By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The Blues took an optional skate Tuesday before facing the Los Angeles Kings, and to no surprise, Alex Pietrangelo was not among the skaters.
The Blues (8-2-1), who get the Kings (7-4-0) at 7:30 p.m. (NBCSN, KMOX 1120-AM) on the second of back-to-backs, are managing Pietrangelo's time off the ice ice accordingly.
Why? The Blues' ice time leader the past few seasons goes into tonight's game as the NHL's ice time leader at 27 minutes, 5 seconds.
A number of deciding factors go into managing Pietrangelo's time off the ice.
He's getting a boost in minutes 1) because of the void in the lineup with Kevin Shattenkirk out, and 2) because he's deserved the time.
"He's played well lately, but a lot of this is based on 'Shatty' not being there," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "He's had to absorb more power play minutes and even more PK minutes than normal because 'Shatty' not being able to absorb some of that time. That's been the big factor.
"I don't believe you can keep up this pace and play at a high level playing this many minutes. We're going to have to diminish some of these minutes in my opinion moving forward if we want to get a good player with a lot of energy at the end of games."
Pietrangelo has played the season with a healthy partner in Jay Bouwmeester, who's absorbing a lot of minutes also; he's averaging 24:01.
Pietrangelo and Bouwmeester have stabilized a defensive unit that's been using two rookies (Colton Parayko and Joel Edmundson) while missing one of its best in Shattenkirk.
"I've got no complaints, especially when you have 'Bouw' beside you," Pietrangelo said. "It certainly makes things easier. It's how they're using me right now, so it feels good. Obviously a little bit different because Shatty's out too. He plays big minutes as well. I know most guys like playing more. The more they play, the better they feel. I'm no different.
"Coaches have put some good trust in me. Obviously 'Shatty' being out plays a role in that, but we've had some overtime games, we've had some tight games and the coaching staff's been leaning on 'Bouw' and I. If we can step up in those situations, it's going to be important, especially here going forward. ... You want to be relied upon, from the coaching staff and your teammates. You want to be that guy; everybody wants to be that guy. I feel like the coaching staff and my teammates have put that trust in me."
Pietrangelo has give assists on the season through 11 games but no goals. The Blues could use a boost in offense from him moving forward but considering all the responsibilities placed on his plate, the Blues are happy to get whatever they can from their top-unit d-man.
"He relishes that ice time," captain David Backes said of Pietrangelo. "His play picks up the more that he's on the ice. He's kind of A.D.D. where he's on the bench too long, I don't know what he's doing, counting people in the stands or what, but he wants to get back out there and keep busy. He's one heck of a player, a world-class player. Him on the ice means good things for our team.
"He can play half the game with no problem in my eyes and do it again the next night. He's one of the special players we have on our team in the absence of some of the other high-end skill, good defensemen that we have that are out. He's going to have to burden some of that load and he's more than capable of doing it. He's proven it already."
So instead of lacing on the skates, Pietrangelo took the time off to rest for what should be another high-end game, and since the Blues leave after the game to play in Chicago on Wednesday the rest will do the 25-year-old good.
"That's probably the most important part, trying to find those times of rest," Pietrangelo said. "Coaches do a good job of allowing us to get that rest. There's optional skates, there's days off. Those are the days, especially now, and come mid-season are going to be even more important and when you get into that grind of the year. Rest and nutrition are always a big part of it in professional sports."
"We've been able to get him a lot of time off, a lot of days away from the rink," he said. "I think it's kept him energized and stuff like that, but if you keep playing these type of minutes, these are heavy minutes he's playing. I think it works to the negative after a while. We've got to be careful on this."
And when help is needed, Pietrangelo has no problem turning to his partner Bouwmeester, who was hampered by a a groin injury last season.
"That guy can skate," Pietrangelo said of Bouwmeester. "We complement each other pretty well. We've played here together for a while. Good familiarity with each other, too, makes it easier when you get into those higher minutes."
"It's helped a lot," Hitchcock said. "They've been a good pair from Day 1, so that's a good sign, but I think we've got to find a way to ease some of these minutes if we want to get an energized player at the end of the season."
Pietrangelo will line up against the guy behind him in time on ice, Kings defenseman Drew Doughty, who is second at 26:52.
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The return of right wing Vladimir Tarasenko to the Blues' lineup will help Hitchcock create at least some stability for the players he uses on the right side.
Tarasenko will take his normal position playing on the top line with Alexander Steen and Jori Lehtera. Tarasenko, who missed one game with a lower-body injury, but the rest of the lineup -- particularly in the right side -- will be a mix-and-match.
"We're a team in transition, we're experimenting on a couple lines here to see how it works, but like we did the last game, we've got to be real flexible," Hitchcock said. "We've got to change on the fly if it's not working or if we're getting outplayed or if it's a bad matchup, we won't hesitate to change. I think the one constant is the line with Steen, Lehtera and Tarasenko, the rest we've got to be flexible. We've been flexible every game depending on how the matchups work, depending on what the other coach wants or what he's looking for. Wherever we can take advantage of, we're having to do that. Until we get some bodies back, we've got to operate this way and so far it's been working."
Players prefer to get acclimated with particular linemates, but in times when the Blues are missing Paul Stastny (broken foot), Jaden Schwartz (fractured ankle) and Patrik Berglund (shoulder surgery), players have had to adjust.
"I don't think as a player you like that," Hitchcock said. "... You'd like to be able to know your linemates, you'd like to be able to play on the same line all the time, but we've got to find success off those lines. We can't just put a line together and then that line end up defending the whole time. We've got to find a way to help those guys have success. If we think it's a bad individual matchup or we think it's a matchup that the other team's sitting on going to take advantage of, then we've got to make changes. That's what we've been able to do. We know where we've got to create our offense from now, we know where we've got to make sure we draw even from, so that's what we're looking at. We've got to be able to be flexible. I think the players have bought into that."
Tarasenko, who leads the Blues in goals (six) and points (10), caught a break that left him sidelined only one game after taking a hit from Anaheim Ducks' Shawn Horcoff on Oct. 29.
"I feel good, really good. I'm ready to go tonight," Tarasenko said. "... We really miss those guys with injuries right now. I think in this time, it's a tough time for us, but we can build a better team spirit."
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The Kings, who had their seven-game winning streak end with a 4-2 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks on Monday, had a limited optional skate Tuesday morning. Jhonas Enroth was the first goalie off the ice and is expected to get his second start of the season. Jake Allen, named the NHL Second Star of the Week on Monday, will start for the fourth straight game for the Blues, who close out a five-game homestand.
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The Blues' probable lineup:
Alexander Steen-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko
Scottie Upshall-David Backes-Troy Brouwer
Robby Fabbri-Dmitrij Jaskin-Ty Rattie
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.
Scott Gomez and Chris Butler will be healthy scratches. Paul Stastny (foot), Kevin Shattenkirk (lower body), Jaden Schwartz (ankle) and Patrik Berglund (shoulder) are out with injuries.
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The Kings' projected lineup:
Milan Lucic-Jeff Carter-Tyler Toffoli
Marian Gaborik-Anze Kopitar-Dustin Brown
Tanner Pearson-Nick Shore-Trevor Lewis
Kyle Clifford-Andy Andreoff-Jordan Nolan
Brayden McNabb-Drew Doughty
Alec Martinez-Jake Muzzin
Christian Ehrhoff-Derek Forbort
Jhonas Enroth is the projected starter in goal. Jonathan Quick would be the backup.
Jamie McBain and Jordan Weal are expected to be healthy scratches. Matt Greene (upper body) and Dwight King (lower body) are out with injuries.