Saturday, December 3, 2016

(12-3-16) Jets-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- The last time the Blues made a prominent player a healthy scratch (Robby Fabbri), it made a difference.

They're hoping the same happens for center Jori Lehtera, who will sit out today's 6 p.m. game against the Winnipeg Jets (FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM).

Lehtera will be a healthy scratch for the first time this season and in his career in a move coach Ken Hitchcock said is a situation the Blues (14-7-3 and winners of seven of the past eight) feel they need more from that position.

"We just need more from that position," Hitchcock said. "That's a three position or a two position. It doesn't matter who grabs it, we need more from that position. And we don't need more points, we need more playing through the competition. So whoever grabs it, whether it's 'Bergy' (Patrik Berglund) or whatever I decide, 'Lets' will go back in right away here, but we just need more from that position. We need more definition, more identity, more determination, whatever. We need to know that that position on our team is a very important position and we need to see the other team pay more attention to it.

"... He's a really effective player, when he plays the way he can play, he's a really effective player. But we saw it at the start of this year and we haven't seen it since he came back from the injury. So we've got to see it at a higher level."

With Lehtera out, Nail Yakupov, a healthy scratch in eight of the past 13 games, will step back in and play with Berglund and Dmitrij Jaskin in an ever-going battle to find consistency from that line.

"He's had three good practices," Hitchcock said of Yakupov. "He's getting better at understanding what it's like to be a player on this team. I've seen a real emergence here in the last three practices where the things that are important for us are becoming very important for him."

Which are?

"Positional, structure, spacing, all those coach words," Hitchcock said. "But we're starting to see it now, so it's a real good sign."

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Blues goalie Carter Hutton will get the start tonight, the first in four games and second in the past nine.

Hutton, who is 2-4-0 with a 2.98 goals-against average and .891 save percentage this season, will give starter Jake Allen a breather.

Allen has won his past seven starts and is 9-0-2 on home ice but has allowed 10 goals the past three games.

"Jake's been outstanding," Hutton said. "It's obviously nice to get the nod and I couldn't be more excited to get in there."

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It's the first meeting between the Blues and Jets (11-13-2), who are 2-6-0 the past eight games. 

And it's the first chance for the Blues to get to see in person rookie Patrik Laine, the No. 2 overall pick in this past summer's NHL Draft.

Laine is second in the NHL in goals (15) behind Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby.

"Whoo boy, he's right at the top," Hitchcock said of Laine. "Watching him play against (Connor) McDavid, you wish somebody would give us last place just for a week. He's impressive. That line, I told people after the World Cup, I knew (Mark) Scheifele would go up to another level. He was dominant against men. I knew he was going to go to another level. But to see those three guys play together, if you just make a little mistake through the neutral zone, they're gone on you. They've got the ability to create instant offense off of anything: 3 on 3, 2 on 2, 3 on 2, they just create it right away and there's always a quality scoring chance. When you've got to players with that skill set that can play at that top speed, it's dangerous. You can't afford to make mistakes against those top two lines. With (Bryan) Little back in there now, they've got a lot of dynamite on the first six forwards."

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Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko is tearing it up right now.

Tarasenko, who missed practice Friday but will play tonight, has nine goals and nine assists in 11 of the past 13 games.

"There wouldn't be too many teams in the National Hockey League that don't have a special player," Jets coach Paul Maurice said. "His ability to get it off his stick, change directions ... there's a shooter over in Russia named Sergei Mozyakin is almost the same look. He leads the KHL in the history of scoring. ... The longer (Tarasenko) has the puck and the longer that lane is open for him, the chances increase drastically. All the standard stuff you get in a great player, time and space, keep the puck out of his hands and make sure there's not a lot of open people around him."

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The Blues' projected lineup:

Jaden Schwartz-Paul Stastny-David Perron

Robby Fabbri-Alexander Steen-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

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

Healthy scratches will be Jori Lehtera and Ty Rattie. Joel Edmundson (upper body) is out but close.

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The Jets' projected lineup:

Nikolaj Ehlers-Mark Scheifele-Patrik Laine

Drew Stafford-Bryan Little-Blake Wheeler

Mathieu Perreault-Adam Lowry-Brandon Tanev

Marko Dano-Andrew Copp-Chris Thorburn

Josh Morrissey-Dustin Byfuglien

Toby Enstrom-Jacob Trouba

Ben Chiarot-Paul Postma

Michael Hutchinson will start in goal; Connor Hellebuyck will be the backup.

Healthy scratches include Alexander Burmistrov, Kyle Connor and Mark Stuart. Joel Armia (lower body), Shawn Matthias (lower body), Tyler Myers (lower body) and Nic Petan (lower body) are all out.

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