By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The Blues will try to get things right where they've played their best hockey: at home.
The Blues (7-6-3) have won just four of the past 13 games (4-6-3) after starting the season 3-0-0. But they're 5-1-2 on home ice and begin a three-game homestand against the 5-6-4 Buffalo Sabres (7 p.m.; FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM) and play eight of the next 10 at Scottrade Center.
"It's always a good feeling to be at home," defenseman Colton Parayko said. "When you have the fans on your side, it's always nice to have that. Just one of those things where you feel at home. It's a good feeling. I think it's a great opportunity for our team to kind of look ahead a little bit. Take it one game at a time, but we know our next eight of 10 are at home. Work on kind of building up to what we know what we can be."
After an 8-4 drubbing at Columbus on Saturday, the Blues are looking to perhaps repair what seems like a bit of a fragile locker room after that game.
Coach Ken Hitchcock said this is the result of changing leadership from a season ago and that there could be times where thing look bleak.
"When you make changes in the leadership side of things, there is a timeframe that you go through, and there is a timeframe that you can't speed up," Hitchcock said. "You go through that transition. Sometimes ... there's two other teams, they're in the middle of it with us, transition, there's a team that is in our same division that went through it, looked completely out of sorts and then they sorted it out. But you go through that phase where there is transition of power and we're in the middle of the transition of power and we needed it to be more defined. I thought after the game, I thought we were inching towards it in Nashville; after the game in Columbus, there was a really good feeling on level of importance, level of leadership, defined leadership, all that stuff so we could have the direction. The body language and the communication coming back to St. Louis was something that we were hoping for, we saw, and I told the coaches yesterday when we were here, and I told them this morning that we were going to see a helluva practice and a great focus. I felt really good about it. I know it's a difficult loss, but I felt really, really good about it. I know you've got to play the games and the points count, but it was the step we were looking for and found it. Hopefully we can really build on it and really define our direction and define our identity, define how and who we want to play against and how we want to play."
What are some of the differences with David Backes, Troy Brouwer, Steve Ott and Brian Elliott gone?
"Just different voices, different pressures, a lot of change, a lot of differences," Hitchcock said. "It never does go the way you think it should go because it's different. There's different voices, there's different leadership styles, there's a lot of different stuff and you need to go through it. When you make decisions that we've made, you have to let it grow. While it grows, you've got to hold tight, because it's going to grow. There's a lot of great character people in here. There's a lot of winning that's gone on here. It's gonna grow, but you've got to let it grow; you can't speed it up. So, letting it grow, saw some good things and ... I don't know if I should feel happy or lucky that we're in the position we are because we have been a great home team except for one game, great at home, but we know we've got to be better on the road, a lot better, but that comes from the direction of the team and now I see some things in place that I'm pretty excited by.
"... You've got to ride it out. You've got to just be patient. Everybody's got to be patient. You've got to grow it back again, you've got to be patient with it. You've got to inch it along. You just can't speed it up. You've got to inch it along. We've got to do it from a supportive base, not from a criticism base or how come you're not the same as you were? Because we're not the same. It's a good feeling when you start to see it grow, and I'm telling you, we're starting to see it grow. So it's a really good feeling."
Defenseman and first-year captain Alex Pietrangelo, who was a career-worst minus-5 against the Blue Jackets, is one that's thrust into the spotlight with his first bit of adversity leading the charge.
"For me, it's not saying. It's going out and doing what needs to be done," Pietrangelo said. "I think the focus for me and the other leaders was go out there today and have a good practice, get back to what we were good at the start of the season and the last few years. Raise our work ethic and play good 'D.' That's the reality of the situation. I thought we went out there and battled each other, we played each other honest. We need to get that competitive nature back.
"There's more responsibility in leading the charge. Go out there the last game, I'm on for the first three goals, that's not the way you want to start the game. That's on me. Day in day out, I've got to be the the guy leading the charge here. That was a good wakeup call for a lot of us, myself included. We got away from the work ethic that needed to be done in order to win hockey games. This is a good league, there's a lot of good teams. We've been known to outwork teams for years and I think we've just got away from that for a bit, and it's shown.
"There's lots of guys I can reach out to, a lot of guys that are reaching out to me as well and see how things are going. I'm lucky to have that, I'm lucky to have people within this organization who are here to help me and I'm luckier to have people that are outside of here that are calling in and making sure things are going OK."
Hitchcock said Pietrangelo just has to be himself moving forward.
"I think he's recognizing that to be a good leader, you've got to be a good player," Hitchcock said. "You can't be a good leader if you're not a good player. I think one of the things that our leaders are trying to do is too much at times, so you have to strike that balance, and that's finding that balance between leading and playing. So we're starting to figure out that balance and those are things that we can help them along. That has to do with identity.
"We talked about that stuff, we talked about forging an identity. It's new, but it's not a lot different, but it's new, and it's putting the players in a position to forge that identity. You can't win in the league unless you have an identity. You can't just throw your sticks on the ice and play ice hockey. You have to forge an identity. The last 48 hours, since the end of the Columbus game, it's now beginning to form, and I like it. Is it OK if I'm positive? Good. Thank you."
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Jake Allen, who was pulled in the start against Columbus after giving up four goals on 12 shots, will be back in goal.
But as a young goalie, Allen, who is 5-3-3 with a 2.62 goals-against average and .896 save percentage, has the penchant of parking a game, win or lose.
"Yeah, I wouldn't be in this league if I didn't have a short memory," Allen said. "I'm not worried about it at all. I was done with it as soon as I got pulled out of the game in the second period. It was over to me, I was just hoping the guys would get a chance to come back and win that game. It's done with. I haven't even thought about it since I left Columbus, to be honest. Thanks for bringing it up. No, just looking forward to today, get back at home, get in a routine again, get going and we need a good week.
"... Everything was going in, one of those games you know. We have to bring a good three games here at home, it's a big crucial week for us, especially after dropping a couple ... hopefully get back on the horse."
That's why Hitchcock brought Allen, who is 3-0-0 with a 0.97 GAA and .963 save percentage in three career starts against Buffalo, back for Tuesday. The Blues have beaten eight straight times.
"I think he has no choice," Hitchcock said. "You're starting the goaltender, you've got to play with no memory. That's really hard when you're a younger player when you play with no memory. It's really hard. That's what happens. When you're the designated starting goaltender, you're in there the next day. You've got to play two of three, sometimes three of four. You've just got to go. I think the biggest thing with younger goaltenders, there was a discussion a long time ago Price-Halak, and everybody wondered if Price could handle the load, and look at him now. There was a lot of question on if Rinne could handle the load, and look at him now. You just have to stay with these guys and you have to grow with them. It's just the growth period. When you know when a guy has that type of skillset, that type of talent, you've just got to live with it. There's sometimes like the last game where every deflected puck was going in the net. It was going off our sticks as much as it was going off of theirs. There's some games where you've got to protect them and get them out of there, but we've got to put him right back in and let him go.
"With a goaltender, you've just got to play with no memory. No offense, but it would be best if you didn't have a TV and you didn't have a subscription to the local newspaper because you're just going to have to play all the time."
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The Blues have to play better in one specific area: 5-on-5 play. They're a minus-10 (20 goals for, 30 against) in that department and need more than the four power play goals they scored on Saturday.
"We're not close as far as that, but as far as offense, it's starting to come to the success that we want to do every single night," right wing David Perron said. "A lot of times it starts at the blue line and making sure that we make the right decision. We don't want to dump it if we don't have to dump it. It's just a tight league to make plays all the time. I think we saw in the video today, too, when we don't make the right play, it's obviously not one that we want to look at after every time. The ones that we didn't put in, for sure, a couple of them came back in our net. That's the way this league goes and that's what we're trying to do to them, frustrate teams to go back on offense and we're good at doing that.
"I think when we stop focusing on just scoring and we focus on making sure we do the right things at all time defensively, that's just going to create more offense for us. I think the power play there for a while, we were talking about it, and then we kind of let go of it and we scored four last game. Most nights of you score, you're going to win. I think power play is going to make sure we bring momentum, but that's the same thing with 5-on-5."
"That's the area when things get magnified," Pietrangelo said. "Power play's starting to come around; we've found two units that are working. Our penalty kill's been terrific, so that leaves you with 5-on-5. That's where we're usually are positive in the big time and we're not right now. We're getting exposed. Clear up our 5-on-5 and the rest will take care of itself."
Hitchcock said it's all about positioning and numbers.
"Get to the inside," Hitchcock said. "When they're cross-checking us on our numbers, we're in good shape. When they're cross-checking us on our chest, we're in bad shape. Get to the inside. Eighty-five percent of the goals are scored in the red zone, and it's how you get there. Sometimes teams can do it off the rush, but you've got to do it on occupation.
"We're not built that way. We're not built as a rush-attack team. We're built as a possession team, and we are doing a great job, probably top two or three in the league in possession, but so was L.A. last year and they had a difficult time scoring. Possession is one thing. We're doing a good job. We're really doing a good job right now; I like a lot of the stuff, but we still have a lot of work to do so at the end of a shift, we're over the goalie and they're cross-checking us in the back. And that means we got the inside and they got the outside. There's too much of them punching us in the chest. We've got to fix that part."
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Vladimir Tarasenko has taken 65 shots this season, good for a 9.2 percent efficiency rating. That may not sound good considering Tarasenko has just six goals on the season, but he is piling up points.
The Blues' right wing has a five-game point streak (two goals, six assists), including a four-point night Saturday in Columbus. He leads the Blues in goals (six), assists (11) and points (17) in 16 games.
"He's like (Brett) Hull," Hitchcock said of Tarasenko. "He does not get enough credit for the way he passes the puck. He's a great passer. ... He's got a great shot, yeah, but there's some seasons where he's not going to score 40 goals. I guarantee he's going to get 50 assists. The passes he makes in zone, the seams he finds, the snap that he puts on it, that's like Hull. He doesn't get near enough credit for the way he passes the puck. He's a great passer. Yes, he's got a great shot and a great ability to get it off the rush, but man, he's a helluva passer."
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Nail Yakupov will be a healthy scratch for the fourth time in six games. Ryan Reaves, a healthy scratch Saturday in Columbus, will draw back in on the fourth line.
Yakupov has no points in the past seven games he's played after two goals and two assists in the first six games with the Blues.
"Play as a group of five," Hitchcock said of the forwards. "He's a young guy and he's learning. These are hard lessons. he's learning how to play a 200-foot game, which is what this program here is about; it's about 200 feet. It's not about 100 feet, it's not about 150 feet. It's about 200 feet, and you've got to be a player that plays the game with the other four guys on the ice and you've got to play it the right way.
"I've always said this before, when the other team has the puck, you've got to look the same as everbody else on the ice. When you've got it, do whatever you've got to do. We don't tell (Alexander) Steen how to play offense, we certainly don't tell Tarasenko or (Jaden) Schwartz how to play offense, but when the other team has the puck, you've got to look the same. That's on the learning curve, and it takes young people a long time. And sometimes when you come from a different program, expectations here are awfully high. But the team expectations are awfully, awfully high."
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Both defensemen Robert Bortuzzo (lower body) and Joel Edmundson (upper body) skated on Tuesday.
Bortuzzo, who's been out since Oct. 27, skated with the team for a second straight day and Hitchcock said he'll skate again with the team on Wednesday and will be re-evaluated then. He could rejoin the lineup as early as Thursday against San Jose.
Edmundson skated on his own and there will be a report on his re-evaluation at the end of the week.
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The Blues' projected lineup:
Jaden Schwartz-Paul Stastny-Alexander Steen
Robby Fabbri-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko
Dmitrij Jaskin-Patrik Berglund-David Perron
Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Reaves
Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo
Carl Gunnarsson-Kevin Shattenkirk
Petteri Lindbohm-Colton Parayko
Jake Allen will start in goal; Carter Hutton will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Nail Yakupov and Ty Rattie. Robert Bortuzzo (lower body) and Joel Edmundson (upper body) are out.
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The Sabres' projected lineup:
Evander Kane-Sam Reinhart-Kyle Okposo
Marcus Foligno-Johan Larsson-Brian Gionta
Matt Moulson-Zemgus Girgensons-William Carrier
Evan Rodrigues-Derek Grant-Nicholas Baptiste
Josh Gorges-Rasmus Ristolainen
Jake McCabe-Cody Franson
Justin Falk-Casey Nelson
Robin Lehner will start in goal; Anders Nilsson will be the backup.
The Sabres have no healthy scratches. Injuries include Ryan O'Reilly (mid-body), Dmitry Kulikov (undisclosed), Tyler Ennis (groin), Zach Bogosian (MCL sprain), Nicolas Deslauriers (knee), Jack Eichel (ankle), Cody McCormick (blood clots).