Tuesday, December 29, 2015

(12-29-15) Predators-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- Kyle Brodziak will return on Tuesday, and with Patrik Berglund on the cusp of returning to healthy status, the Blues placed veteran center Scott Gomez on waivers.

The Blues, who host the Nashville Predators (7 p.m.; NBCSN, KMOX 1120-AM), will put Brodziak back into his spot centering the fourth line. He missed the past five games with a lower-body injury that occurred as a result of a skate cut above the right knee. It happened when the Blues beat the Predators 2-1 on Dec. 12 when he was cut by a Seth Jones skate.

"I feel good," Brodziak said. "Now it's going to be up to the coaches. As far as to how it reacted yesterday and how it felt this morning, it felt pretty good.

"I'm looking forward to it. Everyone knows it's not fun sitting out and watching. Hopefully I can get back in and continue to build my game and continue to build the team's game as we go along here. ... It's too tough of a league where you have to tip-toe your way in."

With Brodziak out, the Blues were 3-2-0, but coach Ken Hitchcock was forced on a game-by-game basis to use a makeshift fourth line in Brodziak's absence. And his penalty killing abilities were missed.

"He got cleared this morning, so that's good news," Hitchcock said of Brodiak. "Get him back and working on that fourth line and killing penalties, so that's good news  for us.

"He got hurt and then we had no hockey practices. So to put a new guy in there and expect the same type of result from your fourth line with the way your fourth line plays was a difficult challenge. We had (Dmitrij) Jaskin there and after the faceoff, he was a good player for us, but he never even took a faceoff, hasn't taken a faceoff in three years and all of the sudden, he's playing center ice. That's a little bit challenging."

The 36-year-old Gomez, who was signed to a one-year, two-way contract worth $575,000 NHL/$200,000 AHL, was brought to St. Louis when the Blues were hit with a plethora of injuries to their forward crop. But with Brodziak's return and Berglund, who has been out since having shoulder surgery on Aug. 28, on the verge of being activated from injured-reserve, Gomez became expendable.

Gomez played on the Blues' second power play unit and centered the third line early. He had eight points the first 11 games but when he was relegated to the fourth line, he had no points the past 10 games.

"He was good early," Hitchcock said of Gomez. "When we went down quick with all those injuries when (PaulStastny went out, he was good early. But it's not fair for him to come and play a role he's never played before here. Hopefully somebody picks him up and he can play a top-six, top-nine role and have that support. With Brodziak back in and obviously Berglund coming back in, he's a player that would just be waiting for an injury and that can sometimes be a long wait."

Berglund was cleared for contact on Monday, and it's just a matter of time before he's activated.

Gomez was respected in the locker room and had a presence with both teammates and coaches. He leaves with two Stanley Cup titles on his resume, leaving only Troy Brouwer as a Stanley Cup winner.

"He's a good veteran player that's had success and brought a lot of credibility to this room," captain David Backes said of Gomez. "I don't know we would have done without him, when we had Paul out during that tough stretch when you're looking for bodies. He brought one that was very capable. He was great for us while he was here. This is the business side that you lose a good guy in the room, but it's just what happens.

"I don't know what we would have done without him with Paul out and during that tough stretch where you're looking for bodies and he was one that was very capable."

Added defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk: "The way that (Gomez) thought the game and the way that he played was something that we all learned from, especially our young forwards. I think Jaskin and (Robby) Fabbri and some of those other guys who had an opportunity to play with him really gained an appreciation of how he played. For a player like me to watch him and see how smart he was, was fun. And I think his voice in the locker room was tremendous for us. It's tough to see him go because he was a great guy."

The Blues also put center Justin Hodgman, who had six assists in 15 games for the Chicago Wolves of the AHL, on unconditional waivers.

Hodgman signed a one-year contract in the offseason after spending last season in the Arizona Coyotes organization.

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There has been some question regarding the points production of center Stastny. Stastny, who had a goal and four assists in five games before sustaining a broken foot blocking a shot in Vancouver on Oct. 16, missed 16 games. He came back and had four points in six games but has since had a goal and three assists in 11 games.

But Stastny, who has three goals and 13 points in 22 games, isn't too concerned. The chances have been there.

"I'm just hoping to get those bounces going in," Stastny said. "I've been creating a lot of chances. I feel good about my game to be honest with you. There's games where you know you could have easily had another two or three points. You're hitting posts, you can get an assist. I'm not too worried. I know it's going to come. It's a long season. You just worry about the little things, try to take care of those little things away from the stat sheet, whether that's in the defensive zone, the neutral zone or special teams, faceoffs, I think it all kind of plays into how the team's doing.

"Me, 'Mags' and 'Tank' have had nights where we could have easily had four or five goals as a line if it's going in. That's just the way it is and we've just got to keep at it and when we get that first one, they'll go in from there."

Stastny, who centers the top line with Vladimir Tarasenko and either Alexander Steen and most recently, Magnus Paajarvi, is a key piece to both sides of trhe special teams and according to statistics, Stastny is second overall in the NHL in faceoff percentage (59.5 percent) among players taking at least 200 draws in the month of December.

Stastny has won 57.8 percent of his draws this season.

"He has a good all-around game and to me, points come, points go," Hitchcock said of Stastny. "Somedays, everything you shoot goes in the net and now this year, he gets so many quality scoring chances and they're not going in. Still, he gives you good minutes on everything. He gives you good minutes 5-on-5, he gives you real good minutes on the power play, gives you great minutes killing penalties. He's just an all-around good player. I think you've got to be careful getting wrapped up in points because I just find that regardless of what happens, guys wind up in the same place every year. If a guy's a 60-point player, he gets to be 60 points. If a guy's a 40-point player, they get there. Sometimes it's an even-keel approach to a season and sometimes it's hot and cold or cold and hot, whatever. I said the same thing to (T.J.Oshie and Backes last year. They struggled at the start and they were within one or two points of their seasonal totals. I think he's just going to end up in the same place, but he might go at it a little different. 

"This is one year though where he feels he's missed a lot of great opportunities to score. I know he's a playmaker, but he has had a number of quality scoring chances that I'm sure him and us would like to see go in."

Hitchcock believes that eventually, Stastny will start potting pucks into the net.

"If they dry up then you're worried, but when you get this many opportunities every game, you've got to think over time it's going to go in," Hitchcock said. "My experience is if you're not scoring, you better be checking and buying yourself some time. To me, he's doing that and he's allowing the line to have some pretty good substantial O-zone time because of it."

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Rookie defenseman Joel Edmundson will be a healthy scratch for a third consecutive game.

Hitchcock likes the group of six playing now, which has included Robert Bortuzzo, who will play a fourth consecutive game after being a healthy scratch nine in a row and 10 of 12.

Hitchcock has said in the past that if young players don't play, they won't stay up here, but Edmundson, who has two assists in 25 games, remains on the club.

"I think he's benefiting from being here, but he's got to play," Hitchcock said. "Those are decisions we're going to make here in the next couple of games. We like what the group's done for the last two games and when it's his turn, he's got to be ready to go. Has he benefited, yeah, because we've worked hard with him and teaching things he needs to get better at, but there's going to come a point where we're going to need his mobility and his size and left shot. We can't lose sight of that. I think in the next couple of games, we'll make decisions that might be a little long-lasting. We'll see."

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Some side notes:

The Blues are are a league-best 16-5-0 against Western Conference opponents.

Defenseman Colton Parayko's 78 shots are 27 more than any other rookie defenseman in the league (Edmonton's Darnell Nurse has 51).

Tarasenko has 14 points (eight goals, six assists) the past 12 games.

Jake Allen, who will start tonight, is 2-0-0 against the Predators this season with a 0.50 goals-against average, a .986 save percentage and a shutout. He's stopped 72 of 73 shots against Nashville this season.

Predators goalie Pekka Rinne, who will back up Carter Hutton tonight, is 0-5-2 his past seven road games.

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The Blues' probable lineup:

Magnus Paajarvi-Paul Stastny-Vladimir Tarasenko

Alexander Steen-David Backes-Troy Brouwer

Robby Fabbri-Jori Lehtera-Dmitrij Jaskin

Jordan Caron-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Reaves

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Colton Parayko-Kevin Shattenkirk

Carl Gunnarsson-Robert Bortuzzo

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

Healthy scratches include Joel Edmundson and Scottie Upshall. Jaden Schwartz (ankle), Patrik Berglund (shoulder) and Steve Ott (hamstring) are on injured-reserve.

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The Predators' projected lineup:

Filip Forsberg-Mike Ribeiro-James Neal

Colin Wilson-Mike Fisher-Viktor Arvidsson

Austin Watson-Calle Jarnkrok-Craig Smith

Eric Nystrom-Paul Gaustad-Miikka Salomaki

Roman Josi-Shea Weber

Mattias Ekholm-Ryan Ellis

Barret Jackman-Seth Jones

Carter Hutton will start in goal. Pekka Rinne will be the backup.

Healthy scratches include Cody Hodgson, Anthony Bitetto and Petter Granberg. Gabriel Bourque (upper body) is out with an an injury.

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