By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- After blowing a three-goal lead to end a four-game trip that finished 1-3-0, the Blues come back to familiar and successful ground at home in search of another run of victories.
And par for the course, coach Ken Hitchcock has, as he's liked to put it, "thrown line combinations in a blender and see what comes out."
Dmitrij Jaskin, a healthy scratch in the 6-3 loss to the Nashville Predators on Tuesday, returns and will play with Jaden Schwartz and Paul Stastny. Jori Lehtera returns to center Robby Fabbri and Vladimir Tarasenko, and Alexander Steen drops to play with Patrik Berglund and David Perron in hopes of getting some production from a third line.
And Ryan Reaves, who was injured late in the loss to the Predators, took part in the morning skate as what appeared to be an extra player, is "probable" according to Hitchcock to play despite Nail Yakupov skating in his spot with usual fourth-line mates Scottie Upshall and Kyle Brodziak.
For Jaskin, it's an opportunity to play with top-line players.
"Overall, just the forecheck and be more physical," Jaskin said. "... It's great to be back, especially with guys like 'Stas' and 'Schwartzy.' It's going to be great.
"I think it's just struggling as a team and we need to do the right things. I guess the only way to do that or change is to scratch a couple guys. That's the only reason. I feel like I could play better, so the last few games weren't the best so I'm hoping that I'm going to bring the best."
When asked about replacing Reaves, who has two goals the past three games after none in the first 25, Hitchcock said, "Who says he's lost? He's not lost. We'll take him into tonight. He's probable to play.
"We haven't thought that far, so … we probably use another big body in there (if Reaves were ever to miss time).
Reaves was wearing a blue practice jersey instead of a white and left the morning skate early, to which Hitchcock said, "He came out with the wrong color, so we gave him a short shift."
But the Blues (16-10-4), 12-1-3 at Scottrade Center, are glad to return.
What gives them the opportunity this year to not have prolonged losing skids?
"Home games," Hitchcock said. "We're willing to look in the mirror. I think all of us know that we've got to play better on the road and we can't rely on home-cooking all the time. We've shown on the last road some of our best hockey has been in the first half of the game, and some of our poorest hockey has been in the second half of the game. So we know that's got to get fixed. But when we're at home, we've got to continue and play consistent hockey. We've been able to put a lot of pressure on teams at home, we've played with a lot of diligence and great structure, and so we've won a lot of games in the third period or the second half of games. I think we've done it because of our ability to stay with it and trust ourselves in doing that. So that's what we've got to keep doing. I think our structure and our ability to get back on plan has allowed us to have consistent record really for the last five years to be honest with you. I think we haven't had any long droughts because our players know how to get back on task and know the right way to play and they're willing to grab it."
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The Blues aren't just throwing their forward combinations into a blender. They've taken their defensive pairings and adjusted them in time for tonight also.
Jay Bouwmeester, who's played for the most part all season and most of his time in St. Louis with partner Alex Pietrangelo, will at least start off playing with Colton Parayko, and Joel Edmundson will jump in and play with Pietrangelo.
Kevin Shattenkirk and Brad Hunt, who has a point in three straight games since being recalled from the Chicago Wolves, will remain in tact.
"You know what, I think sometimes when you play together a long time, you go silent on each other," Hitchcock said. "I'm not saying this is going to be here for a long period of time. We change forwards, and we always stay with the same two guys all the time, but we change the third guy just to create different energy. But we haven't done that on defense.
"I just think opening up communication – playing with a new partner forces you to communicate and talk – and I think that's what we're trying to do. We're trying to get a higher level of communication on the ice so that we can play faster. I think the only way you play fast in the National Hockey League right now is you talk your way through things. Sometimes when you play silent, you anticipate or you hope or you just play so automatic that you're thinking the other guy is going to be there and sometimes he's not. I think we've gotten in a position where we've made some communication mistakes and whether it's for a period or a few shifts, or just to get guys to talk together in a pre-game skate like they had to today opens up a higher level of communication which I think makes you a better team."
These d-pairs have been together before, so there won't be any adjusting.
"Not much changes," Bouwmeester said. "Everyone plays together at some point. It's the same as if you change lines or partners. You've just got to communicate a little bit and talk about things and if something happens out there that you're sort of confused about, you just sort it out. It's not a big deal.
"I think it's good sometimes. You just kind of mix it up and guys get a different feel, maybe play in some different situations and that sort of thing, but we have a pretty solid group so you can mix-and-match however you want and you're still going to be able to be fine."
"I think so, it gives us a little more fluidity to matchups," he said. "A lot of teams nowadays are stacking two or three lines and with the group we have now, and the group we've had, if you can kind of spread out the matchups too, it alleviates some of the pressure.
"We've always said we can play with anyone in this group. ... (Edmundson's) a little bit of a different player. Obviously 'Bouw' can skate with the puck. Eddy's a little more defensive-minded, which is not a bad thing. Makes hard plays, makes simple plays; they both do. There shouldn't be too many adjustments."
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Jake Allen, who went on a nice 8-0-0 run, has gone cold like his teammates going 1-3-0 on the trip. He will return to be in net tonight after being lifted Tuesday; he allowed five goals on 33 shots.
It will be Allen's sixth straight start in 10 days and there was some thought to maybe giving him a rest for Carter Hutton. But Allen is 4-0-0 with a 1.00 goals-against average and .959 save percentage with two shutouts in four starts against the Devils (12-10-6).
"No, he's our guy," Hitchcock said of Allen. "He's our guy, you've got to stick with him. These are the adversity and growing pains you go through as a young starting goalie. You've got to learn to fight through this stuff, you've got to learn to battle through this stuff. It can't be just one way, you don't get to be a starting goalie without having to go through all the adversity that young guys have to go through. Sure, he's got some bumps in the road, but we trust him. We've got a lot of faith in him and for us, were going to just flat stick with him."
So how do the Blues keep him from getting overworked?
"I think you get overworked, quite frankly, if you don't manage the time away from the rink and at practice properly," Hitchcock said. "Sometimes you try to fix problems with way more work and we've made sure that we've hauled him off the ice. We haven't allowed him to overstay during practices and it's allowed him to be fresh, but we monitor it on a daily basis.
"Dealing with the pressure and responsibility that starting goalies deal with, every young guy's had to go through the stress part of that job and the good ones come out. We think he's a good one."
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The 2017 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic Ice Plant arrives at Busch Stadium today at 2:30 p.m., and the ballpark begins its transformation into an NHL ice rink.
A 53-foot trailer, world's largest mobile refrigeration unit, houses the state-of-the-art ice-making and ice-monitoring equipment used to create an NHL-caliber sheet of ice.
Blues chairman Tom Stillman, Cardinals president Bill Dewitt III and Dan Craig, the NHL vice president of facilities operations are on hand.
The Winter Classic will feature the Blues and Chicago Blackhawks on Jan. 2 at noon and Hitchcock was asked how the players are keeping a focused mind on the task at hand.
"I think what got everybody's attention is knowing that we play Chicago twice, we play them on Saturday and we obviously play them then," Hitchcock said. "We know how good those games are and how important those games are.
"I think just knowing that we've got Chicago on the weekend kind of started you thinking towards two games. It's a little bit different for us, though, because when you're playing a division opponent the game itself is equal to the pageantry that goes on. That's the biggest thing, focus on the four points that these games matter. They're important, it's not only that we're at home but they're important games because they go a long way into playoff seeding."
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Tarasenko comes into the game with a four-game point streak (one goal, six assists), 12 points (five goals, seven assists) the past eight games and 25 points (10 goals, 15 assists) the past 19 games; he's second in the NHL in scoring with 34 points (14 goals, 20 assists).
Fabbri has three goals and two assists the past four games.
The Blues are 10-0-3 the past 13 games on home ice.
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The Blues' projected lineup:
Jaden Schwartz-Paul Stastny-Dmitrij Jaskin
Robby Fabbri-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko
Alexander Steen-Patrik Berglund-David Perron
Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Reaves
Joel Edmundson-Alex Pietrangelo
Brad Hunt-Kevin Shattenkirk
Jay Bouwmeester-Colton Parayko
Jake Allen will start in goal; Carter Hutton will be the backup
Healthy scratches include Nail Yakupov and Ty Rattie. Carl Gunnarsson (lower body) and Robert Bortuzzo (lower body) are out.
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The Devils' projected lineup:
Taylor Hall-Travis Zajac-Devante Smith-Pelly
Miles Wood-Adam Henrique-Kyle Palmieri
Michael Cammalleri-Pavel Zacha-Nick Lappin
Luke Gazdic-Vernon Fiddler-Sergey Kalinin
Andy Greene-Damon Severson
Jon Merrill-Ben Lovejoy
John Moore-Kyle Quincey
Cory Schneider will start in goal; Keith Kinkaid will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include PA Parenteau, Beau Bennett and Jacob Josefson. The Devils report no injuries.