By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- It's Feb. 4, 2016, and Western Conference foes are facing one another for the first time.
It's a unique situation this deep into a season, but such is the case for the Blues (29-16-8), who will host the San Jose Sharks (26-19-4) on Thursday (7 p.m.; FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM).
It's the 53rd game for the Blues and 50th for the Sharks, but they haven't gone against one another since Jan. 8, 2015.
"They're new because we haven't played them for a while, but they're not new with their personnel," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of the Sharks. "They've got those good players that have been in the League a long time, keep playing well. Every year, it's the same four, five guys leading their team. They obviously have one of the best, if not the best road records in the League because they know how to play the game the right way and they know how to manage the game the right way. It'll be a big challenge for us. It'll be a big wakeup call coming from playing against Nashville to coming and playing this one."
The Sharks, who will play the second of a four-game trip Thursday, own the best road record in the Western Conference at 16-7-2 with the Los Angeles Kings.
"I think we have a group of guys that has won a lot of games on the road over the last 10 years, veteran guys that lead the way," Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said. "There's no excuses in the dressing room, travel, getting in at 4 or 5 o'clock on the morning. You never hear any complaining. They just deal with it and move on and when your best players have that mindset, everyone else follows.
"It's hard not to be (impressed). You can see why the core group's won so many games here over the last decade. The young guys are following and we like where we're at right now."
The Blues just finished a four-game trip where they went 2-1-1 but scored four goals, thanks to goalie Brian Elliott, who allowed four goals in the four games.
"Results are what's important," said Blues right wing Troy Brouwer, who scored the game-winning goal in a 1-0 win at the Nashville Predators Tuesday. "The goals will come and we've been able to score timely goals all season long. We want to score more goals, but they're going to come. Scoring throughout the entire league is down and we've had a lot of injuries, which creates a lot of new line combinations. A little bit of unfamiliarity between guys. I think with jumbling lines again, hopefully we can do something to spark some creative output."
Hitchcock would rather his team play this style, simply because the Blues have got back to limiting the opposition's scoring chances.
"I think we're just going through an unlucky phase," Hitchcock said. "We'll get lucky here in the next week or so and start scoring. I think we're playing well. I've said this before that when we were playing loose, we were scoring more and giving up more. I'm not sure which is the right way to do it. When we had our high-water marks as far as offense goes, it was just a wide open affair. I'm not sure. It does boil down to winning hockey games. To me, the zero or the one is the most important thing against. It gives you a chance to win every game. If you score one and still win or get points, it's great. You'd like to score a lot more, but to me, with (29) games left in the season, it's all about winning hockey games. I don't really care what the score is, as long as we're winning games."
Perhaps the Blues' scoring woes correlate with that of right wing Vladimir Tarasenko, who has one goal the past 10 games and three the past 16.
Tarasenko, who took part in the All-Star Game and didn't register a shot on goal Tuesday for the first time since Dec. 11, 2014 (98 games), stayed on the ice longer than usual Thursday with the healthy scratches and Jaden Schwartz, who could return Saturday and would slot on a line with Tarasenko and Paul Stastny.
"I think he's just got to get his energy back," Hitchcock said of Tarasenko. "I think we've leaned on him awful hard. He's come through every time. I think we've got to allow him to get his energy back. He looked a little bit fresher yesterday, a little bit fresher today. That's a good sign, but we've leaned on him awful hard. There's scoring goals and then there's scoring important goals. He's done his share. If we get better play from people around him, it will open up space for him. That's the focus for him. He's still going to get his looks, he's going to get his licks in, he's going to score at important times. He's going to score big goals for us, but I think if the other guys keep moving it forward and that's what we like so much about Stastny's game now, he's starting to play well. I think it's got a chance to open up more space for Vlad."
DeBoer calls this game a challenge and isn't looking at the Blues' lack of scoring.
"Typical Ken Hitchcock-coached team, they're going to be detailed, they're going to be tight, you're going to have to earn your ice," DeBoer said. "It's that time of year. I think whenever you do into some of the better teams' conference's buildings, I think everybody's battle level and compete level is very high right now. That's our expectation that ours is going to be there every night like that. Games are going to come down to who plays the cleanest game, who makes the fewest mistakes. It's that push to the playoffs. That's the kind of hockey you're looking at."
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It will be the second game of the newly formulated line with Alexander Steen at center, Patrik Berglund on left wing and David Backes back at his natural right wing.
The trio got better as the game went along Tuesday, according to Hitchcock, and will get a stern test against San Jose tonight.
"It was fine," Berglund said. "There's always things you can do better, but for the first game back together, we played a solid game. We've got to build from here. ... It's going to take time to get to know each other again. I think we haven't really been a line before. It's going to take some time, but hopefully we can do it sooner than later."
Steen, who said Tuesday perhaps he can have an advantage winning faceoffs because the opposition doesn't know what he's going to do or what he's doing, won four of 12 on Tuesday, prompting Berglund to joke when asked if he can help him on draws: "I guess I have to.
"He's really good and strong on the dot," Berglund added. "I don't think that's an issue. He's been taking a lot of faceoffs throughout the years, especially on the left wide when he's been playing with 'Backs.' He knows how to work the dot for sure."
It's been quite the adjustment for Bergund as well, who has been a natural center his entire playing career.
"I always enjoy playing center," Berglund said. "I played center my whole life. That's something I would never say no to, but right now, I'm a left wing and that's where I'm at.
"It's been a big (adjustment) because it's a different way to play when you're a winger in my opinion. I really like to keep my speed up and be a little bit more on the move. When you're a winger, you have to be on your left wing there. I think I'm trying to get better and better at it every day and find ways to keep my speed and tempo up more. It's getting better and better. ... I adapted. I think for me being a center my whole life, that is a big change. But just trying to adjust and do whatever you can to be in this position."
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The Blues' power play was 0-for-3 at Nashville and is now in a 0-for-21 slide going back to Jan. 12 when Berglund scored twice against New Jersey.
"I would say we're feeling the heat right now there," Hitchcock said. "We're pressing a little too much and we're forcing the issue. We're trying to score too early. We talked about that yesterday. I think yesterday's practice was a good wakeup call. Sometimes when you have a practice like yesterday, we're forcing really competitive situations on the ice and then ou go through that frustration phase, you usually come out on the right side of things. Yesterday we went through the frustration phase. The communication by both units by the end of practice was excellent. I expect it to be better today."
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The Blues' projected lineup:
Magnus Paajarvi-Paul Stastny-Vladimir Tarasenko
Patrik Berglund-Alexander Steen-David Backes
Robby Fabbri-Jori Lehtera-Troy Brouwer
Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Dmitrij Jaskin
Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo
Joel Edmundson-Kevin Shattenkirk
Carl Gunnarsson-Colton Parayko
Brian Elliott will start in goal. Pheonix Copley will be the backup.
Ryan Reaves and Robert Bortuzzo are healthy scratches. Jaden Schwartz (ankle), Jake Allen (lower body) and Steve Ott (hamstring) are on injured reserve.
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The Sharks' projected lineup:
Tomas Hertl-Joe Thornton-Joe Pavelski
Joonas Donskoi-Logan Couture-Tommy Wingels
Matt Nieto-Patrick Marleau-Joel Ward
Dainius Zubrus-Chris Tierney-Melker Karlsson
Marc-Edouard Vlasic-Justin Braun
Paul Martin-Brent Burns
Brenden Dillon-Dylan DeMelo
Martin Jones will start in goal. Alex Stalock ill be the backup.
Mike Brown and Matt Tennyson will be healthy scratches. The Sharks report no injuries.