By LOU KORAC
BOSTON -- The time has arrived for the Blues and David Backes to finally get the sentimental value of facing each other for the first time.
The Blues (10-6-3), looking for their first four-game winning streak of the season, and Bruins (11-7-0) will tangle today (6 p.m. on FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM) and yes, it won't be the same because it's not in St. Louis (Boston comes to Scottrade Center on Jan. 10), but no matter how one dissects it, it will be a strange sight seeing Backes wearing the Bruins 'B.'
That's why the Blues, trying to find their game on the road (2-5-1), are looking to take the sentiment out of the equation as much as possible.
"I think it's pretty simple. I think that there's going to be no sentimental value for him," Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said of Backes. "I think it's going to be something that he's chomping at the bit to get a chance to play us. I always like playing against old teammates just because that rivalry you have in practice for so long, you get a chance to go out and try to prove it on the ice. He was someone who battled in practice and it was fun playing against him all the time. Now it's going to be that much more intense being on the same rink as him but on different benches."
But it is going to be different, just because Backes spent 10 seasons with the Blues, including the last five as captain.
"I think so, and obviously the stature of him in St. Louis and what he was for us as a team," Shattenkirk said. "Obviously it was a big change, but it's going to be important that we push that aside obviously and realize that we're going to have to treat him as just another elite player, like the (Patrice) Bergeron's and the (David) Krejci's, guys you have to give a lot of respect to and not get caught up in the fact that you're playing against your old captain or your old buddy."
"I think it might be different for the players, but for us as coaches, after the first shift is over, he's another player on a team," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "I think our focus is more about ... their goals-against is incredible at home. (Tuukka) Rask has had a heck of a start to the season; how are we going to get to him because even last year, as well as we played, we didn't get to him until real late. I think that's more our focus right now, how do we get into their defense, how do we get into the goalie. In David's situation, that stuff is going to be much more prevalent at home (in St. Louis) than it would be here in Boston for us. It's another player in another road game, a guy that's special, but it'll be a little different at home."
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The Blues have lost four in a row on the road, last winning at Calgary 6-4 exactly one month ago (Oct. 22) and have been outscored 22-7 in that stretch.
But they're coming off three straight wins on home ice last week and want to build off that as the visiting team.
"I don't think it needs to change," Hitchcock said. "We just started playing better. We started checking better, we started managing the puck better, puck support was better. I think it all bleeds into making a big deal of of the road vs. home. It wouldn't have mattered where we played unless we started to play better and that's exactly what happened. The last three games, we started to manage the game better, we started to forecheck better. Our overall game has really improved. We want to carry that momentum on the road, keep playing good. It's hard winning away from your home building because you don't have the matchups, you don't have the advantages, but if we continue to play this way, we're going to give ourselves a chance to get at some period of time, back to .500.
"We have to have more people playing better if we expect to win on the road. I think we've still got a whole other gear in us if we can get more people playing at a higher level."
That whole other gear includes the guys playing on the third line, including Patrik Berglund, Dmitrij Jaskin and either Nail Yakupov or Ty Rattie tonight.
"The player's not relevant; the line's relevant," Hitchcock said. "We need better play. We need more sustained pressure on the forecheck, we need more participants as far as the line goes. We just need flat better play. I think in fairness to (Kyle) Brodziak's line they saw a window of opportunity from an ice time standpoint and they took advantage of it. In reality, in the last three or four games, they've really become our third line to be honest with you."
Yakupov, a healthy scratch in five of the past eight games, appears to be the one in the lineup tonight in place of Rattie, who played Saturday, but Hitchcock said after the morning skate he hadn't made up his mind yet.
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Colton Parayko and Robert Bortuzzo will make up the Blues' third defensive pairing again tonight, but it will be Parayko that mans the right side and Bortuzzo going to his off-side.
Neither has an issue playing on the opposite side as right-handed shots, but Parayko said it is a challenge.
"It's always tough trying to go from your regular side to the left side," Parayko said. "It's a different perspective. You almost see the game differently on that side just based on the fact of how you have to handle the puck, where you have to handle the puck. When they're coming down the right side, get to kind of gain the red line as a defenseman, you have to protect the puck on your forehand. On the left side, it's tough to get a hard rim in there when you're trying to protect the puck on your backhand at the same time. Both of us are doing whatever we can to be successful on that side.
"Both sides have their advantages. On the left side, you have the opportunity for more one-timers and more shooting opportunities in the O-zone. I even like going back in the D-zone on my left side because it's a good opportunity to get in on your forehand and make the hard play to the forward, just little things like that. Just things you don't think about for the average viewer, but when you're playing the game, you definitely notice it."
Parayko is still in search of his first goal of the season despite 54 shots on goal (or just under three per game).
Last season through 19 games, Parayko, who has seven assists in 19 games, had five goals and seven assists.
"Personally, I'm not a big stats guy," Parayko said. "I like to go out there and play and help the team as much as possible. It is what it is. When you give yourself and your team an opportunity to be successful and get scoring chances, that's all you can do. I'm just trying to push and do my best to help this team be successful.
"I don't know how many (shots) I have, but I feel like I'm getting more shots to the net and I think it's creating a lot of opportunities for our forwards. Hopefully I'm making it easy for them to get the puck down low and let them do their job down low. That's my goal, to find a lane and if I can't find it, get it back down low and make it easy for our forwards."
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Several of the Blues spent the evening Monday at the Backes household for dinner, but Shattenkirk was not among them.
The former Boston University player (2007-10) spent the evening having dinner with BU coach David Quinn and Ben Prentiss, who works with Shattenkirk on his strength and conditioning during the summer and is the director of hockey performance for the Terriers.
"We had a good dinner. It was nice," Shattenkirk said.
Shattenkirk only gets the chance to come to the Boston area once a year since the Blues and Bruins are in opposite conferences.
"It's been a while since I was in school, but unfortunately we don't get to come here as often as I would like, but it's always nice coming back into this building," Shattenkirk said. "Not only knowing about it from my point of view, but just it's one of those buildings around the league you kind of circle and say that you played in the same rink as a lot of great players.
"It's more than anything just a great memory, a positive memory for all three years. We won it that one year, but the other two years, it was just as memorable. To be able to accomplish that feat with those guys, it's something we get to cherish forever and because of it, we're all still very close."
Shattenkirk, who had 18 goals and 60 assists in 121 games over three seasons with the Terriers under Jack Parker, including a national championship in 2009, played with other guys that went on to the NHL, including Chris Higgins, Nick Bonino, Brandon Yip, Eric Gryba and Alex Chiasson.
"I love the city, first and foremost," Shattenkirk said. "I think growing up as a kid, I was able to come to a lot of regional matches up here, college matches and get to watch the BU's, the BC's, the New Hampshire's. That's the college hockey I grew up on. ... David Quinn was the one that recruited me and I felt like I was in good hands going here and not only being able to have a successful college career but setting me up for getting me to this level here."
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The Blues' projected lineup:
Jaden Schwartz-Paul Stastny-David Perron
Robby Fabbri-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko
Dmitrij Jaskin-Patrik Berglund-Nail Yakupov
Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Reaves
Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo
Carl Gunnarsson-Kevin Shattenkirk
Robert Bortuzzo-Colton Parayko
Jake Allen will start in goal; Carter Hutton will be the backup.
Healthy scratches are expected to include Ty Rattie and Petteri Lindbohm. Joel Edmundson (upper body) is on the trip but will not play; Alexander Steen (upper body) is not on the trip.
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The Bruins' projected lineup:
Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-Riley Nash
Matt Beleskey-David Krejci-David Backes
Tim Schaller-Ryan Spooner-Austin Czarnik
Sean Kuraly-Dominic Moore-Jimmy Hayes
Zdeno Chara-Brandon Carlo
Torey Krug-Adam McQuaid
Joe Morrow-John-Michael Liles
Tuukka Rask will start in goal; Zane McIntyre will be the backup.
The healthy scratch will be Colin Miller. David Pastrnak (upper body), Noel Acciari (lower body), Anton Khudobin (upper body) and Kevan Miller (hand) are out.