Yakupov to sit a third straight game; Lindbohm to make season
debut Wednesday; Bortuzzo not skating with Blues yet; tough tests loom
ST. LOUIS -- The Blues, winners of two in a row, won't mess with a good thing while it's going.
So in light of putting two wins together, coach Ken Hitchcock will keep the lineup in tact (aside from Petteri Lindbohm Lindbohm playing for the injured Joel Edmundson) when the Chicago Blackhawks come to town Wednesday for a Central Division showdown.
That means Nail Yakupov, who played the first 11 games, will be a healthy scratch for a third straight game.
Yakupov, acquired Oct. 7 from the Edmonton Oilers for prospect Zach Pochiro and a conditional 2017 third-round pick that can become a second in 2018 if he scores 15 goals this season, had two goals and two assists in six games to start but had no points in his past five games.
"It's not my decision I'm not playing," Yakupov said. "Obviously I couldn't be happy about it. So, it's a coach's decision and nothing I can do about it."
"The four lines are playing good, winning the games and it's coach's decision to not put me in the lineup. So I can't say anything. Obviously I want to play, but ..."
Hitchcock said other players have jumped up and grabbed the 12 spots in the lineup currently, and it's not a reflection on any poor play from the 2012 No. 1 overall pick.
"He doesn't need to do anything," Hitchcock said of Yakupov. "He just needs to be ready when it's his turn. Easy thing for a coach to say that we're a team of 14 forwards. (Ty) Rattie's part of this group, too. He's gone down to get ready to play. There has been no injuries in our top eight forwards, so once a spot was leveled off and the team started to win, like any coach, you're afraid to change at times. He does not have to change anything. Just get ready, and when it's his turn, take advantage of it. That's just competition within the group. But I don't think it does him any good to put him out there if he's not going to play a role he can be successful in. We tried that a couple times and it wasn't near as successful as when we play him on a regular basis. We know there's going to be injuries and we know there's going to be competition. He's just got to be ready on a daily basis and when it's his turn, jump all over it like a couple guys have done here. Every guy we've sat out has come back and played to his potential and that's competition within your team. That's what hockey is about and we expect when his turn comes, he's going to take advantage of it and somebody else is going to be on the sidelines."
Dmitrij Jaskin would sound like the logical choice to come out and Yakupov move in and play with Paul Stastny and Robby Fabbri.
"I think there's a lot of guys that have grabbed it," Hitchcock said. "(Robby) Fabbri's played better, (Scottie) Upshall's played better, Revo's (Ryan Reaves) played good. Other guys have taken advantage of their time on the ice, really taken it to another level. That's one of the major reasons we're starting to play better is guys have really taken the competition within the team, I think guys have taken it seriously and not for granted and it's created a better vibe on our team.
"I like the way our team's playing right now. We're building towards some good team hockey. We're going to get a real read on us by Saturday on what we need to work on, but we're starting to build some momentum with good team play now, so hopefully we can keep it up."
Yakupov is disappointed, as he should be, but sees the team playing well and will continue to work when given the chance.
"I feel like I'm doing good, doing well and working hard everyday and I can't tell I'm playing a bad game," Yakupov said. "... I'm not shocked, just I just want to play. It's always hard watching a game from upstairs. But the team played good, guys are working hard ... but I couldn't be comfortable with that. Obviously I want to play and I want to be ready for next game. We'll see what happens, but I'm just always ready."
Averaging 10 minutes, 27 seconds per game makes it tough to generate offense.
"It is hard," Yakupov said. "Not even 10 (minutes). I don't want to talk about it. I try to take everything they gave me. I'm not going to complain, I'm not going to bitch on my teammates or my coach. I'm not that kind of person who is going to fight and be bitching about minutes. I try to do my best every shift and to stay alive playing more. I'm really happy how I played, the way I played. I couldn't say anything bad about it. I want to be comfortable about it, like the way I play, but obviously I want to improve my game, I want to get better every day in the practice and the game day. I'm always ready, but you know, it's life, it's hockey, nothing you can do about it, it's part of the business. But yeah, I want to play, but again, I'm not going to cry or talk about it. I'm going to be ready for next step."
Rattie was also assigned to the Wolves on Monday as part of a conditioning loan.
"He has to play. You can't be a skill guy and sit on the sidelines because when it's your turn, we don't expect him to knock people out of the box physically, but he's got to be sharp physically and mentally. Going down and playing 20 minutes down there is going to really do nothing but help him."
* Lindbohm to play -- It's only been five games, but it's time for Petteri Lindbohm, as he's done in the past, to step in and be a contributor for the Blues.
Lindbohm, recalled on Monday from the Chicago Wolves in light of the injury to defenseman Joel Edmundson (upper body, placed on injured-reserve and will miss minimum of three weeks before being reevaluated), will step into the lineup when the Blues (7-4-2) host the Blackhawks (9-3-1) on NBCSN's Wednesday Night Rivalry Game of the Week.
"It's good to be back," Lindbohm said after practice Tuesday. "I came in (Monday) night, we had a good dinner with Jori (Lehtera). Good practice this morning and it's good to be back."
Wih Robert Bortuzzo (lower-body injury) not skating with the team yet (he's skating on his own with trainers), Lindbohm will play.
"He's on his own right now," Hitchcock said of Bortuzzo. "He's working with the trainers, he's not with us yet. Until he joins us, then we don't really have a exact timeframe. He's again tomorrow with the trainers and then we'll see maybe later in the week he can join us."
Lindbohm, who sustained an upper-body injury of his own with the Wolves, played two games before getting hurt, but has since returned to play three games.
"He's played really well," Hitchcock said of Lindbohm. "He got hurt when he went down there and the last three games, he's played really well. We like him, we like him a lot. He's a good fit for us. We're going to need him right now.
"'Borts' is going to skate again tomorrow. We don't know what that time-frame is. Obviously Eddy's out for what, three weeks minimum. We'll see where that goes, but we're going to need him. We need him as a good player right now. The thing is (Lindbohm's) going to get to play his natural side. That's the best part. He's going to get to play on the natural side and this time, he gets to fit in. Him and Colton have had a lot of history together. They were in Chicago together and they played well together. It'll be a good sign."
Lindbohm, who had no points with the Wolves, feels like he's 100 percent and ready to go.
"I went there and got a little upper-body injury, but I'm good now," Lindbohm said. "I feel good on the ice. I've been practicing hard the last week. I think I'm ready to go.
"... The things I do on the ice is more like the basic stuff. It's play solid D and I think I can do it really well whenever I need to do it. It's going to be a tough game, it's going to be fun for sure. We play always hard against them and it's going to be exciting."
* Blues to face tough test -- The Blackhawks have won six in a row since starting the season with consecutive losses (including a 5-2 defeat in Chicago to the Blues on opening night) and present the Blues with a tough test.
The Blackhawks, who have earned a point in eight straight games (7-0-1), have not lost in regulation since a 3-2 defeat at Columbus on Oct. 21.
"Yeah, when you've got those impact players that they have, you know they're going to get it turned around quick," Hitchcock said. "They did that. They've got a lot of guys playing top of their game right now.
"Well, the whole week is a tough test. Two division games, good teams, Chicago's playing well, we're playing well. It should be a heck of a hockey game."
Hitchcock noted that the Blackhawks had a number of players at the World Cup and it took them some time to adjust with no training camp and already playing a lot of games without getting acclimated with teammates.
"I just think with World Cup and no training camp and just getting used to people, I think it's the same with our guys," Hitchcock said. "We've got some of our guys that were in the World Cup that are in a different gear now than they were 10 games ago, two weeks ago. I think people don't recognize how much the World Cup takes out of you and how big the grind is and how long it is and how demanding it is. You start the year and you feel like you've played four months of hockey already and it's hard, it's hard for players. Once they get used to getting into the rhythm of playing again and practicing and the whole thing, then you start to play. You look at the players that had slow starts, I'll bet you 90 percent of them were connected to the World Cup. A lot of those guys are going now."
* Allen to start Wednesday -- Jake Allen will oppose Corey Crawford in the Blues-Blackhawks matchup, as if there was any debate whether it would be the team's No. 1 goalies.
Allen's numbers back him up so far much better at home than on the road. He is 3-0-1 with a 0.98 goals-against average and .959 save percentage with one shutout at Scottrade Center but just 2-3-1 with a 3.42 GAA and .864 save percentage on the road.