Tuesday, December 28, 2010

(12-28-10) Blackhawks-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- Blues fans have been clamoring for a goal-scorer to help a offensively-challenged lineup. None had been forthcoming for almost half of this season.

But Blues general manager Doug Armstrong hopes the signing of former Colorado forward Marek Svatos to a one-year, two-way contract can help solve some of the much-needed goal scoring.

Svatos, a former 32- and 26-goal scorer with the Avalanche, was reportedly signed to a $800,000 NHL contract and $105,000 AHL deal but he must clear waivers first after getting out of his Kontinental Hockey League contract in Russia.

Svatos played with Omsk and tallied eight points in 19 games but must clear waivers by 11 a.m. Wednesday to officially become a member of the Blues.

"We've competed against him, we've seen him compete for a number of years in Denver," Armstrong said of Svatos. "He's got offensive capabilities, he's a good power play player, he's very good on the half boards. He's a player that isn't afraid to go into the hard areas to produce offense. It seemed like a gamble for us that was worth taking when we found out he wanted to come back and give the NHL a try.

"This isn't a stopgap thing. If he plays the way we hope he can play, then we'll find out if there's a long-term fit."

The Blues are starving for goals, since they've been playing a large portion of the season without injured forwards Andy McDonald, David Perron and T.J. Oshie.

"Good inside skill, competitive skill, a guy who can get to areas and get to tough areas, get great intention to shoot the puck," Blues coach Davis Payne said. "We'll make more firm comments after the next 24 hours go by."

Svatos, who went unsigned this past summer and opted for a deal with the KHL, said his signing with the Blues came together over the last couple days and a deal was hammered out quickly.

"My agent was talking to some teams and the Blues came forward," Svatos said before the Blues faced the Chicago Blackhawks tonight. "... I left Russia to be on this team.

"The team has some injuries. Hopefully I can help the team win some games and I'm going to try to put the puck in the net. Hopefully, they picked me to help the team so hopefully I can do that."

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville coached Svatos in Colorado and says the Blues have a nice player.

"He's got a quick stick, he's a real tricky player, dangerous 1 on 1, great around the net, great shot, quick hands ... he's a real good goal-scorer, a dangerous player," Quenneville said. "... He's a useful player. On the power play, he can help them in a lot of ways."

Svatos took part in Tuesday's morning skate with the team but wouldn't be eligible to play until Friday against Phoenix.

"I'm very thankful for the opportunity," Svatos said. "I left Russia to play for St. Louis and I'm really looking forward to it. I'm very thankful to get back to the NHL and get my career back on track."

- - -

The news on Oshie beginning to skate last week traveled fast, about as fast as Oshie's recovery from a broken left ankle is taking.

Oshie, who suffered the injury Nov. 10 at Columbus, has been skating on a daily basis -- aside from the Christmas holiday -- but in recent days has been skating harder and harder.

Armstrong, who said he's been pleasantly surprised by Oshie's rapid healing time, announced the Blues have upped Oshie's timeframe to at or around the all-star game, which would put it 2-3 weeks ahead of schedule.

"He's progressing real well," Armstrong said of Oshie. "We're shooting for around the all-star game, which is the end of January. That's a little bit ahead of schedule. I think three months was going to be Feb. 10th, so he's pushed it a hair ahead of that. He's working hard."

Oshie, who says he'll continue to skate on a daily basis,

"It feels good out there," Oshie said. "I've been ripping around pretty good. Obviously my leg's not as strong as it was before, but things are going well. I'm doing what I can and when things get too intense, I pull back a little bit. It's going real well.

"The doctors kind of told me a timeframe. ... I've kept telling them it feels better, but I still really took it slow. I think that's paid off. Now it's feeling great and a little earlier than expected."

Armstrong mentioned Oshie's attitude as a big reason for his speedy recovery.

"He's really taken care of himself. He's worked hard off the ice," Armstrong said. "... He's a quick healer. That's good to know moving forward too.

"I think a lot of it has to do with his attitude too. His attitude is unbelievable. He's here every day, he's working hard, he's got a smile on his face. He's really pushing his teammates to hang in there, to battle through."

To which Oshie replied, "Maybe staying positive helps a little bit. It definitely helps the mental side. I'm no doctor or anything like that, but if anything like that carries into the physical stuff, I'll definitely do what I can."

Oshie still has a way to go, but the news is encouraging for the Blues.

"Range of motion's a big thing," Oshie said. "Altering my skates so that it feels good on my foot. Other than that, everything's feeling pretty good right now. Just getting stronger and getting back in shape."

"With his work ethic and his healing and the way he's been, we're confident somewhere around the all-star break is a realistic goal for us," Armstrong said.

- - -

While the news is good on Oshie, the report on concussed players McDonald and Perron is "status quo," according to Armstrong.

"They're still not symptom-free," Armstrong said of McDonald and Perron. "Unfortunately, there's really not much more to report except they're not symptom-free. When they become symptom-free and once they go through the protocol and pass all the tests and get ready to go back on the ice, I think that's when we can update it.

"I really don't want to create any false hope but also get people thinking that they're not coming back either because we're just not sure of that situation. Until they're symptom-free, they're status quo."

Armstrong says the Blues are prepared to move on without Perron, out since Nov. 4, and McDonald, out since Dec. 4.

"It's a lot for the players in the room right now," Armstrong said. "They have to move forward with the group that's here. With David and Andy and concussions, our thoughts are with them every day, but we as an organization have to prepare to move on. We're going to be pleasantly surprised when they come in and say they're symptom-free and they've passed all the necessary tests and they're ready to get back on the ice with their teammates."

- - -

The Blues (18-12-5), winners of three straight, are going with Ty Conklin in goal tonight against the Blackhawks (20-14-3), winners of four in a row and the team that knocked in seven goals on 24 shots in the teams' last meeting, a 7-5 Chicago victory on Nov. 30.

The move may come as surprise considering Jaroslav Halak is coming off two straight wins, including a 32-save shutout over Nashville Sunday. He's 2-0 with a 1.50 goals-against average and .957 save percentage in those two games.

"Just like in any situation where a guy doesn't have success, the best medicine is to get back out there and get back up on that horse and get to playing again," Payne said. "His last game was very good in Atlanta and we expect him to continue that."

- - -

Armstrong is also pleased with what he's hearing from reports about Blues prospect Vladimir Tarasenko.

Tarasenko, the team's second first-round pick over the summer (16th overall), has been playing in the KHL with Novosibirsk Siber, where he has 16 points (eight goals) in 35 games.

Tarasenko is currently playing for Russia in the World Junior Championships.

"We're hoping to get him for camp here next year," Armstrong said. "That's the goal ... or over here to train in the summer and be a part of the training blocks that the players partake in."

The Blues cannot talk to Tarasenko during the KHL season, and once the season ends, they can't talk to him until the World Championships come to a close either, the reason Armstrong says next summer is the earliest the Blues can get their hands on him.

- - -

The Blues did not mess with their forward lines this morning:

Vladimir Sobotka-David Backes-Matt D'Agostini

Alex Steen-Patrik Berglund-B.J. Crombeen

Brad Winchester-Jay McClement-Brad Boyes

Chris Porter-Adam Cracknell-Cam Janssen

However, the d-pairings saw the following:

Eric Brewer-Roman Polak

Barret Jackman-Alex Pietrangelo

Carlo Colaiacovo-Erik Johnson

Ty Conklin
is 7-5-0 with a 3.20 goals-against average and .893 save percentage in his career against Chicago.

- - -

The Hawks, who got winger Marian Hossa back from injury over the weekend, will get another boost with the addition of Patrick Kane (ankle) to the lineup tonight.

"I'm pretty happy about it," Kane said. "I'm skating, shooting and everything's fine. I'll just see how it is during the game but I think right now, it's probably as good as it's going to get for a while. I'll probably have to deal with it for a bit, but that's another thing I'll have to worry about."

Kane, who has 27 points in 28 games, is excited about getting back to the Blues-Blackhawks rivalry, something he feels will stick for a long time.

"I think the rivalry's pretty good to be honest with you right now," Kane said. "We know as players, it's probably one of the toughest that we're going to play. They play really hard against us. Every time you play them, it's always going to be a hard-fought battle. It's probably going to be the same tonight. ... I think it's going to be a good rivalry for a long time because you look at both teams, they're pretty young."

- - -

The Hawks are expected to roll out the following lines:

Troy Brouwer-Jonathan Toews-Patrick Kane

Tomas Kopecky-Patrick Sharp-Marian Hossa

Bryan Bickell-Dave Bolland-Jack Skille

John Scott-Jake Dowell-Viktor Stalberg

D-pairings include:

Duncan Keith-Brent Seabrook

Niklas Hjalmarsson-Brian Campbell

Nick Boynton-Jassen Cullimore

Marty Turco
, 11-9-3 with a 2.48 GAA and .902 save percentage in his career against the Blues, gets the start for Corey Crawford, who's been battling the flu.

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