Wednesday, November 23, 2016

(11-23-16) Blues-Capitals Gameday Lineup

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Blues took the morning off after getting in late from Boston following a come-from-behind 4-2 victory against the Bruins on Tuesday to extend their winning streak to a season-high four games.

The Blues (11-6-3) will finish out the pre-Thanksgiving portion of the schedule today at 6 p.m. (FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM) against the Washington Capitals (11-5-2).

The Blues used a three-goal second period -- after trailing 1-0 after one on a goal by former teammate and captain David Backes -- to end a four-game road losing streak.

Goals by Jori Lehtera on a tip, and Robert Bortuzzo and Paul Stastny each following up a saved shot.

"Playing the right way in the offensive zone," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "Kind of hanging onto the puck, making the low to high play, getting to the inside. We're scoring a lot of goals right now getting to the inside. That's the biggest reason we're scoring. It's not anything fancy. We're in the scoring area every time. 

"I thought we got a great boost from, obviously Jake (Allen) was good, but I thought we got a great boost from Stastny and (Jaden) Schwartz. This is two games in a row where they've just been outstanding together. That's a good sign for us. ... They're really leading us. Both guys are playing outstanding. 'Stas' is back playing the way he did last year. I think they're doing a great job."

The Blues found themselves in a world of trouble in the first period by trying to play pucks through the opposition. They were more direct in the second and got back to playing a more simplified game.

"When we got in trouble, we played too far apart and sometimes we left our 'D' out to dry and our 'D' were going backwards with the puck and we're getting away from them and that makes it tough for them instead of supporting them," said Stastny, who has five goals (four on the road). "When we support them, we're skating more, but we're actually a lot faster because we're moving the puck and making those 10-foot passes and making them defend a lot more.

"The goalies are just so good and defense in general are just good. That first shot usually doesn't get it, but that second and third chance is how you're going to score. Very few guys can score with a clean shot and if they do, they score 30 percent of the time, which isn't that high. A lot of the goals you see are deflections or rebounds, second and third chances. It's always been like that. Ninety percent of the goals are scored within 5-10 feet from the net. It's always going to be like that."

Bortuzzo added: "They play a different rush coverage. I think in the first period, we were trying to go a little bit east-west in front of them because they do back in a bit. In the second period, we got pucks behind them and secondary forechecks were huge for us. The forwards were phenomenal in that area."

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The Blues could have a different look for a lineup tonight since Hitchcock moved parts around early.

David Perron started up with Schwartz and Stastny but finished with Patrik Berglund and Dmitrij Jaskin, and Nail Yakupov, who started with Berglund and Jaskin, could open tonight with Robby Fabbri and Lehtera.

"We were going nowhere with the group the way they were playing," Hitchcock said. "We needed to change some chemistry."

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Allen, who made a season-high 39 saves on 41 shots, will not play tonight. 

Carter Hutton will get the nod, but Allen has been sizzling, and his third periods of late have been scintillating, including 17 saves in the third Tuesday.

Asked if Hutton needs to work, Hitchcock said, "No, I want to win the game." 

That shows the confidence the Blues' coach has in his backup goalie, who last saw action in a relief role at Columbus on Nov. 12.

Allen hasn't allowed a third-period goal since Nov. 3 at Dallas; that's 64 straight shots saved.

"Knock on wood there," Allen said. "I don't think of that, sorry. 

"Just try to hold down the fort and give the guys a chance in the third."

And he has.

"He's obviously a physical specimen," Bortuzzo said of Allen. "No fatigue whatsoever. That just aludes to his mental toughness as a goalie. That's crunch time. In this league, it's hard to get wins and a lot of them come in the third period. He's been a rock back there all year for us."

Stastny added: "A couple big saves there. A couple sloppy turnovers and he made some big saves. Sometimes we lost the puck on a stick-handle or made a mis-read and that's where he made those three or four really good saves that could have easily tied the game."

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With their four-game winning streak, the Blues are playing as confidently as they have all season, including that three-game winning streak to start the season.

"We're just building. We're building every day," Bortuzzo said. "We had a tough stretch there, which is going to happen in the season, ups and downs and whatnot, but it seems like we're going in the right direction. It's going to be a tough test (tonight)."

Bortuzzo and defensive partner Colton Parayko, who had two assists Tuesday, have really caught the eye of Hitchcock.

"He's really playing well right now. Man is he playing well," Hitchcock said of Parayko. "That pair is playing well. It's really good to see.

:Just the way they're playing, their continuity. They're really on top of their game right now."

As for Bortuzzo, who has eight career goals, he was asked where Tuesday's goal ranks for him.

"I can go through them in my head if you really wanted to," he joked. "It's definitely the most unique. ... It's my first backhand, let's call it that way."

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Perron picked up an assist on Lehtera's empty-net goal Tuesday and now has a five-game point streak, which is two shy of a career-high; he has two goals and five assists in that span. ... Tarasenko has 11 points ( three goals and eight assists) in last nine games after picking up an assist Tuesday. ... Schwartz has five goals and three assists the past eight games.

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As for Backes, he's glad to get that first game out of the way against the Blues, but it will be more emotional for him when he returns to St. Louis on Jan. 10.

"A little weird at first, but you realize you're wearing different jerseys and you're playing for keeps," Backes said. "Get a couple bumps.  I wish -- I think the whole team -- we had a different outcome tonight. We get a couple good chances there late. I just think we had a dry spell there in the second. They capitalized on a few chances, Zee's not in the game (Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara), and takes us a little while to realize that life's going to move on, we'll be OK without the big man, as big of a part of the team as he is. We did a good job of regrouping and then putting a little push there in the last part of the second and the third and a little chance on the rebound, 6-on-5, Jake makes a good save. Wish we had a different outcome, but not the case. We've got to regroup and win a game in Ottawa."

As for scoring against the Blues ... "It was certainly a good point in the game. Ten minutes in, second power play and we're able to -- 'Krech' (David Krejci) keeps a puck in, gives it over to Torey (Krug), who steps into one, a little tip, find a rebound and slam it in. It's certainly a good feeling, but I'd give it back if we could have won tonight and had a little bit more of a joyous occasion after the game." 

Backes had strong praise for Allen but wanted to praise his new teammates as well.

"He made a couple key saves at key times, but I think you look at what Tuukka (Rask) did with the breakaway that Schwartz gets there in the second or the first, whenever it was, makes a huge save, keeps us with a 1-0 lead," Backes said. "That should be a rallying point, we played better going forward. Dominic Moore's awesome effort shorthanded to get us the lead again at 2-1 and that should be time to lock it down and not give them anything and instead I think we got hemmed in our zone a little too much, a few too many careless plays. They made good on them. That's just not a awesome feeling at the moment. Would have really loved to have won this one." 

But Backes is glad it's over.

"I told you before I wanted to stay in the moment," he said. "I wrote that on my little wrist tape that I have to stay in the moment and stay focused and do what I can to help this team win games. Again, we occupied the zone, had a few real good looks there late. 'Krech' is able to force a turnover right in the slot and I don't know if he missed his mark or Jake made a save there but we, I'm trying not to get too caught up in it because I want to make sure that I'm an effective player for this team in helping us win games. Not enough tonight unfortunately. Wish it would have been."

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The Blues' projected lineup:

Jaden Schwartz-Paul Stastny-Vladimir Tarasenko

Robby Fabbri-Jori Lehtera-Nail Yakupov

David Perron-Patrik Berglund-Dmitrij Jaskin

Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Reaves

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Carl Gunnarsson-Kevin Shattenkirk

Robert Bortuzzo-Colton Parayko

Carter Hutton will start in goal; Jake Allen will be the backup.

Healthy scratches are Ty Rattie and Petteri Lindbohm. Joel Edmundson (upper body) is on the trip but will not play. Alexander Steen (upper body) will miss a fourth straight game.

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The Capitals' projected lineup:

Alex Ovechkin-Evgeny Kuznetsov-Andre Burakovsky

Marcus Johansson-Nicklas Backstrom-Justin Williams

Daniel Winnik-Lars Eller-Brett Connolly

Zach Sanford-Jay Beagle-Tom Wilson

Karl Alzner-Matt Niskanen

Dmitri Orlov-John Carlson

Brooks Orpik-Nate Schmidt

Braden Holtby is expected to start in goal; Philipp Grubauer will be the backup.

The healthy scratch includes former Blue Taylor Chorney. Former Blue T.J. Oshie (upper body) is out week-to-week.

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