By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Playing their third game in four nights, the Blues have a leg up on the rest of the NHL.
Two teams (Arizona and Colorado) will make their season debuts, respectively, tonight, but the Blues are looking to win three straight games to start a season for only the fourth time in franchise history when they host the New York Rangers, who opened with a 5-3 win against the New York Islanders on Thursday, today at 7 p.m. (FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM).
The Blues have wins against Central Division foes Chicago (5-2) and Minnesota (3-2) to begin the season and will turn to backup Carter Hutton tonight against the Rangers.
"It's a challenge, it's a big challenge," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of the three games in four nights to start the season. "It's also coming off of eight exhibition games, not six. Yesterday normally would have been a practice day this early in the season, but we only had (nine) guys on the ice. I think managing our time and managing our rest is going to be as important as our work. As I said to the players, the month of October, I don't even see us having three hockey practices. It's going to be managing rest. You're going to have to do a lot of work on video, a lot of teaching on video and that's just the way it is, but if you want the energy on the ice, you better make sure you get the proper rest to get it out there."
The Blues have also started 3-0-0 in 1969-70, 1993-94 and 2014-15.
"We don't look at that stuff at all," center Patrik Berglund said. "We just kind of take it one day at a time and setting up a game plan for tonight and hopefully we can go out and execute it. Rangers are a tough team to beat and it's going to be a real tight game."
The Blues are 1-3-0 against the Rangers, including two losses last season, against New York, since the start of the 2014-15 season.
"The speed game is there obviously," Hitchcock said of the Rangers. "It's not the speed … everybody's got players who skate. It's their puck movement speed. They use the width of the ice better than anybody and that's something we have to defend, you're defending the width of the ice as well as the depth where as most teams you're just defending depth With the Rangers, you've got to defend both the 85 foot area plays and the 200 foot plays. It's a challenge. You've got to be great positionally. For us, it's about our positional game and if we're strong in our positional play then hopefully we don't get burned like the Islanders did."
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The Blues like the start of the fourth line and hope to get them more ice time.
Scottie Upshall, Kyle Brodziak and Ryan Reaves, when they're going, it typically bodes well for the Blues. They've been going, and it's no coincidence the Blues are 2-0-0.
"They've been better than what we anticipated," Hitchcock said. "They've had a great preseason, they've had a great start to the regular season and if they stayed out of the box we'd give them more ice time, which is a real focus. It's a very effective line. There's speed, they put the puck in right places so they're able to forecheck, they've got three tough guys on the line, they know how to play the right way. I really trust them but I've got to get them out there more and I've got to get out of the special teams game that goes on in the second half and put them out there more."
Upshall, who has a goal this season although he never actually put the puck in the net himself in Chicago, said the unit wants to complement what the top three lines are doing rather than being the exception to the rule.
"Jeez, you look up and down lineups now, it's four lines made up of ... fourth line guys now, you're not seeing enforcers or whatever," Upshall said. "You're seeing guys that can move and can penalty kill and even tonight, we're seeing Brandon Pirri is playing center but he's on the power play. There's really no fourth line anymore. You've got to be a third line. I find our line gritty, fast, we're playing with the puck. As you put trust into the coaches that you can be a third line, which I think we're showing, that just benefits your team. It gives guys who play too many minutes, gives them a little break, you can fill in a couple extra minutes, play them well, play them hard and hopefully produce for your team.
"... You see the way our line gets used. When we're playing well, we get played. When we get off games, it's more of a look at video, see what we need to do better. That's why we're just pushing right now to continue to get better and put trust in the coaches. The guys in this room really see the benefit of four line, deep kind of mentality and what that does for our team. It's good. We're having fun. We're a good line. We're having fun battling together.
"(Reaves) definitely throws it around. I benefit from getting a little extra space, maybe a second or two from him creating room and from defensemen kind of knowing who's on the ice. I've always finished checks and made that part of my game and Brodziak always plays the game the right way. It's a balanced line, it adds to our group who we need guys to go out and hit and play physical because a lot of our physical players are on the back side. It's good. The chemistry's there, we get along great as three guys kind of knowing where each other is on the ice. In scrums, we're all together. It's a good group."
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The Blues' special teams is off to the kind of start they're accustomed to.
The Blues have converted on 3 of 8 power play chances -- albeit all three came at Chicago -- which is good for sixth in the league, and the penalty kill is 8 of 9, which is 14th in the league, but 13 teams are at 100 percent right now.
"We're competing," Hitchcock said. "We're really competing at a high level in both respects. I thought our power play after the first game was better in the game we didn't score than the game we did score. I thought we were excellent and we didn't score. WE had bang-bang plays at the net. We're working for chances, we're going to the hard areas, there's real good continuity killing penalties, we're using eight penalty killers not six which is a good sign. I like the start, but tonight is a whole different challenge. This is the best team of the three we've played so far so this will be a big challenge for us."
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The Blues won't make any other roster changes for tonight other than Hutton.
That means defenseman Carl Gunnarsson, a healthy scratch in the opener, will stay in the lineup and Robert Bortuzzo will sit a second straight game.
"He was quick in thought and quick in his feet," Hitchcock said of Gunnarsson. "He moved the puck quickly, he got us out of trouble, he was quick to check, all in all he played a very sound game.
"That's why he wasn't playing. He's picked up the pace and that's a good sign."
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Brodziak will skate in his 700th NHL game tonight, and if one asked him, he wouldn't make a big deal about it.
Brodziak was so quiet about it, the question was never posed to him; typical of the attention -- or lack thereof -- he wants, but Hitchcock loves his presence.
"A quiet leadership, in a good way," Hitchcock said. "He supports, he's been through programs that have had great captaincy support. He supports the captaincy of the team, the leaders of the team, the leaders of the team in av ery good way. He's a very calming influence inside the locker room when things are spinning a little bit. It's a good fit for us right now. He plays an honest game, has an honest attitude toward team play and he has a real high level of support for the leaders in the locker room, he's a glue guy."
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The Blues will honor members of the Salomon family tonight, the original owners of the franchise.
Carol Salomon, the former wife of original owner Sid Salomon III and her children Sid Salomon IV, Tim Salomon and Patti Salomon will drop the ceremonial puck prior to the game.
Sid Salomon Jr. and his son Sid Salomon III were a part of the Blues’ original ownership group from 1966 to 1977. The Salomons spent $2 million to buy the franchise and another $4 million to acquire The Arena on Oakland Ave, which turned out to be the first home of the team.
Under the Salomons' direction, the Blues made trips to the Stanley Cup Final in each of their first three seasons.
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The Blues' projected lineup:
Robby Fabbri-Paul Stastny-Alexander Steen
David Perron-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko
Magnus Paajarvi-Patrik Berglund-Nail Yakupov
Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Reaves
Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo
Carl Gunnarsson-Kevin Shattenkirk
Joel Edmundson-Colton Parayko
Carter Hutton will start in goal; Jake Allen will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Robert Bortuzzo, Ty Rattie and Dmitrij Jaskin. Jaden Schwartz (elbow) is on injured-reserve.
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The Rangers' projected lineup:
Jimmy Vesey-Derek Stepan-Mats Zuccarello
Chris Kreider-Mika Zibanejad-Pavel Buchnevich
J.T. Miller-Kevin Hayes-Rick Nash
Michael Grabner-Brandon Pirri-Jesper Fast
Ryan McDonagh-Dan Girardi
Marc Staal-Nick Holden
Brady Skjei-Adam Clendening
Henrik Lundqvist will start in goal; Antti Raanta will be the backup.
Josh Jooris and Dylan McIlrath will be healthy scratches. Oscar Lindberg (hip) and Kevin Klein (back) are out.