday, and Hitchcock was asked who he would start tonight.

The answer is Brian Elliott, who is 4-1-1 on the season with a 2.80 goals-against average and .887 save percentage. The record is fine, but the goals-against and save percentage could be better.

Allen has provided the better numbers of late and has started five consecutive games and nine of the past 10. But it's still a situation where Hitchcock wants both to stay on top of their game and be ready when called upon.

"One guy (Elliott) earned it early, one guy (Allen) earned it now and I'm sure that will go like that for a long time," Hitchcock said. "We're not prepared to name a starter right now, but Jake's got more games, so he looks like the starter this week. Who knows what happens in the next week?

"What we expect is both guys to work their butts off and when it's their turn, they've got to be ready to play. To me, we've got to create an atmosphere where you earn your starts and not be given your starts. By doing that, when it's time to play, it's time to play."

Elliott was the only skater on the ice Tuesday morning. The team elected to rest following a flight into Columbus Monday night.

"We’re three (games) in four (nights and four in six here, so it's rest when we can and leave it all on the ice when we're playing for keeps and we've done a good job of that so far," Backes said. "Tough loss on Saturday. We were able to beat a tough team in here (Monday night). We have to play a tough team that plays just as hard (tonight). Truthfully I don’t even know who we play on Thursday but we’ll figure that out after Tuesday night."

For the record, Buffalo comes to Scottrade Center on Thursday.

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Hitchcock said after the game a couple players sustained "minor ailments," and the status of those players will be updated after the pregame skate. 

With only two healthy and available players who didn't play Monday night (Ryan Reaves and Robert Bortuzzo), Hitchcock said Reaves will be in the lineup.

Reaves has been slowed by a knee injury sustained during the preseason and hasn't quite caught up to speed yet. But with Columbus' Jared Boll in the lineup and playing in his 500th NHL game tonight, "I'm not giving Boll an easy 500th game," Hitchcock joked.

"Ryan Reaves isn't sitting because of mistakes he's made in a game or something like that," Hitchcock added. "We've put on an agenda ... Ryan has been down a pace here, or two. So we've spent a lot of time here working with him on the ice on pace, everything. For whatever reason, he's over-thinking and under-reacting and we're trying to get it so it becomes more automatic so we can get the pace that we had last year, especially in the playoffs. That's the player that we want back. There's too much thinking, there's too much of a process going on and we need it to be back to automatic, so we've really tried to work every day before, during and after practice and on the days that he's not playing, we've put in extra work with him and (assistant coach Kirk Muller) on pace. Everything is pace. If we can get his pace back to where it was, then we're going to be in good shape. It has nothing to do with anything but that, but when your pace is down, it seems like the game's going 100 miles an hour and you're going 50. We're trying to get him where he's up to speed again so we can play him on an everyday basis, but there's no point putting him in the lineup on a regular basis right now until we see that pace come back and only in the past week that pace started to be there."

Among some of the other players dealing with ailments, Colton Parayko will take a breather tonight and be replaced by Robert Bortuzzo.

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The Blues' projected lineup: 

Alexander Steen-David Backes-Vladimir Tarasenko

Magnus Paajarvi-Jori Lehtera-Dmitrij Jaskin

Robby Fabbri-Scott Gomez-Troy Brouwer

Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Reaves

Joel Edmundson-Alex Pietrangelo

Jay Bouwmeester-Kevin Shattenkirk

Carl Gunnarsson-Colton Parayko/Robert Bortuzzo

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

The Blues' scratches will be Colton Parayko and Jeremy Welsh. Paul Stastny (foot), Jaden Schwartz (ankle), Patrik Berglund (shoulder) and Steve Ott (upper body) are out with injuries.

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The Blue Jackets' probable lineup:

Boone Jenner-Ryan Johansen-Brandon Saad

Matt Calvert-Nick Foligno-Cam Atkinson

Scott Hartnell-William Karlsson-Rene Bourque

Kerby Rychel-Gregory Campbell-Jared Boll

Jack Johnson-David Savard

Ryan Murray-Cody Goloubef

Fedor Tyutin-Kevin Connauton

Sergei Bobrovsky is expected to start in goal. Curtis McElhinney would be the backup.

The healthy scratch is Dalton Prout. David Clarkson (back), Alexander Wennberg (foot) and Brandon Dubinsky (elbow) are out with injuries.

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