Saturday, February 27, 2016

(2-27-16) Blues-Predators Gameday Lineup

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Ken Hitchcock understands the trials and tribulations players face in the days before the NHL Trade Deadline.

So the veteran Blues coach had one simple message for players who might have a vested interest in the information being bandied around in the days and even weeks leading up to the Feb. 29 deadline, which is 2 p.m. (CT).

"Turn your phone off, don't buy a newspaper, don't watch television ... just play hockey," Hitchcock said. "I think you've got to realize when you're a good team, you're not looking to get rid of people. I think that's the reality. When you're a good team, you might look to help yourself, but it's a lot more precarious if you're a team that's a long ways out of it because you're worried about a lot of things. As a player, there's a lot of things that go through your head. When you're a good team, it's just play hockey. Management knows what they're doing. It's their time of year and the rest of us, we've got to focus on the games and get playing. I think it really changes for us where we're at injury-wise. 

"I think our focus is on playing right now because when you're counting numbers and you've got just enough to play, it puts your attention in a whole different area."

The Blues, who addressed their backup goalie situation late Friday night/early Saturday morning when they acquired Edmonton backup Anders Nilsson for goalie prospect Niklas Lundstrom and a 2016 fifth-round pick, could be in play for a number of scoring wingers that are on the market.

Nut one thing's for sure: captain David Backes, an unrestricted free agent on July 1, will play out the season here and not have a contract extension in place.

But Armstrong made it clear that he won't be traded.

"We love it here and we feel we've got a great team and a great chance to win," Backes said. "We're excited to see what we do in these last 20 games or so and then be hopefully healthy and energized for a long playoff run here. That's our focus and the business side of things, that's why I've got people I employ to take care of that. Him and Doug can take care of that on their spare time while hopefully we're winning a championship here.

"We were hoping to get something done before training camp even ended, but sometimes these things take a little more time. Noone's panicking. Everyone's comfortable in their situation. We'll see how it all pans out and keep moving forward. Our concentration is on the ice, putting a good product out there and making this team better each and every day."

Armstrong made it known that trading Backes for prospects and/or picks in hopes of getting something should be walk this summer is not what they're looking for and made it known that the Blues want to build something with Backes as a key piece.

"Those things aren't falling on deaf ears," Backes said. "I think we've been through a lot together as a general manager and captain of some thin times and now prosperous times. Now we need to make that next step together and that's playing deep into the playoffs. Hopefully we'll get some more healthy bodies in here and have full strength. Even when we don't, we need to come together, simplify and go out there and work our butts off to get two points."

There's 51 hours until the trade deadline comes and goes as of 11 a.m. today, and players in the Blues' locker room will do their best to try and stay focused on the ice, especially since the Blues play afternoon games today against Nashville (2 p.m.) and Sunday at Carolina (also 2 p.m.).

"It's always mental for everybody," center Paul Stastny said. "Whether you've never been there before, whether you have, it's always around and people always talk about it. I think no matter what, it's always in the back of minds, whether you're at the bottom and teams make a lot of changes or your team's at the top and they're just going to tweak a couple things. Once you know that day's over, then you know that's the final team you have going forward for the last stretch of the season.

"I think when you're on the ice, you don't think about it. That's the beauty of what you do for a living. When you're on the ice, that's when all the distractions go away. That's the way it's been for me, that's the way it's been for a lot of us."

Backes added: "Things happen at deadlines. Who knows what's going to happen here. That's for management and for coaching to figure out. We just need the 20 guys that are suiting up for the game to be on the same page buying into the program and going out there and executing and winning games.

"I think during the day, you're hearing deals go down and things like that but once you're at the rink and you're putting the gear on, it's focus on having the group of guys that's in the locker room getting a task done. We've done a good job of concentrating and blocking out distractions throughout the year. Now we have to do it even more than ever. With injuries and with trade deadline and whatever's going on, we need to focus and have great performances and worry about the two points that's in front of us and not anything that's in the past or in the future. We've got to be ready for the present."

But if the Blues don't do anything, Stastny said there's belief in the room as is.

"Absolutely," he said. "I think we know what we have. We have 13, 14 forwards that can play, eight nine 'D.' It's all about finding that chemistry and being hot at the right time. We know what things have worked and things that haven't."

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The Blues will know soon if defenseman Alex Pietrangelo (knee) will mark his return after missing the past eight games.

Also, center Jori Lehtera, who was hit in the face with an inadvertent puck against the New York Rangers on Thursday, is a game-time decision.

With afternoon games today and Sunday, lineups and line combinations won't be known until pregame warmups.

But one thing's for certain, Jake Allen will start in goal today against the Predators. He made a career-high 45 saves in a 4-0 shutout victory the last time he played here Nov. 7.

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The Blues have won all four meetings with the Predators -- 5-0-3 the past eight games -- this season, outscoring Nashville 11-4. They have two shutout wins at Bridgestone Arena, including 1-0 on a late Troy Brouwer goal here 25 days ago.

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