By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Injured players Alexander Steen and Joel Edmundson, both out with upper-body ailments, will not play today when the Blues (12-7-3) host the Dallas Stars (9-8-5) in the second of a five-game homestand.
But both players were on the ice for extensive time this morning, taking contact and skating hard, which implies both are on the verge of returning to full-time duty.
And with that in mind, coach Ken Hitchcock has some tough decisions to make when both are available to play, especially on the blue line, where Robert Bortuzzo seems to have gained the trust of the coaching staff and entrenched himself into the top six.
"Yeah, I will. I'm going to have some really hard decisions," Hitchcock said. "Both (Edmundson) and Steen are going to make it easy for the coach, tough for the players. That's competition. That's what happens. That's what we were hoping (for) at the start of the year that the internal competition would make us better quick. It's approaching that stage right now."
The fact that Edmundson is a left-handed d-man and Bortuzzo, playing the left side for a second straight game with Kevin Shattenkirk tonight, is a righty doesn't affect the decision at all.
"Not one bit. Nope," Hitchcock said. "Not worried about that at all. When you see a guy who plays on the left side like Bortuzzo plays as well as he does, it doesn't matter a bit to me."
Edmundson will miss a 10th straight game tonight after being injured Nov. 6 against Colorado, and Steen will miss his sixth straight game after being injured Nov. 15 against Buffalo.
"All I know right now is he is a participant with us to a certain extent, but he's not a full participant," Hitchcock said of Steen. "He's not able to fully engage, and until he does that, we can't fully evaluate him. He's getting in shape, but he's not able to complete the tasks at practice yet on a full-time basis. So until that time (comes), he's kind of out but getting closer."
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The Blues, who beat the Stars in a terrific seven-game series in the Western Conference Semifinal last season, are seeing Dallas for the second of four meetings.
The Stars won 6-2 in Dallas on Nov. 3.
"I think there's four, five, six players that played us different in that game, so there's a pretty big shift in their team," Hitchcock said of the Stars. "They got us in the third period there and took advantage of some mistakes we made, but I think there's a good rivalry there and a lot of good hockey played on both sides. I look forward to this game, really look forward to it."
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Two Blues will put point streaks on the line tonight.
Right wing David Perron is in search of an eighth consecutive game with a point, which would set a personal career best.
Perron has two goals and eight assists during a seven-game streak, which he also accomplished Feb. 7-18, 2012 during his first stint with the Blues. The seven-game point streak is the longest currently in the NHL.
"He's given us what we anticipated when we saw him in Anaheim," Hitchcock said of Perron. "He didn't have a great start to the season in Pittsburgh. He played very well when he played with (Ryan) Getzlaf and (Corey) Perry in Anaheim. That's the player we were hoping to get and that's the player we got. He's played, he's earned his ice time, he's earned both ends of special teams, he's played hard, he's played the game the right way. He's started to use his legs on checking rather than his stick, so he's stayed away from some penalties the last few games, which is a good sign. He's made some progress in that area as well, a lot of work to do there. Overall, we're happy with his game and the way he finished the season in Anaheim, he's continued down that path, which is a great sign."
Left wing Jaden Schwartz has a six-game point streak (five goals, three assists) and has seven goals and four assists the past 10 games.
Schwartz, who sustained a bad left ankle fracture early last season, looks to finally be healthy again.
"He's had a number of unfortunate injuries he's had to overcome and some of it is based quite frankly on the way he plays," Hitchcock said of Schwartz. "He plays a big man's game and he's not big. Sometimes you get banged around that way, but his tenacity on the puck and his speed and his endurance on being able to fix and continue shifts all the way through is pretty impressive. He's a guy that is as dangerous with the puck as he is when the opposition has it because if you make an error, he's going to make you pay for it. He's got such a great stick. He's one of those 200-foot players that you really value this time of year."
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The Blues are 7-0-2 the past nine at home, have won four in a row here and are in search of a 10th consecutive game on home ice with at least a point; they are 9-1-2 overall at Scottrade Center this season.
Goalie Jake Allen, who is starting tonight, is 5-0-0 in his past five starts with a 1.77 goals-against average and .943 save percentage over his past five starts; he is 5-1-1 with a 2.26 GAA and .912 save percentage against the Central Division this season, with his lone regulation loss coming at Dallas on Nov. 3.
Allen is 7-0-2 with a 1.42 GAA and .947 save percentage on home ice this season.
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The Blues' projected lineup:
Jaden Schwartz-Paul Stastny-David Perron
Robby Fabbri-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko
Dmitrij Jaskin-Patrik Berglund-Ty Rattie
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.
Nail Yakupov is the lone healthy scratch. Alexander Steen (upper body) and Joel Edmundson (upper body) are day-to-day.
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The Stars' projected lineup:
Antoine Roussel-Tyler Seguin-Patrick Eaves
Jamie Benn-Radek Faksa-Lauri Korpikoski
Devin Shore-Jason Spezza-Patrick Sharp
Adam Cracknell-Cody Eakin-Brett Ritchie
Esa Lindell-John Klingberg
Jamie Oleksiak-Jordie Benn
Patrik Nemeth-Julius Honka
Antti Niemi will start in goal; Kari Lehtonen will be the backup.
Dan Hamhuis, Curtis McKenzie and Stephen Johns will be healthy scratches. Mattias Janmark (knee), Ales Hemsky (hip), Jiri Hudler (illness) and Johnny Oduya (lower body) are out.