By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The Blues riding the hot hand, and that means Carter Hutton will get a third straight start when the Blues return to Scottrade Center for a quick two-game homestand beginning today against the Ottawa Senators (7 p.m.; FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM).
Hutton, who has won four straight starts and is 4-0-2 in his last six starts (he's played in eight of the past 10 games) including back-to-back wins over the weekend in wins over San Jose (4-0) and Anaheim (2-1 in overtime), has stopped 45 of the past 46 shots.
"Personally my game, I feel like I've stood by myself the whole time," said Hutton, who is 6-5-2 on the season with a 2.53 goals-against average and .905 save percentage. "I don't think it's been as bad as it seems. ... I feel like I've been pretty confident. I stick by in what I've said (about) myself. At the same time, in this team I think in this dressing room have a lot of confidence in whoever's in net To be a successful team you have to have two goalies that play and for us we're just trying to get points now. Whether it's him or I playing, it doesn't matter, we're a team and we're going to stick in this together."
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said Hutton deserves the net right now.
"He gives you a chance to win," Hitchcock said. "Your goaltending, especially on the road, has to make saves early, he did it in both games, especially the game in San Jose. The first five minutes they were on top of us pretty hard. He made three big saves, gave us a chance to engage in the game and we took it from there. When your goalie's giving you a chance to win and he's making saves early in the game, I think your whole team gets invigorated. It's a good sign for us."
That means Jake Allen, who has been pulled in his past two starts and three of the past five (one due to precaution because of injury), will continue to refocus and get his game back while working with goalie coach Jim Corsi.
"From a coaching standpoint, the big picture means 10:30 tonight," Hitchcock said jokingly. "Right now, whoever we feel is giving us a chance to win, we're going with. And when that runs dry, we'll go the other direction. Right now, 'Hutts' has played well, he's earned the right to keep playing and we'll continue to play him as long as he continues to play well. If we feel we need to go another direction, we'll go that way. Right now, in the second half of the season, this is about getting points and getting wins.
"Tryout time is over. He's the guy that got two wins and we want to keep going with him and if he plays really well tonight then we'll look at that again. The time for giving a chance to people is over. You've got to earn your right to play and no matter where you were at the start of the year, no matter what your positioning was you have to earn the right to keep playing. Huts has earned that right to keep playing so we'll go with him. Jake is going to get his chance too and we hope he takes advantage of this off time. He's worked really hard with Jimmy in the technical aspects but then you just have to get in the net and start competing after a while."
But make no mistake, when the goalie makes saves, especially early on, it resonates throughout the team.
"He's seeing that the team needs it right now," Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said of Hutton. "In my mind, he's been playing well all year. The wins and losses may not indicate that, but he's been playing really solid for us. It's just been good to see him get rewarded now with the last couple games because he's made some big saves for us, he's had to come in a lot of tough games when we're down by a few goals and relieve Jake, but he's had a positive mindset every time he's come in and I think that's infectious in the team as well when we see a guy come in upbeat in the situation that we've been in the last couple weeks has been refreshing for us. More than anything, he's been working really hard and I think that's even better."
It's becoming a similar situation to what the Blues had with Allen and Brian Elliott the past couple seasons.
"We all know in here what it's like to have that sort of competition in the locker room," Shattenkirk said. "I think it's healthy for a team and I think those two guys don't hold anything against each other and we don't hold Jake accountable for really anything. He's someone we have total confidence in and we let him deal with it as he likes to. But for Carter to be playing well right now, it's a good push for him, it's a good way to kick him in the butt and get him going and I think that's something we've had here the last couple years with our goalies. That's what's made it so successful; it's such a big part of our team. It's what we've had throughout our lineup. Guys coming in and when you get taken out of the lineup, it might be a while before you get a chance to play again. That's good for any team in my mind."
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Blues center Patrik Berglund is supplying offense for the Blues (23-16-5) at the right time, and in doing so, will also obtain a milestone tonight.
Berglund, who has nine goals the past 14 games -- including both goals Sunday at Anaheim -- after just one in 30 to begin the season, will play in his 600th NHL game, and all with the team that drafted him in the first round in 2006.
Berglund, who has 10 goals and seven assists in 44 games, has 138 goals and 141 assists in 599 games after the Blues chose him with the 25th pick, the same year they selected defenseman Erik Johnson No. 1 overall.
"That means a lot to me to be here nine years and playing 600 games with the same organization is a big thing for me for sure," Berglund said. "... For me, I think it's really cool that you've been playing that many games for the same team. Hopefully I can give many more."
Berglund's offense comes at a time when the Blues, who haven't had issues scoring for the most part, need contributions from all four lines, and getting scoring from the third line is extremely essential.
"It's a lot of fun to be on the scoresheet obviously," Berglund said. "I feel like I've just been playing the same way; it's just the puck has been bouncing in. Hopefully we can keep this going.
"... I've been around the net probably a bit more and the puck will be around there and chances will come. That's something that I've been focusing on too, to be around the net more obviously, so that's been a good thing."
Although Berglund doesn't feel like his game has changed, Hitchcock said it has.
"It's changed a lot," Hitchcock said. "What's changed is the consistent level. There's no drop off in the emotion of the game, he's consistently competing at a high level for the 60 minutes. There's no dropoff and that's why, quite frankly, if you look at his goals, a lot of them are late in the game. Third period scoring chances, the last one in overtime, he just stays with it longer now than he ever has and it's held him in good stead. He's been a real good player for us because he's stayed with it for an extended period of time. He has not gotten discouraged at all and that diligence and that work has made him a real good player for us right now."
Shattenkirk has been a teammate of Berglund's since 2011 and doesn't feel like it's been that long of a run for the Swede.
"No, it's whenever he talks about how many years he's been here and it seems like he's an old man," Shattenkirk joked. "One, for the most part, he's been able to stay healthy with the exception of last year and I think he plays a big, hard game, but we couldn't be happier. With the way he's been playing lately has been tremendous. He's been a huge boost to our team. Six-hundred is quite an accomplishment. In the old CBA, he'd be getting his own room now I think on the road and a pretty sweet jacket.
"... He's just playing confident. He's accepted his role. I think that with the way our centers shake out now, he's been kind of bumped around a little bit. Last year he was a little bit of a winger, a little bit of a center. He was kind of asked different things to do. This year, we ask him to just be a solid, solid center for us and I think he realized now he gets into some favorable matchups, especially offensively. You get a guy like (David) Perron on his line, they possess the puck well and it wears teams down. We see him battle in corners, guys can't move him off the puck and when he feels that, I think he starts to get going and takes some chances and it usually pays off."
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The Blues will try to make it three in a row for the first time since winning three straight from Nov. 26-Dec. 1.
Back-to-back wins at San Jose and Anaheim on back-to-back days were a welcomed sight since it had been a month and a half since the Blues were able to string together two straight wins, and since teams behind them are pushing in the standings, it's essential to try and gain some separation.
"Going back to helping out each other, working for each other, good forechecks and also we're tracking back hard so we're helping the 'D' out so we can turn the game around on the opponents," Berglund said. "It's gritty play and the competition has been way better throughout the whole lineup and if you're going to win in this league, you've got to compete really hard. Especially the last two games, we've been doing that."
Hutton added: "It was a tough road trip. Obviously California, it's a lot of travel and a lot of good teams out there. We did a good job of taking two of three. Obviously great to be back home."
Even in the 5-1 loss to the Los Angeles Kings to begin the trip, the Blues felt like they started to turn the corner.
"We really committed to our game," Shattenkirk said. "The LA game, we did some pretty well things in LA, but it seemed like every scoring chance they had against us they scored on and before we knew it, we were down by four goals. That's impossible to come back from against a team like that who's so good defensively. We went to the San Jose game with a really good mindset and with a working mindset. We had everyone committed to our game and I think once we saw that, we saw how successful we were against San Jose, one of the better teams in this league, I think it was a little eye-opening for us to say, 'Let's take this into Anaheim and see if we can do the same thing.' We were successful there, too.
"... We definitely focused on bringing a worker's mindset to both games and it was getting pucks in deep, it was simplifying and especially on the road, you have to do those types of things in pretty hostile environments. We knew we were playing against two teams that are also very good offensively. We stayed out of the box for the most part and didn't hand them any freebies. We came in with a little different mindset and were able to use that to our advantage."
But hitting the reset button was needed.
"Yeah, but we also started to do some really good things in that game, too," Berglund said. "We were actually talking about it and we carried that on to San Jose and kept it going in Anaheim. We did start to do some good things in LA game; it didn't turn out the way we wanted, but at least that was a little bit of a start but also we reset it as well. We brought some good stuff with us."
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The Blues lost defenseman Brad Hunt, who was placed on waivers Monday, to the Nashville Predators, who made a claim.
Hunt had five points in nine games, including his only goal against the Predators on Dec. 13.
"Not really because he's such a good person and a good player," Hitchcock said when asked if it was disappointed to see Hunt go. "When you see a guy get an extended stay in the National Hockey League because he deserves it, it's good. Seeing him go to Nashville hurts a little bit but he's earned the right to play more games in the National Hockey League and I think everyone in that room is happy for him. He's a good person and he's a good player. We're deep there, obviously organizational-wise, and we wish him luck."
The move was necessary with the Blues holding seven healthy defensemen now that Carl Gunnarsson, who will be a healthy scratch tonight, back after missing the past six with a lower-body injury. And since the Blues kept Hunt on the roster for more than 30 days, waivers were required to try and get him back to the Chicago Wolves.
"He surprised me in preseason," Shattenkirk said of Hunt. "That's when I took a step back and said, 'Wow, this kid's good.' He came here and the best part about when he got here was he didn't change anything. He realized he was being extremely successful in the AHL because he was playing the way he knows how to play, and when he came here, I got to see it firsthand with him a bunch. He didn't change one bit of that and that's hard to do when you get called up. Offensive guys need to do that. They need to stay aggressive and obviously he had a good game there against Nashville and it paid off; it helps."
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Center Paul Stastny has six points (three goals, three assists) the past six games.
Right wing Alexander Steen has two goals and five assists the past seven games.
Left wing Jaden Schwartz has an assist in each of the past four games.
The Blues will stick with the same lineup, so left wing Scottie Upshall will be a healthy scratch for a third straight game and Dmitrij Jaskin stays on the fourth line.
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The Blues' projected lineup:
Jaden Schwartz-Paul Stastny-Alexander Steen
Nail Yakupov-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko
Robby Fabbri-Patrik Berglund-David Perron
Dmitrij Jaskin-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Reaves
Alex Pietrangelo-Colton Parayko
Jay Bouwmeester-Kevin Shattenkirk
Joel Edmundson-Robert Bortuzzo
Carter Hutton will start in goal; Jake Allen will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Scottie Upshall and Carl Gunnarsson. The Blues report no injuries.
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The Senators' projected lineup:
Zack Smith-Derick Brassard-Mark Stone
Ryan Dzingel-Kyle Turris-Bobby Ryan
Mike Hoffman-Jean-Gabriel Pageau-Tom Pyatt
Chris Kelly-Curtis Lazar-Chris Neil
Marc Methot-Erik Karlsson
Dion Phaneuf-Cody Ceci
Mark Borowiecki-Chris Wideman
Mike Condon will start in goal; Chris Driedger will be the backup.
The healthy scratch includes Fredrik Claesson. Andrew Hammond (ankle) and Clarke MacArthur (concussion) are out with injuries. Goalie Craig Anderson is out on personal leave attending to his wife Nicholle, who is battling cancer.