By LOU KORAC
CHICAGO -- The record speaks volumes, but each team feels like it should stand on its own merit.
For the Blues (31-24-5), who return from their bye week today when they play the rival Chicago Blackhawks (38-18-5) at 6:30 p.m. (NBCSN, KMOX 1120-AM), they try and go against the grain and improve on the record of teams coming off a bye week, which was 7-14-4 coming into Sunday.
"I think the break is good for every team. I think it's going to be good for us," defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "This is the challenge of it is the first game back. I think when we look later down this eek, that's when we're going to start to see how the break pays off. The aspect of getting thrown into a tough environment like this against a team that's really playing very well right now. That's the challenge and I think we're going to have to make sure that we're not trying to overextend ourselves, we're not trying to do anything that's not in our DNA. If we get caught up in that game, that's where we fall into trouble. We have to play hard. It's going to be a game that it's not going to be a blowout. We have to make sure that we know that and we have to make sure that the small things are what's going to help us win this game tonight.
"It feels like the beginning of the season almost. We always seem to have to bring our 'A' game against these guys, and especially in this building. It feels like we have that anticipation and that anxiousness again."
Not the most idea of opponents for the Blues to return against, since Chicago has won eight of nine and scored four or more goals in each of those eight victories. But it is what it is, which is as cliche as it comes, but the Blues can't do anything about it but go and play.
"Coming out of the break, we try and get ourselves in as many game-like situations as possible at practice," coach Mike Yeo said. "A lot more 5-on-5 situational scrimmage type of stuff compared to a regular practice for us to try and get the timing back, to try and get the execution and the battle back. It's not something that you can replicate, it's not something that you can just draw up for the players and all of the sudden, it's back. I don't expect things to be perfect off the hop and I expect a team like Chicago, they're smart enough to know that, to sniff that out and they're going to look to get after us quickly. We're going to have to be ready for that."
The break may have been good for players from both a physical and mental standpoint, there's that helpless feeling of sitting idly and not being able to do anything about helping one's own cause in the standings.
The Blues went from being three points in front of Nashville for third place in the Central Division to two points back, and the Predators could make it four with a win this afternoon, when the puck drops tonight.
"That's a weird feeling seeing the scores come in every night, seeing other teams in our division winning and winning and winning," Shattenkirk said. "That's tough. We're used to that in our division. It seems like the past few years whenever a team has a day off, the other teams in our division seem to take advantage of that and get themselves back in the race. In a way, it's all going to help us tonight and make us focus."
"We knew that that was going to happen," Yeo said. "That could work for you and that could work against you. My advice is take what's very short and what's very in front of us. If you look at too big of a picture and start looking at what other teams are doing in the standings, then you start to lose a little focus on yourself. For me, it's more about where we're at today and that was our focus yesterday. We wanted to have a good practice, we wanted to get back to work. Today, we come in, we start preparing. We start watching some video and obviously we get back on the horse here, we get back into the grind."
That's why the Blues will try to get locked in quickly when the puck drops.
"We know what the other records are, but we don't care about that," right wing David Perron said. "We're going to play our game and we know they're on a good streak. It's just a bigger challenge for us. I think we'll be ready to go."
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If you haven't seen the video, go check it out.
Chicago Wolves defenseman Vince Dunn, the Blues' second-round pick in 2015, was involved in quite the frackas on Saturday night against the Minnesota Wild farm team, the Iowa Wild.
It all started when Dunn took a stick to the face from Iowa ruffian Kurtis Gabriel in the final moments of the third period. Dunn and Gabriel fought, along with Chicago's Scooter Vaughn and Iowa's Nick Seeler.
All players were given fighting majors and their walking papers for the rest of the night, but as Dunn and Gabriel exited the ice, they did so in the same runway, and things escalated quickly again as Gabriel continued to confront Dunn, who was obviously trying to lay it to rest.
But Gabriel grabbed Dunn and gave him a jab, and that's when the Blues' prospect, at 6-foot and 185 pounds, lined the 6-4, 211-pound Ganriel with one punch and knocked him to the ground: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zTfQ-37wpgQ.
Blues forward Magnus Paajarvi, who was recalled Saturday night from the Wolves, has been a teammate of Dunn's a lot this season and applauded the Blues' prospect.
"I probably wouldn't have guessed he'd fight in the hallway, but at least from the video, Gabriel came to him," Paajarvi said. "He defended himself. Good for him."
The two teams were to face off again this afternoon at 3 p.m., and it's been reported Gabriel has been suspended until further investigation into the incident. There was no word as of early this afternoon whether there would be any discipline for Dunn.
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Paajarvi will be in the lineup after being assigned to the Wolves after Monday's game against the Florida Panthers. Paajarvi played one game on Wednesday in Chicago and continued to skate. He did not play in Saturday night's game.
"He's done a good job," Yeo said of Paajarvi. "He deserves to be in the lineup tonight. He deserves to continue to play. For me, it's just a matter of making sure that he keeps that hunger that he came up with. If he does that, then I don't see a reason why he can't continue to play at a high level."
It seemed like a foregone conclusion that Paajarvi, who has three goals and one assist in 10 games with the Blues this season, would be back up, but ...
"You never count on anything," Paajarvi said. "I've been around long enough now, but I stayed ready and they told me yesterday. Go downtown and check in at the hotel with the team and be ready for (tonight)."
And he certainly didn't need to benefit from a bye week.
"I was out six weeks down there (due to injury)," Paajarvi said. "That's a long bye week for me. It didn't bother me at all. We've got 22 games left. I've got lots of energy. Skating is good right now."
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The persistent flip-flop between Carl Gunnarsson and Robert Bortuzzo continues tonight.
Gunnarsson is back in with Shattenkirk and Bortuzzo will be a healthy scratch, the eighth straight game the two have alternated games.
It's not the most ideal of situations, but it's one the two of them will have to live with until the coaches decide who will play on a regular basis.
"I don't think either 'Borts' or I want that, but that's the situation we're in," Gunnarsson said. "There's not much else to do but make the best out of it. Obviously you'd like to play every game, but if the coaches decide that we're going to be in and out like that, we'll try to kind of outplay each other because we're the two guys going in and out. Both of us have been playing well at the end and want to make it a tough decision for the coaches.
"It is more mentally getting prepared for games and stuff. Now we've been doing it for a bit, so I mean we're getting a little used to it. At the start, it was tough. You have a good game and hopefully you're in the next one, then you're out, you're in. It's a little weird, but we've been doing it for a little bit. We've kind of got the hang of it, I guess."
And that decision hasn't been made as of yet.
"I'm not sure yet, to be honest with you," Yeo said. "We had a plan and now we'll just keep re-evaluating. Every day is just going to be a new day, whether it's based on the opponent, whether it's based on previous games and how they played, obviously we're going to make the decisions that we need to make for the group right now."
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Dmitrij Jaskin will mark his return to the lineup for the first time since Feb. 11 against Montreal and just the third time in the past 12 games.
Jaskin is in the lineup most likely due to Ivan Barbashev (upper body) being day to day after hurting his neck/head with the Wolves on Wednesday.
Jaskin has just one goal and 10 points in 41 games this season, but this gives him a chance to make an impression.
"The easy thing to do is to look at the stat sheet and say we need goals, we need assists and all that kind of stuff," Yeo said. "For me, those things will come when his game gets consistent. I refer to the identity of a player a lot for a young player. He needs a role and he needs an identity. I believe that he can have that. You look at his strengths and what they are, and obviously size, puck protection, the ability get to the net, hands around the net, these are things that should be the foundation of his game, but he needs to find a way to get there. It's a matter of how you execute from your zone and how you defend without the puck to make sure you give yourself the chance to get to that game and when you do get there, you're real strong in it."
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The Blues' projected lineup:
Alexander Steen-Paul Stastny-Vladimir Tarasenko
Jaden Schwartz-Patrik Berglund-David Perron
Dmitrij Jaskin-Jori Lehtera-Magnus Paajarvi
Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Reaves
Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo
Carl Gunnarsson-Kevin Shattenkirk
Joel Edmundson-Colton Parayko
Jake Allen will start in goal; Carter Hutton will be the backup.
Nail Yakupov and Robert Bortuzzo will be healthy scratches. Robby Fabbri (ACL) is out for the season.
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The Blackhawks' projected lineup:
Nick Schmaltz-Jonathan Toews-Richard Panik
Artemi Panarin-Artem Anisimov-Patrick Kane
Tomas Jurco-Marcus Kruger-Marian Hossa
Ryan Hartman-Tanner Kero-Andrew Desjardins
Duncan Keith-Trevor van Riemsdyk
Michal Kempny-Brent Seabrook
Brian Campbell-Michal Rozsival
Scott Darling will start in goal; Lars Johansson is expected to be the backup, but the Blackhawks' AHL affiliate Rockford is on the west coast and could have trouble getting Johansson here.
Dennis Rasmussen is a healthy scratch. Corey Crawford was scheduled to start but is out due to illness. Niklas Hjalmarsson (upper body) is out and Jordin Tootoo (sick) is out.