Thursday, December 2, 2010


Sobotka finding niche offensively, hopes
to stick with new line; Nikitin sent to Peoria

HAZELWOOD, Mo -- When Vladimir Sobotka was first introduced as a St. Louis Blue, he came in as a virtual unknown to these parts.

All Blues fans knew that he was a forward, specifically one who could play center, and that he was coming to St. Louis after being acquired in a trade from the Boston Bruins at the NHL Entry Draft.

That's it.

Sobotka, quiet by nature, missed four games at the start of the season after injuring his left shoulder for the Bruins in the playoffs last spring that subsequently led to surgery in the off-season.

Sobotka finally was able to gradually work his way into the Blues' lineup after missing the first four games of the season, mainly as a fourth-line center playing a checking, bruising type of game.

But 20 games into his Blues career, the 23-year-old from Trebic, Czech Republic may have finally found his niche.

There were always quiet murmurs that Sobotka can do more than just play a physical style despite his smaller stature at 5-foot-10, 190 pounds.

When they were placed together for Tuesday's game in Chicago, Blues coach Davis Payne may have found something in Sobotka on left wing, Patrik Berglund at center and David Backes on right wing.

The trio combined for eight points, and Sobotka collected a career-high three points (all assists). Despite not playing together against Washington Wednesday because of what Payne said were matchup purposes, the three were back together Thursday at practice as the Blues begin a two-game Western Canada trip to Edmonton and Vancouver this weekend.

And it's Sobotka, who has a goal and six assists in 20 games, hopes they remain together. If they do, the Blues may have found themselves a diamond in the rough.

"Hopefully, it's going to stick together," Sobotka said of the line. "We have the ability to make plays, and right now, that's what we need.

"I like to play with Backs and Bergy because those two guys, they can protect the puck and keep the puck. That's what you need in the offensive zone to make some plays."

Sobotka has been comfortable in any role the Blues have used him in, but it's apparent playing in an offensive role is what he prefers.

"I'm really comfortable on the ice," Sobotka said. "I'm getting a lot of opportunities, like I had in Chicago. I played a lot and that's what I need, to play a lot, play with the puck, make some plays. That's my game."

Look for Payne to play the threesome together when the Blues face the Oilers, with Alex Steen, Andy McDonald and Brad Boyes together on the top line.

"I like the mix of Sobotka, Berglund and Backes," Payne said. "... It seemed like there was some chemistry to that situation. Steen-McDonald-Boyes should be a high-skilled, effective line for us.

"The night in Chicago, it didn't turn out that way and last night with circumstances of certain lines and wanting to get some matchups. We have some familiarity there. This is a group we wanted to go back to and see function again. I felt like today was another day for them to get that look and we'll see where that sits when we get to Edmonton."

Sobotka admits that playing left wing is now what he prefers and the game changes, but he's learning on the fly and the results are positive thus far.

"I prefer center, but Bergy is great on face-offs and he's big," Sobotka said. "I like to get speed on the left side and get pucks from Bergy and go to the net.

"We read each other real well. We just work hard together. If we work hard, our skill is going to come."

Oh, and for those worried about the shoulder, don't. It's holding up quite well.

"Everything feels good, the shoulder is fine. I feel really good," Sobotka said.

* Nikitin to Peoria, Cole recalled -- The Blues on Thursday sent Russian defenseman Nikita Nikitin to Peoria of the American Hockey League.

Nikitin, 24, played in 12 games for the Blues and didn't register a point after returning from a broken wrist sustained in the preseason.

"We're happy with his progress," Payne said of Nikitin. "This is not a situation of anything other than wanting to get the guy more time and more situations. We feel he's in the right spot. He's going to be a good hockey player for us. This will give him a chance to get down there and get some minutes and games under his belt.

"We feel that this will give him a chance to get some more playing time."

Nikitin was minus-8 in those 12 games.

The Blues made it official Friday. They recalled defenseman Ian Cole from Peoria.

Cole was with the Rivermen in Hamilton, Ontario for their game there on Friday but will meet the Blues in Edmonton Friday afternoon.

Cole, 21, has a goal and two assists in 20 games with the Rivermen. He also is pointless in three games after being recalled by the Blues earlier this season.

* Powerless power play -- The Blues are in a 0-for-13 funk on the power play and it goes back to 0-for-16 dating back to Nov. 20.

With the team playing Edmonton Saturday, this might be a good opportunity to right the ship.

The Oilers are dead-last in the NHL in penalty killing situations, allowing a whopping 30 goals on 97 attempts (69.1 percent).

One glaring aspect that Payne pointed out after Wednesday's 4-1 loss to Washington was the players' indecisiveness shooting pucks.

"I think there are a couple more opportunities to do that more, but in saying that too, it's not just put our head down and shoot it," winger Brad Boyes said. "But there is a time or place. There is a time to do that, to be a little more selfish at times. It is something that when you're in a groove and things are feeling well, then everything kind of falls into place too."

* Allen honored -- The AHL announced Thursday that Rivermen netminder Jake Allen has been named the Reebok/AHL Goaltender of the Month for November.

Allen made seven appearances on the month and went 6-1-0 with a 1.35 goals-against average, a .959 save percentage and three shutouts. He stopped 213 of 222 shots faced.

Allen was a second-round draft pick (34th overall) by the parent Blues in 2008.

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