By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- This season, the Blues are introducing Heritage Nights to honor those who have worn the Blue Note and the special moments that have touched fans over the decades.
When the Blues (16-9-4) host the NHL-leading Dallas Stars (22-5-2) at 7 p.m. today (FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM), it will be Captains Night, and 11 of the 20 captains in Blues history will be on hand tonight, which kicks off our celebrations leading into the Blues 50th Anniversary 2016-2017 season.
The group got together for a dinner and get-together at Peabody Opera House for stories, history and just to tell stories of some of the things that mean most to them in Blues history.
"Last night we took a nice photo in here with everyone together and had a dinner and a roundtable and ... you get 10 clowns like that that have been leaders to this team, it's pure comedy," said Blues captain David Backes, the 20th captain named in Blues history. "It was fun to be a part of. I just sat there and watched the show along with most of the fans that were there. Great group of guys, a lot of history, a lot of old stories that they're telling and it was great to just soak that in.
"I know my spot in that group. It's a quiet observer. I was asked to tell the story of bringing a pig in the locker room and pooping in Hitch's office, but other than that, I was taking it all in. You just get a vibe from them how much this place means to them and what playing meant to them and how much they still yearn for this city and this organization."
The 11 that will be in attendance include Frank St. Marseille, Garry Unger, Bob Plager, Rick Meagher, Barry Gibbs, Bernie Federko, Garth Butcher, Brett Hull, Eric Brewer and Al MacInnis.
"It's phenomenal," Backes said. "The only regret is the other (nine) guys weren't there to chime in and be part of the fun.
"Some of them ... to put a name to some of them, 80's flowing mustaches or 70's flowing mustaches, it's just awesome."
One common denominator among all of them is that to wear the 'C' in the NHL, and specifically for the Blues, was the utmost honor.
"You don't need to wear a 'C' or an 'A' to be a leader on the team," Unger said. "Everybody leads in a different way. I was more of a leader on the ice.
"When I was here, Barclay Plager was the ultimate captain and taught me a lot of things about being a captain. I was able to play under him and when I got the chance to be the captain, I had some good pedigree to learn from."
Said Meagher, "It was an honor. I go home now and people still call me 'Captain.' It's something that sticks with you for the rest of your life. Brian Sutter was the coach at that time, Bernie got traded to Detroit, so I took over. I had so much help. I had guys like Brett Hull and Adam Oates, Paul MacLean, Dave Lowry and all those guys. It made my job easier, but it was still pretty nice to be named captain because I had the backing of the players and the coaches. Quite an honor. Who knew a kid from Belleville (Ontario) growing up would one day be captain of a National Hockey League team."
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said the important for teams to be able to tap into their history.
"I think it's really important because ... of the really five major sports, the position of captain is more important than any of the other sports," Hitchcock said. "He just has to wear so many hats and a lot of the stuff that he does, the captain, goes unnoticed. He's a little bit of the focal point, like the coach is. Either the hero or the zero at times and you've got to deal with that. The job for a captain becomes a 24-hour-a-day job. You really admire guys that have a long, distinguished careers as captains."
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One area of the Blues' recent stretch of going 1-3-1 has the players feeling much in the same light: the up-and-down play is getting tiresome.
"They're tired of it, but we're dealing with it as coaches," Hitchcock said. "There's a number of ways to fix it and we're trying to help it along by establishing a stronger identity with more people on the team. I don't know how to describe it, but the lines that were playing well 10 days ago, there's other lines playing well now, so you go through that stuff, but even when you're not playing well, you can't hurt us on the ice. We're trying to help forge an even stronger identity than what we had because it's obvious we're going to need it. It's obvious to get points in this league, you're going to have to play real close to 60 minutes evert night. It's more magnified with us because we're missing some people up front that that line becomes even thinner. We've got to deal with that. We've got to look that one right in the eye and we've got to deal with it."
It's a matchup the Blues are definitely looking forward to, though.
"Yeah, for sure," center Kyle Brodziak said. "I think you look at (tonight), the best team in the league up to this point. I think it'll be a good challenge for us. Right now, if you look at our group, we're kind of struggling to find out game a little bit and I think (Tonight's) going to be important for our group to find a way because we know how important it is to put together our best effort and see where we are from there.
"For a group, one (area to clean up) is puck management for sure. It seems at times, we're gaining a lot of momentum and you can feel it as a group and all of the sudden a few turnovers here and there and we're basically handing them the momentum. That's been one thing that's hurting us a little bit. There's times in the game you want to get out and make a play, but I think we can't force the issue too much and recognize the situations where we have the momentum, we have to keep it. Those are critical areas in our game right now that are killing us."
Jake Allen, who will get the start in goal, is certainly looking forward to it.
"Yeah, you want to play the best," Allen said. "You want to play the best to beat the best. I want to be one of the best in the league and it's a good challenge for me. I enjoy every single game in this league, but tomorrow will be fun. First time we get to face them this year, especially with their new additions this summer. They had a great team before, but adding some experience and some depth definitely made our division that much tougher. I think we have quite a few divisional games throughout the month of December. They're really going to be crucial to narrow the gap. The points are so tight anyway, it's just going to be that much more important."
For the Blues to right the ship, cleaning up the second period may be the one glaring area. They've been outscored 8-4 the past four home games during the middle 20 minutes.
"I think it's all connected," Hitchcock said. "I think it's building momentum in the game. Sometimes momentum is early, sometimes it's late. It's when you don't have the momentum, what are you doing to get it back? That's what we want to do. We want to do a better job when we don't have it, to get it back. Not wait for a long rest period in between periods to get it back. Get it back within the frame of the period you're playing in. That's why the more guys on board, the quicker you get it back. It's about getting the momentum back. That's the point I'm making. The teams that are having success are the teams that are getting that momentum back quickly in the game."
"I don't know what it is, if we don't like to play on that side, the second period for a while was the first period, it doesn't matter what period it is, we have to have that mentality to play well for 60," defenseman Carl Gunnarsson said.
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The Blues will make no lineup changes from the past two games, the longest stretch of keeping the same lineup -- aside from the goalie -- in tact. But with a home game against the Colorado Avalanche Sunday at 5 p.m., that modest streak will likely end after tonight.
One line Hitchcock likely won't alter with is the line of Jori Lehtera centering Robby Fabbri and Dmitrij Jaskin.
Hitchcock raved about it the last game and it's been good two straight games and has created multiple scoring opportunities.
"Yes. They're a perfect example of getting better and better every day and getting more and more scoring chances because of it helping us out more and more," Hitchcock said. "They're a perfect example of a line that's starting to establish the identity that we want in the game. That's why we're going to need more people on board in helping is that way.
"It's more push our team. I don't worry about pushing the other guys. It's more their game has helped us the last couple games really stem the bleeding. It's nice to see. It's nice to see other people have success and make contributions. You see that and it's a good feeling for them, it's a good feeling for us. Every line and every group of give can do a better job of managing the game better. If we do that stuff, we're going to be fine here."
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The Blues' 8-5-2 record on home ice is nothing to write home about, and with 11 home games in the month of December, they felt -- and still feel -- it's a chance to establish some solid ground at Scottrade Center.
Last season, the Blues were 11-3-1 after 15 games at Scottrade Center and feel that mark needs to be better.
"You need to have that strong ability to perform at home," Allen said. "I think that's crucial if you're going to be a winning team. We need to have a tougher arena to play in, for opponents to come in and know you're going to get a hard game or they don't want to play here, there's something about the arena they don't like. When you come to St. Louis, you always want to know that it's a tough place to come to. We need to get back to that. I think the past few years that I've been around, it's been that way. I think we've always had a solid presence on our ice. Other teams have been a little frustrated playing here, frustrated playing against us. We need to have that confidence, that swagger back in our building. It's fun to go in other buildings and take them off their thrown, but to be able to have that in your own building, you need that to win."
Right wing Troy Brouwer agreed.
"I think we did a good job early of being a home team, but lately, we're just making it too easy on other teams," Brouwer said. "We want to play that tough, hard-nosed style, in our own building, we need our crowd as well to make sure they're staying on the other team, to make it more of a hostile environment, and we feed off that as well. There's a couple buildings, you know it's going to be a tough game no matter what and we want this building to be one of those."
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The Blues' probable lineup:
Magnus Paajarvi-Paul Stastny-Vladimir Tarasenko
Alexander Steen-David Backes-Troy Brouwer
Dmitrij Jaskin-Jori Lehtera-Robby Fabbri
Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Reaves
Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo
Petteri Lindbohm-Kevin Shattenkirk
Carl Gunnarsson-Colton Parayko
Jake Allen will start in goal. Brian Elliott will be the backup.
Scott Gomez and Robert Bortuzzo are the healthy scratches. Jaden Schwartz (ankle), Patrik Berglund (shoulder) and Steve Ott (hamstring) are on injured-reserve.
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The Stars projected lineup:
Jamie Benn-Tyler Seguin-Valeri Nichushkin
Mattias Janmark-Jason Spezza-Patrick Eaves
Antoine Roussel-Cody Eakin-Patrick Sharp
Colton Sceviour-Vernon Fiddler-Ales Hemsky
Alex Goligoski-John Klingberg
Johnny Oduya-Jason Demers
Jyrki Jokipakka-Jordie Benn
Kari Lehtonen is expected to start in goal. Antti Niemi would be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Travis Moen, Patrik Nemeth and Jamie Oleksiak. The Stars have no injuries.