Monday, January 31, 2011

With 33 games left, Blues face a familiar stretch run

Team sits five points out of playoff spot in West,
hope to put January in rear view mirror

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- After falling at Calgary Wednesday, the Blues concluded a month of hockey that ranked among the worst in franchise history.

Let's face it, the All-Star break couldn't have come fast enough for a Blues team that was as physically worn out as it was mentally.

The Blues finished January with a 2-8-2 record, which ties an all-time worst for fewest wins in the month of January (they were 2-5-0-6 in 1982-83). And in those 10 losses, the Blues led in seven of them. They were 0-6-1 in those games and are now 21-10-4 on the season while holding a lead at some point in those games, which ranks among the worst in the NHL.

But after getting the last four days off -- except for All-Star David Backes, who got the day off Monday -- to refresh and recharge the batteries, the Blues (22-20-7) sit five points in back of the eighth and final playoff position in the Western Conference and sit in a tie for 13th place.

"Mentally it was really good, also physically," said forward Alex Steen, who is second behind Backes in goals (15) and points (36). "There's some guys with some bumps that I think it was just nice to give them a rest. Even though you rest from practices and stuff, there's bumps and stuff that happens and it just keeps them going. I think physically, it was really good for this group to have a little break."

The Blues had the exact same record after 49 games last year and finished the stretch run 18-12-3 but only gained one point during the chase.

When they made their incredible run to a playoff berth during the 2008-09 season, the Blues were 20-24-5 when they went on a 21-7-5 tear to climb into the West as a No. 7 seed.

"Obviously, it has to do with the points, but I think the big thing is there's more teams between you and the eight-spot," Steen said. "I think if we can get off to a good start here coming off the break and jump over a couple teams so there's not four or five teams in between us for that eighth spot, it's going to make a huge difference."

It's likely going to take something similar for the Blues to gain entry into the postseason this year, having to climb over a handful of teams to do it. But they are prepared to do what it takes because remember, 'Every Game Counts.'

"It's not just getting the wins, it's also getting the wins against the teams we need to," said defenseman Barret Jackman, who is expected to return to the lineup tonight against the Colorado Avalanche. "You can't be giving points away against teams like Colorado or Calgary. There's going to be points that are maybe more important than others. Might be four-point games. But we've got to go out there and treat every game the same and play desperate the rest of the way."

When the Blues resumed practice Monday at St. Louis Mills, there was no talk of game-segments, doing this and doing that. It was all about preparing for who's next on the slate.

"No, we're looking to be as good as we can be tomorrow," Blues coach Davis Payne said. "I thought we had a spirited practice. I thought there was some execution. I thought that guys came back and had some good energy. It's up to us to be great tomorrow, and that's the first opportunity.

"We've got the Colorado Avalanche in town tomorrow. It's an opportunity for us to play a great game and that's what we're looking for. Five points out with 33 to go seems like a doable situation in our eyes."

Of the remaining 33 games for the Blues, 18 of them are on the road. And the road has not been very kind to this team, as it only has seven wins away from Scottrade Center, which is tied for the fewest in the league and worst in the Western Conference.

And even though there have been a slew of injuries to key players throughout the season, this was a team that started a franchise best 9-1-2.

"You've got to win hockey games. We know that," Payne said. "We know we can be better. We came back knowing that we haven't had the type of results we wanted, but this is where we sit. We've got a very resolved group. We've got a group that trusts each other, a group that's going to fight and make sure that we make the proper adjustments and the proper improvements. We all feel we can better. That's a collective attitude. There’s a belief in there. You ask me why? Because we believe we can."

The Blues have to believe that they can improve in all areas necessary, including getting the stops from Jaroslav Halak and Ty Conklin in goal, blocking shots and killing off penalties, scoring goals on the power play and so forth.

"I always say I think we've got to get back to the pace that we've played at with our physical forecheck," Steen said. "... Just really getting back to feeling confident and comfortable with the system and the way that we're supposed to play the game. I think we're getting away from it too much in-game. It's a lot easier said than done, but that's what we have to do."

Added Payne, whose squad was outscored 17-9 in the second periods of January games, "We all recognize the fact that we can add a little bit, it adds up to a lot. We've got a group that's willing to do that. I don't think there's too much pause for concern. We're in a tough spot. We're not locked in, but right now, 33 to go, nobody's locked in.

"We talked about the mechanisms of our success, the reasons for it. These guys know what they are. We know as much as we'd rather be sitting a little higher, we're not. Just simply understand what our success is driven from and let's get to work. Let's not be afraid of the challenge. We're going to get into some tough battles and we've got to enjoy that part of it."


McDonald close to return, won't play tonight;
Johnson loses teeth, Jackman set to return

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- For the first time since departing the lineup in December, there was Andy McDonald on the ice with his teammates on the home surface.

Yes, McDonald has skated on his own for nearly two weeks, and he was with the team last week in Colorado and Calgary, but McDonald, who has missed the last 24 games following a concussion suffered Dec. 4 in Edmonton, took part with the team here for the first time.

McDonald will not play when the Blues (22-20-7) host the Colorado Avalanche at 7 p.m. today. However, all systems point to a return to the lineup either Friday at home against the Oilers or on Super Bowl Sunday in Tampa against the Lightning.

"It's coming along, but I've got some steps to take," said McDonald, who fully participated in Monday's practice. "With not playing tomorrow, I get another two full days of practice with the team to get me back to where I need to be. Hopefully that will be enough and be ready to play Friday."

McDonald, who's had a history of concussions, took his first steps on the ice Jan. 19 after passing the league-mandated baseline concussion tests along with fellow forward David Perron. There have been no setbacks and upon his return to the lineup, McDonald should give the Blues' offense a big boost.

"Yeah, he's coming back and he's looking good," teammate Alex Steen said. "He's got a lot of jump. His legs look really good out there. He's obviously a very skilled player, a good passer. It'll be really fun to get him back. We'll get a win against Colorado and hopefully get Andy back."

Said Blues coach Davis Payne, "Today was one of those days where it was a chance to get into a full practice with the team, a chance to get into some contact. He feels good, so we've got a couple more days beyond tomorrow. He won't play tomorrow, but a decent chance we could see him by the weekend.

"He's a full-go. It's a conditioning thing. It's taking each step and making sure that the body responds positively, and it's done that. Today was another full day for him, another good day for him. We consider that progress. We'll see how that lines up for tomorrow and on through the week."
McDonald, 33, feels another couple days is worth the wait.

"First and foremost, when you come in, you want to be able to contribute, you want to be able to help the team," he said. "Personally, I don't feel I'm at a point where I can contribute. Maybe in some areas, but I need to get some practice under my belt and still keep working on my conditioning, and get some strength back, so when I do come in, I can help."

When McDonald does return, he'll be sporting the M11 helmet designed by former hockey great Mark Messier, which is designed to protect against concussions.

"It's supposed to have a little bit more padding to it," McDonald said. "Everything they're telling me is that it's supposed to help, so we'll give it a try and see how it goes. It might be a little heavier, but it's more comfortable."

* Johnson latest to go down -- Blues defenseman Erik Johnson left practice Monday prematurely after being hit in the mouth with a puck while the team was working on a power play drill.

Johnson, the top overall pick of the 2006 draft, was stationed in front of the net when a shot came towards the goal, and McDonald deflected the puck at point blank range that struck Johnson, causing the 22-year-old to lose a couple teeth.

"We had to dig a few teeth off the ice and get some repairs," Payne said. "We'll see how that looks for tomorrow.

"These things have a lot of differing degrees of severity here. We know he's lost a few teeth. He's getting assessed here and we don't know the exact extent of it."

There was no indication whether Johnson would play tonight against the Avalanche or miss the game.

"I don't know, I got down there late, so I guess the guys already picked up the chicklets or whatever they're going to call them, and gave them back to him," defenseman Barret Jackman said. "... It's one of those things, where it happens and unfortunately it happens off an own teammate's stick. You shrug it off, the guy buys him dinner and hopefully he doesn't miss anytime."

* Jackman expected to return -- Jackman, who missed the last three games with a groin injury, was on the ice himself for the first time since being injured Jan. 20 and has declared himself ready to get back in the lineup against the Avalanche.

"Possibly maybe could have come back in Calgary, but it would have been a bad move with five days between games," Jackman said. "Definitely it was good to stay off the ice and get recharged and let the body heal."

Jackman missed nine games earlier this season with a knee sprain, but his absence was definitely noticeable on the team's blue line.

"It's his first day back on the ice. Everything started out positively," said Payne, who was non-committal regarding Jackman's status. "We'll make that assessment. If Jax can go, he goes."

Jackman said the break was good for a number of players.

"It's been great," he said. "Just talking to a few guys this morning about it, everyone is excited. We were out there really early for practice before the Zamboni was even halfway around. Guys got the energy, you could see with the jump we had today. We've just got to translate that into games."

* Blues recall McRae, Nikitin, option Della Rovere to Peoria -- The Blues recalled center Philip McRae and defense Nikita Nikitin Monday from AHL Peoria, while optioning winger Stefan Della Rovere back to the Rivermen.

McRae and Nikitin were both here prior to the All-Star break but were optioned back to the minor league squad to play games.

McRae has a goal and an assist in seven games since his initial recall. Nikitin hasn't registered a point in 15 games.

* Rivermen All-Stars -- The AHL All-Star Game was played on Monday in Hershey, Pa., with the East defeating the West 11-8.

The Rivermen, a part of the West squad, were represented by head coach Jared Bednar, goalie Jake Allen, defenseman Nathan Oystrick and center T.J. Hensick.

Allen started for the West and stopped eight of 12 shots, while Hensick recorded a goal and an assist and Oystrick picked up an assist was a team-best plus-3 in a losing effort.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Pair of important road games await Blues

Team needs strong finish heading into
All-Star break; play at Colorado, Calgary

ST. LOUIS -- Is it too soon to start calling games from here on out must-wins? Not if you're the Blues.

Thirty-five games are left in the Blues' season, but with their Western Conference peers showing no indication that they are going to falter, the Blues need to begin winning -- and winning now -- if they are going to keep pace in the playoff race.

The Blues (22-18-7) begin a two-game trip heading into the All-Star break, starting today against the Colorado Avalanche (8:30 p.m. on FSN, KMOX 1120-AM) and finish it off Wednesday in Calgary.

The Blues sit in 11th place in the West, four points behind eighth-place San Jose for the race to the playoffs and three points behind the Avalanche (24-18-6).

It's important for the Blues to get some points before taking a weeklong reprieve because the month of January has not been kind to them.

The Blues are 2-6-2 this month -- both wins over the Los Angeles Kings -- which means they've only taken advantage of six out of a possible 20 points on the table.

They left two of those points on the table Saturday in 5-2 home loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets that was not only disturbing but puzzling as well.

The Blues found themselves in a comfort zone, leading 2-0 less than eight minutes into the game before things surprisingly began to unravel.

The Blues got goals from Eric Brewer and Patrik Berglund, they also were inspired by three separate first-period fights (Brad Winchester, B.J. Crombeen and Tyson Strachan) and the 26th straight sellout crowd this season.

"I thought we came out with good jump, good pace to our game at the start ... a couple fights, a couple goals," Steen said. "We let off there a little bit in the second. They took advantage, got the two goals back and then in the third, we came out with the intent of shooting the puck a little bit more and getting pucks to the net. They got the third goal."

It was 2-1 after one period, 2-2 after two and the Jackets (23-20-6) outscored the Blues 3-0 in the final 20 minutes to complete the comeback with five unanswered tallies.

"It's about not being directed," said Blues coach Davis Payne, visibly disappointed with his team's performance Saturday. "We turned pucks over in the second period, we strung d-men out. These are all things that takes discipline within the structure, discipline within the game plan and playing winning hockey. We played it for 10 minutes. That's not enough in this league. That's why we didn't win."

Payne called the loss "inexcusable," words not often used by the Blues' coach when painting a picture of his players.

"We needed to match that work ethic and match the small simple things they were doing all over the ice to get success," forward David Backes said. "As you can see, we didn't do it as well as they did and they come out with the three-goal victory."

The Blues, who already have lost in Colorado this season, have dropped five straight to the Avs. A team that has played .500 or better on the road three of the past four seasons.

The Blues are 7-10-4 away from Scottrade Center ice this season, tied for the fewest wins in the league with the Edmonton Oilers, New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils.

"Obviously, it's a big game," Brewer said. "Every game's a big game. We're not happy about it. We didn't play well enough to win (Saturday). We've got to suck it up and play (tonight), because it doesn't get any easier."

Said Steen, "It's a tough one. I think we've got to go on this road (trip) now, two road games in Colorado, Calgary and we've got to have a good road trip.

"They're all important now. You've got to look to the next game."

* NOTES -- The Blues recalled forward Stefan Della Rovere and defenseman Nikita Nikitin Sunday while assigning defenseman Ian Cole and forward Ryan Reaves to Peoria of the AHL.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Blues falter against Blue Jackets

5-2 loss leaves coach, team puzzled following disheartening defeat

ST. LOUIS -- It was the kind of start the Blues wanted. Good jump, good pace, collective execution. All the perfect ingredients that two points warrant, right?

Well, if a 60-minute hockey game could have been condensed into eight minutes, the Blues were winners Saturday night.

Unfortunately, the Blues were somehow forced to play the last 52 minutes of the game ... and it was all Columbus Blue Jackets after that.

The Jackets fell behind by a couple goals but were able to reel off five straight -- including three in the third period to snap a tie game in a 5-2 victory over the Blues Saturday night at Scottrade Center.

With importance on each game from here on out, the Blues (22-18-7) laid their biggest egg of the season in what was a puzzling turn of events after Eric Brewer and Patrik Berglund staked them to a 2-0 lead less than eight minutes into the game.

Even leading 2-1 after the first, the Blues began to unravel in rapid fashion. It catapulted into the third period and the train wreck was out in full force.

It left coach Davis Payne wondering what went wrong.

"I don't even think it was the second period," an obvious disappointed Payne said. "It was the seven-, eight-minute mark of the first period. I felt that we came out, established our game, got an early goal on the rush, got a power play goal, a couple scraps ... and that was it. All of the sudden, we decided to redefine ourselves mid-period. We were never able to stop the downhill slide. Not enough guys understanding what kind of decisions were needed to be made, understanding what type of battle needed to happen.

"Columbus was persistent. They didn't have the start they needed, but (they) were persistent and easy for them to feel they could come back in that hockey game."

Goals from Antoine Vermette, Jared Boll, Andrew Murray, Rick Nash and Fedor Tyutin came in disheartening fashion in front of a crowd that did its best to vault the Blues back to where they were early in the game.

"The first goal is a return in coverage, the second goal was a turnover, the third goal was a turnover," Payne explained. "... Lack of attention to detail, lack of doing things long enough. It's really quite inexcusable for a game of this importance."

Which begs the question: why would the Blues alter the game plan when things were going so right?

"We tried playing an easy game rather than a hard, simple game," forward David Backes said. "The result is them getting momentum and possessions in our zone. We didn't have much to counter."

Despite still leading the game, Vermette's goal 11 minutes, 19 seconds into the opening period seemed to burst the Blues' bubble.

"It seemed like that took more out of us than it should have," Payne said. "We came committed to play a full 60, at least that was the intent. We got off to a good start and it went away ... vanished."

The Blues fell so far off-track in the second period that they went 15:57 between shots in the first and second periods and one shot in 21:24 against a goalie (Columbus' Steve Mason) that was wobbly at best in the game.

"We gave him enough time the second half of the first period and almost the whole second period, we gave him enough time to get regrouped and get his feet underneath him," Payne said of Mason, who finished with 19 saves including the last 15 he saw. "It looked like we were going to get some chances around the blue paint, going to get some second looks. Two-goal lead changed our mindset. I felt that it was going to be a (two) point night. Not so."

Columbus took the initiative and registered the first 10 shots of the second before Jay McClement finally got the Blues a shot with 7:48 remaining in the period.

"We had a sloppy second," said forward Alex Steen, who assisted on both goals. "We weren't generating any offensive zone time. We weren't getting pucks down low, getting shots through the net.

"I didn't think (Mason) looked that great on the first two, but he made some saves in the third. ... It's our second period. We've got to get some more pucks through."

By the time the Blues tried to push back, the Jackets had tied the game after the Blues turned the puck over at their blue line that resulted in Boll's breakaway goal 7:36 into the period.

"You look up 10 minutes in, they've got eight shots already and we're still at a goose egg," Backes said. "Obviously it's indicative of how the game was that period so far."

Regardless, the Blues were tied 2-2 with 20 minutes to play and could still pick up two points by winning the third period.

"I thought we came in after the second, regrouped, came out with some energy in the third period," Steen said. "... It's a tough one."

Murray redirected a Jan Hejda shot past Jaroslav Halak 3:40 into the third to give Columbus its first lead, then Nash tallied a power play goal with 3:28 left before Tyutin added an empty-netter.

"That was our mindset going into it. We get down one, even that was something where they're going to get a bounce there, but we needed to stick with it and capitalize when we get a chance," Backes said. "We get that power play there and that only lasts for 15 seconds and it's 4 on 4 after that."

That's because Backes was whistled for interference 16 seconds after a power play had begun.

"My route's along the blue line," Backes explained. "I don't know if I can jump over him, fall to the ice, do a triple-Lutz ... I wish I could have disappeared there or stayed on the other side. I have nowhere to go. Maybe I go off-sides and we take a face-off and keep on the power play."

The Blue Jackets (23-20-5) are now tied with the Blues in points (51).

"We've got to take a gut-check here," Payne said. "This is one that when we know the momentum and the traction we're trying to gain heading out on the road, heading out to the All-Star break and the two points here staring at us with a good start and a two-goal lead and not to find a way to maintain or find a way to reverse any type of flow ... it was up and down the lineup.

"Very few guys staying with the plan, with the work that was necessary. It's one we're really gonna have to digest, swallow hard and make sure this one doesn't happen again."

* NOTES -- Defenseman Barret Jackman (lower-body) sat out the game and was replaced by Tyson Strachan. ... Steen now has points in 21 of last 25 games, including seven in a row. ... Berglund with goals in three straight, matching a career high done two other times. ... Columbus' victory was the first in regulation here since March 27, 2007. The Blues were 10-0-1 in that span against the Jackets.

(1-22-11) Blue Jackets-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- Barret Jackman's got the reputation around the locker room that something's really got to be bothering him for the veteran d-man to miss a game.

Jackman will sit out tonight's game against the Columbus Blue Jackets (7 p.m. on FSN, KMOX 1120-AM) after suffering a lower-body injury in Thursday's 4-3 overtime loss to the Detroit Red Wings. Jackman is listed as day-to-day.

The Blues (22-17-7) will not recall a d-man from Peoria, and will go with Tyson Strachan in the lineup tonight.

"When Jax can't go, you know there's something going on there," Blues coach Davis Payne said. "He's a guy that battles through a lot. He's got a high tolerance, high threshold. Unfortunately, he's unable to go tonight. Strachs will go in. He played very well out on the road trip in LA and another chance for him to contribute again."

Said Strachan, "You know what they say about Jax, he'd probably have a nail through his head and he'd go out there and play. He's a warrior and obviously he tweaked something. At this point in the season, it's probably alright for him just to rest it for a game or whatever it takes here. It's a nice opportunity for me and hopefully, Barret can rehab quick and get back here and help out the team as well."

Strachan has suited up in 20 games this season, with one assist and a minus-7 rating to go with his resume. In 56 career games, he has six assists and is plus-4.

"Just excited to get in and help out the team," Strachan said. "... Obviously, I'm minus-7 on the year, which is frustrating. That's always been a good stat for me. Overall in my career, I'm still a plus player.

"Something like that's frustrating, but overall, I think I've played well, stood up for my teammates when I needed to and brought the type of game that I think can help the team."

Payne agreed.

"He's solid and steady," Payne said. "When a guy's been sitting out, there's usually a response coming back into the lineup. He knows that these are opportunities for him. We expect the same type of game we got out of him in LA."

It appears that Jackman, who missed nine games earlier this season with a sprained right knee, injured himself in the final minute of regulation Thursday after mixing it up with the Wings' Justin Abdelkader.

- - -

Vladimir Sobotka, who has five assists in the last 10 games, completes the second line with Patrik Berglund and T.J. Oshie by offering up a variety qualities that Payne feels is a good fit.

What does Payne want from Sobotka?

"For him to play his game," the Blues' coach said. "With Sobe, it doesn't really matter if he's centering the fourth line or he's playing wing on the first line, he's out there playing an intelligent game. It's a pursuit game, it's an inside space game, he's strong on the puck, he's strong on the forecheck. With possession of the puck, he is able to move. He's got good quickness in a lot of different directions to kind of just extend plays, open up a little bit of space that he can get passes through. I'd like to see him shoot a little bit more, but he's a guy who understands the offensive game to the point where he makes you think you're going one way and he's able to get a pass across to a guy like Bergy or whoever his linemates may be."

- - -

The Blues held an optional morning skate today, with roughly half the lineup out there skating.

The probable lineup includes:

Alex Steen-David Backes-Brad Boyes

Vladimir Sobotka-Patrik Berglund-T.J. Oshie

Brad Winchester-Jay McClement-Matt D'Agostini

B.J. Crombeen-Philip McRae-Ryan Reaves

On the backline:

Eric Brewer-Erik Johnson

Alex Pietrangelo-Roman Polak

Ian Cole-Tyson Strachan

Jaroslav Halak
, 2-1-1 with a 2.87 GAA and .904 save percentage in his career against the Jackets, will be in goal.

Keep an eye out for Steen, who has points in 20 of the last 24 games including six straight. He has 12 points in 16 career games against Columbus.

- - -

The Blue Jackets (22-20-5) come into town on the final leg of a four-game trip. Columbus has gone to overtime or a shootout in the last four games, winning two.

But this has been a house of horrors for the Jackets coming to Scottrade Center. The Jackets are 1-8-2 here in the previous 11 meetings, including a 4-1 loss to the Blues on Dec. 9.

"It's a team that really comes out of their own zone with a great deal of speed, so we've got to make sure that we've got numbers to defend that," Payne said. "Obviously, the top line with (Derick) Brassard and (Rick) Nash are pretty hot right now. They've been finding their way back into games and making sure that they've always got a chance. We know that they've got pretty good resolve going right now within their game."

The Jackets' probable lineup includes:

Rick Nash-Derick Brassard-Jakub Voracek

Kristian Huselius-Antoine Vermette-R.J. Umberger

Andrew Murray-Samuel Pahlsson-Derek Dorsett

Matt Calvert-Derek McKenzie-Jared Boll

Their blue liners include:

Jan Hejda-Marc Methot

Fedor Tjutin-Rostislav Klesla

Kris Russell-Grant Clitsome

Steve Mason
, 3-5-1 with a 2.99 GAA and .886 save percentage in his career against the Blues, gets the start in goal.

Friday, January 21, 2011


Halak save gains attention; Boyes moving on up

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Jaroslav Halak's not exactly the kind of guy that will openly boast about himself. But even the Blues' netminder had to take a gander at YouTube Thursday night.

Halak's save with 39 seconds remaining on Detroit's Justin Abdelkader not only saved the Blues from a disastrous ending but also preserved a point in the 4-3 overtime loss to the Red Wings after battling back from a 3-0 deficit.

Click on link to see video:

"I seen it last night on the internet," Halak said Friday after practice. "I didn't know how it stayed out, but it did.

"Luck was on my side. I'm glad at least we were able to get one point."

Halak was able to go from right to left and thwart Abdelkader after a centering feed from Henrik Zetterberg. Halak initially got a knee on the puck but also kicked it out for good measure in what would have given the Wings a 4-3 lead towards the end of regulation.

"I know Zetterberg was coming at me," Halak said. "I just tried to cut his angle. I got a little bit out of position and he passed it in front of the net. I lost the puck for a second. The next thing I know, it hit my pads, my knee. I was just trying to keep it out of the net ... somehow, anyhow. I just kicked it out. I mean, it was a lucky save."

The highlight made ESPN's Top 10 plays of the night.

"We were well aware of how much time was on that clock," Blues coach Davis Payne said. "We got the game back and the tendency is to be pushing and pushing and pushing knowing that you've got to get that game tied. All of the sudden you get the game tied and there's a deep inhale, deep exhale. In that moment between the two, Detroit came charging pretty hard and we were fortunate Jaro recognized the important time to come up with a great save."

Jay McClement got a good look at it from close range.

"I saw it live and that's what we need him to do," McClement said of Halak. "He saved a point there for sure. ... It's nice to have him for sure to make saves like that, a save that probably shouldn't be made. He has the ability to do it. He's a game-changer and he can do that for us."

* Scoreboard watching -- The Blues (22-17-7), who entertain the Columbus Blue Jackets (22-20-5) tonight at 7, are currently in 11th place in a crowd of Western Conference teams that are grouped as if they were packed in sardines.

The Blues are only three points out of eighth and just seven points out of fourth place. Each night, the standings seem to change dramatically and the players admit it's the time of year to pay close attention to what's going on.

"It's important to know where you stand in the standings," Halak said. "It's important to know every game you play to at least get one point.

"The standings are tight. It's not going to be any different until the end of the year. We just need to make sure these 36 games that we battle hard and try to do our best every night we play."

Some players admit they pay no attention to other teams but only themselves but that's a stretch, according to McClement.

"Anybody who says they don't look once in a while is probably lying because everyone's paying attention," he said. "Everyone knows where we're at. You just can't fall too far behind. We've learned that in years past. You can't wait until the last 10-15 games or whatever it may be. We're in a decent position. It always could be better, but we're always watching what other teams do. Right now, it's hard to know who to look at because it seems like everyone's getting points. That's what we need to do just to keep pace."

The Blues are in a better position this year as opposed to last but understand a hot stretch of games can go a long way right now.

"We're right there," McClement said. "It's so tight. It's 2-3 points each way. You have a good 2-3 weeks and you could be up to fifth or sixth, it's that tight. We need to get a little more consistency in our game and make sure we get points in our fair share of games and not be so streaky."

* Boyes elevated to top line -- Blues forward Brad Boyes, who played seven games with Brad Winchester and McClement on the team's third line and who's played on the third unit since Dec. 21, was elevated to the top line with David Backes and Alex Steen for the third period.

Payne made the switch based on Boyes' play in the game and pulled Matt D'Agostini all the way down to the fourth line. D'Agostini practiced Friday with McClement and Winchester.

"I made the switch last night because I didn't feel we were getting enough from that spot," Payne said. "I thought that Boysie was having a strong forechecking game, his pursuit game was on, he was moving his feet, looking to play inside the battle space that is required against Detroit. I felt he would be a good mix with Steener and David. Now it's up to him to continue that.

"We've had a lot of guys pushing for quite some time, carrying a lot of the mail, and he needs to step forward and take his part in that. Last night was a great first step in that."

Boyes set up Backes' tying goal when he and Steen crashed the net hard and each were able to make plays.

* Blue line injury -- Defenseman Barret Jackman was the lone participant not on the ice for practice Friday, and afterwards, Payne indicated that Jackman would be questionable for tonight's game.

"He's dealing with some things," Payne said, not elaborating on the extent of what's ailing the veteran d-man. "He's got a sore lower-body. Questionable for tomorrow's game."

Jackman appeared to get tangled up with Abdelkader in the goal crease after Halak's key stop but finished the game.

Tyson Strachan would step into the lineup if Jackman is unable to go. He was skating with Ian Cole on Friday, and Alex Pietrangelo was on the left side in Jackman's spot with Roman Polak.

* McDonald, Perron reaction -- There was some relief around the locker room after news that both Andy McDonald and David Perron are getting healthy and are working their way back towards the lineup.

Both McDonald and Perron are dealing with concussion-related symptoms and have missed significant time. Perron has missed 36 games since Nov. 4, McDonald 21 games since Dec. 4.

"You know these things are going to take time. It's such an unknown," Payne said. "The only thing is you can say accurately about it is every day you take, you're one day closer to the guys returning. When that is, who knows. But it's one more day, and I think these guys are eager to get back and play their part. But we've got to do what's right by the athlete. It's a tricky injury and progress is good for these guys."

There seemed to be an uplifting mood in the locker room Friday.

"The biggest thing for them is getting healthy," McClement said. "You don't want to mess around with stuff like that. It's a tricky one to deal with. It's tough when you don't know the timeframe, you don't know how long it's going to take. It could be a month, it could be six months, it could be a year ... you never know. It's good to see they're progressing and when we get them back, I don't know. It's definitely nice to see them feeling better."

* Berglund getting hot -- Don't look now, but the Blues are beginning to see center Patrik Berglund get on one of those offensive hot streaks.

And coincidentally, former linemate and close friend off the ice T.J. Oshie's return to the lineup has made an immediate impact.

Berglund, who tallied a goal and picked up an assist Thursday, has points in four straight games (two goals, three assists) and goals in two straight after going goal-less in 10.

"One thing Osh does for Bergy is they came into the league together, they were roommates," Payne said. "I think they appreciate each other's play on the ice. They understand each other off the ice, they communicate well together and they just kind of gravitate towards each other. I think there's a common bond. I think having Osh back there with his energy and his enthusiasm, it drags Bergy along. With his size and his skill, when he's got it going like that, those two can be tough to stop."

Berglund, along with Oshie and Vladimir Sobotka are giving the Blues more offensive options on the second line.

"I think we're supporting each other good," Berglund said. "We're finding each other. ... We're creating a lot of scoring chances and hopefully in the future here, we can put in a couple more."

Said Oshie, who scored in his second game back Thursday, "Being the good friends that we are, I think that carries over into the game. (Berglund's) not scared to tell me something, and I'm not scared to tell him something that maybe the other one doesn't want to hear. ... I think that's huge to get chemistry on a line and Sobe's fitting right in. We're having fun out there. We're playing hard."

* Barkin for the Blues -- The Blues will host the 3rd annual Barkin’ for the Blues, benefiting Stray Rescue of St. Louis and St. Charles Humane Society tonight against the Blue Jackets.

A variety of fundraising activities will take place on the concourse throughout the evening. Fans can purchase special Barkin’ for the Blues beads and autographed pucks and can also bid on items in a silent auction.

For a donation, fans can also purchase mystery “doggie bags” with Blues autographed items or Blues tickets.

A special adoption area will be on the concourse outside of Section 124 and fans will have the chance to meet puppies and dogs available for adoption at each shelter.

Barkin ' for the Blues is part of Barret's Buddies and David's Dogs, programs started by Blues players Barret Jackman (Stray Rescue) and David Backes (St. Charles Humane Society) to help neglected and abused animals at these organizations.

Last year’s event raised $10,000 for the local shelters. For more information about the evening or to make a donation, visit

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Blues fall short after comeback

Helm's goal gives Red Wings 4-3 victory;
St. Louis earns point by forcing overtime

ST. LOUIS -- It's easy for the Blues to look at the glass half empty when they lose.

Under the circumstances, looking at it half full might paint a clearer picture considering where the Blues once stood against the mighty Detroit Red Wings.

Down three goals against a team that just doesn't lose leads by that margin, the Blues were able to fight all the way back and get things on even ground. But Darren Helm ruined the Blues' comeback by scoring 1 minute, 51 seconds into overtime to give the Red Wings a 4-3 victory Thursday night at Scottrade Center.

The Blues (22-17-7) saw Detroit (29-12-6) race out to a 3-0 lead, thanks in large part to the Blues turning pucks over and allowing the skilled Wings skaters to take the open ice and allow time to make plays.

Patrick Eaves, Todd Bertuzzi and Jakub Kindl gave the Wings a seemingly insurmountable lead until the Blues battled back, getting a T.J. Oshie second period goal and then completely dominating the majority of the third and getting goals from Patrik Berglund and David Backes.

But Helm was able to get the game-winner off a 2-on-1 after the Blues' Erik Johnson had a shot blocked in the offensive zone, and Jiri Hudler beating Berglund to a puck along the boards that created the odd-man rush.

Helm took a pass from Hudler, past a sliding Eric Brewer and Helm beat Jaroslav Halak on the short side.

"The odd-man rush that we initially had that got evened up by a line change was a little bit of a telling factor there," Blues coach Davis Payne said, questioning a man on the ice coming off Detroit's bench at the time. "It's a lot further than five feet for that guy to get on the ice there.

"Our odd-man rush goes away and we lose possession. We need a little different read from Bergy and a little bit quicker read from EJ to deny that 2-on-1 coming back our way."

Johnson's initial shot in the zone was blocked by Niklas Kronwall, then Hudler, who had three assists on the night, beat Berglund to the puck along the boards, poked it by and was off to the races with Helm.

"It was just one of those plays," said Berglund, who had a goal and an assist in the game. "I came from the bench and it was a 50-50 puck. I went for it. He (poked) it by me and they came on a 2-on-1 and luckily, the puck went in for them.

"I saw (Hudler) coming. I thought I was close to the puck as well. I wanted to try and keep it in. Obviously, it was a bad read. They came in 2-on-1 and won the game for them."

But instead of looking at the end result, the Blues will instead take the high road and stake their claim that it was a critical point gained instead of one lost.

"It was an important point for us, there's no question about it," Payne said. "Detroit in the first period really carried a lot of the play. They were quicker to the puck, stronger on the puck, secondary guy support was better than ours. They've been talking a lot about their starts. They had a good one, got us behind.

"We kept building on some of our decisions. We kept building on some of our offensive zone time and found a way to get the score tied. It came down to an odd-man rush in overtime. I'd like to see that one get extended a little bit further and have a little more time on the clock to see, but it wasn't to be."

Said Alex Pietrangelo, "I just think we started moving our feet. We started doing what we wanted to do the whole game, which is put pucks in and be hard on the puck. We had a couple shifts there where we had two, three minutes in their zone. Once we started moving our feet and guys started putting the pucks back in was a huge difference."

Berglund set up Oshie in the slot to get the Blues on the board 11:44 into the second period that jumpstarted the home squad.

"I got the monkey off my back," Oshie said. "I would have taken the win instead of the goal, but it's good to get that first one.

"We had a tough start. I think as a team, myself included, as the game went on, my line ... Berglund, Sobotka and I really picked up our game. I think we started building some chemistry."

Berglund cut Detroit's lead to 3-2 by finishing off Vladimir Sobotka's pass 6:35 into the third, then Backes finished off a Brad Boyes feed with 5:46 remaining.

"Our skating game was a little bit better (in the third period)," Payne said. "I think most importantly, our secondary puck possession's were much firmer. You look at the first half of that hockey game, we would get some decent pressure on the first fore-check and the secondary guy would just look to chip a puck to an area as opposed to driving into the confrontation and possessing the puck. I thought the second half of that hockey game, we did a much better job with our possessions. Our puck protection, our determination in those areas, we knew we had to. We got a lot stronger at the puck in those areas."

Halak, who stopped 25 shots, preserved the point in the waning seconds by making an incredible stop on the goal line.

"He made some outstanding saves," Payne said of Halak. "We were pushing, but you knew, based on the position that you put yourself in, they were going to get some opportunities coming our way. Jaro was really solid, especially after the score was tied. ... Unfortunately, that OT one squeaked through his arm because he had an outstanding game."

The Blues will take the point all things considered.

"I think we have to bring a couple of these things with us," Berglund said. "We were down 3-0, we were coming back and I think that's very strong, but I don't think we played very good in the second period. Way too many turnovers. They got the momentum going. We've got to play a full 60 and get her going here."

"You've got to at least get a point every night here," Pietrangelo said. "I thought we did a really good job coming back there. It's a tough one to lose, but there's a lot of positive things to take from tonight."

* NOTES -- The Blues reassigned Chris Porter to Peoria after the forward cleared waivers. Porter has played in 25 games, collecting two assists.

McDonald, Perron improving from concussion-related symptoms

Both players passed baseline testing; Armstrong indicates progression

ST. LOUIS -- They might not be practicing with the Blues today or will be in the lineup Saturday night, but for Andy McDonald and David Perron, it's been a mountainous climb on the road to recovery.

But with Thursday night's news that both McDonald and Perron -- out with concussions -- passed their initial baseline testing, maybe the Blues can finally get a semblance of a full lineup here on the horizon.

Perron was injured on Nov. 4 and has not played since, missing a total of 36 games and McDonald has missed 21 games with his concussion, suffered Dec. 4 at Edmonton.

Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said that McDonald is further along than Perron but both are feeling better and are getting closer.

However, there is no timetable for a return by either.

"We've turned the corner with Andy," Armstrong said. "They both passed initial baseline tests by the NHLPA protocol. Andy has been on the ice the last two days. He's feeling much better. There's been no symptoms. They haven't returned since the skating. He's just going to keep ramping it up as he feels he's able to do. We're just going to go day-by-day. There's no return date set at all with regards to Andy.

"David's situation is a little bit different. He wouldn't be as far along as Andy. Both players have seen secondary doctors and opinions. David still has some symptoms here, but there's been a desire and some indication light exercise can be used to see how that affects David. ... He's not nearly to the point that Andy is."

McDonald, who was leading the Blues with 17 points before leaving the lineup, began skating on his own at St. Louis Mills on Wednesday. The repetitions will be ramped up and the more McDonald can do, the closer he gets to returning.

"There was some progression today," McDonald said. "I was on the ice a little bit longer, a little bit more intensity. That's the way it's going to be for a while, progress each day and add a little bit and see how it responds.

"It's just kind of a gradual thing. Each day you get better. I've been following the protocol of the NHL in terms of returning to skating, riding the bike each day, kind of progressing, increasing your time, the intensity and getting back on the ice."

Perron, who has five goals and seven points in 10 games, is still experiencing some form of symptoms but will try and get on an exercise regimen that doctors feel might help.

"We're trying some light exercises to see if it's going to help with the symptoms," Perron said. "There's some studies on it that it can help. We're going forward with that.

"It's been tough. Now that it's getting absolutely better it feels good, but early on, it was pretty tough to stay away from the rink."

Both players have been confined and secluded from all team-oriented and daily functions. It's part of what was required to alleviate all forms of symptoms.

"Some injuries you're able to do some kind of conditioning," McDonald said. "This type of injury, you're kind of on the shelf and you're really limited to how much exercise and activity you can get.

"It's certainly kind of been frustrating. It's good to be back and getting on the ice and doing some exercising and kind of having a normal life again."

Perron has been out since taking a hard blow from San Jose's Joe Thornton, while McDonald's injury happened in a fluky variety, as he hit a rut of ice and crashed hard into the leg/knee of Edmonton's Shawn Horcoff.

Both are looking forward to getting back to helping the Blues make a playoff push.

"That's probably the toughest thing," Perron said. "You don't get to come to the rink. It might sound weird, but that's probably the toughest thing. It's not the headaches and all that. Not being able to skate every day and being with the team.

"We'll see. So far, it's only going to be the bike. ... If it gets to the point where I can get on the skates, hopefully it comes soon because I can't wait to go back out there and try to stick-handle the puck."

Said McDonald, "Right now, it's just kind of going to be one day at a time. Today I had a good skate and we'll see how I feel tomorrow and see how the skate goes tomorrow."

(1-20-11) Red Wings-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- When the line of Jay McClement, Brad Boyes and Brad Winchester first took the ice a couple weeks ago, it wasn't exactly the kind of line that said, 'Yeah, that'll work.'

But when Davis Payne assembled a physical player, a defensive-minded guy and a player with a history of offensive capabilities, the mix was perplexing as much as it was enticing.

But the results thus far have been plausible.

Boyes admits that his goal-scoring hasn't been what it was in previous years for a number of reasons, but what is has brought to the table is his desire to be more of a well-rounded player at both ends of the ice.

Playing with this group allows him to do that.

"On the defensive side, not only does it help me playing with those guys, but for me consciously, I think it's been the best I've played defensively in my whole career," said Boyes, who has 10 goals and 25 points in 45 games. "I feel like I can go out there at any time. I've been out there last minutes of games getting jobs done, getting things squared away. Stuff like that gets noticed in the room and that's where it's important. It's that big team game for us."

The trio has eight points (Boyes leads with a goal and three assists) in the six games they've been grouped together, but it's not so much with goals and assists as it is being responsible at both ends of the ice.

"Jay's a guy with defensive responsibility, Brad a guy who has the offensive capabilities, but to be put in a situation to have that responsibility is something that worked for him last year, and Winnie's a guy who's not going to need much," Payne said. "His game's not going to change. He's going to go up and down and be physical and get to the net and give the other two guys space.

"We felt that there were complimentary pieces there. We feel that we've had some success with that group."

Boyes agrees and liked it from the outset.

"I thought it was going to be good," he said. "I think we all bring different aspects to it. It looked like it was going to be a good mix. I think we've played really well since then.

"It's been good and it's been fun, too. We're excited when we get out there together. There was a lot of talk about being more responsible, being more of a complete player. That's the thing I've really been concentrating on. Obviously, my goal-scoring has taken a big hit, but that's why I've got to find a good balance of being able to do both."

- - -

Defenseman Ian Cole's last four days have been a whirlwind to say the least.

Cole, recalled for the fourth time by the Blues Wednesday after fellow defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo (eye) was placed on injured reserve, will be in the lineup tonight when the Blues (22-17-6) host the Detroit Red Wings (28-12-6) tonight.

"I went from Peoria to Minneapolis to San Jose," Cole said. "San Jose to Vancouver, drive an hour and a half to Abbotsford, (B.C.), play in Abbotsford, drive back to Vancouver, get up at 4 (a.m.), go from Vancouver to Minneapolis to here. All in like four days."

Just what the doctor ordered, right?

"Who needs more than two hours of sleep? No big deal," Cole joked.

"Any chance I get to be up here, I'm going to relish that opportunity," he said. "Realistically, there's not much of a chance I'm going to be up here the rest of the year unless something serious happens to somebody. That's kind of how the season is, so I've got to roll with it and make the most of it and hopefully stay up for as long as I can."

Cole was with the Rivermen in Abbotsford when general manager Doug Armstrong filled him in on what was going on. Armstrong was on the trip watching the Rivermen.

"When he came to tell me and said, 'He got hit in the face again.' I was like, 'Again! Come on! You've got to be kidding?' How often does that happen," Cole said. "You can go countless games without getting hit in the face and then two in a row ... bad luck I guess. I feel bad for the guy. That's awful."

Cole, who has no points in 11 games, had a scary moment with the Blues Saturday in San Jose, but wearing a visor saved some serious damage when a puck struck him high.

"It helped me save a few teeth, maybe a nose," Cole joked. "... That puck was coming hard. The defenseman rifled it up.

"If I didn't have (a visor) on, I would have been seriously messed up. It hit my visor and my visor went back and hit me in the nose. Imagine how hard that was coming. That would have done some serious damage. Luckily I had it on. I know Coco isn't a big fan of it, but it kind of opens your eyes a little bit when you get hit in the face -- twice."

Cole will play tonight with Alex Pietrangelo.

"Each time he's come up, another level of comfort in what he's capable of doing, moving his feet, being physical," Payne said of Cole. "Obviously in the San Jose game, he found his way into a fight and handled himself there fine.

"He's a guy that can read plays, move pucks and each step up, you see another level of comfort in that he can play at this pace, he can execute at this pace. That's the development of a young player."

- - -

The 10-inches of snow in the metropolitan area didn't affect any of the Blues or their coaches from making it down to the arena.

"It's nice. A little bit of snow, brushed the car off and get to work," Payne said.

Boyes, a Mississauga, Ontario native, said, "It's no big deal. I've seen a lot worse than this. The worst I've seen (in Ontario) was one time we got a lot of ice, it was so thick you could go skate out on the streets."

- - -

The Blues plan on using the same forward combinations tonight:

Alex Steen-David Backes-Matt D’Agostini

Vladimir Sobotka-Patrik Berglund-T.J. Oshie

Brad Winchester-Jay McClement-Brad Boyes

B.J. Crombeen-Philip McRae-Ryan Reaves

Cole will replace Colaiacovo in the lineup tonight:

Eric Brewer-Erik Johnson

Barret Jackman-Roman Polak

Ian Cole-Alex Pietrangelo

Jaroslav Halak
, 17-14 with a 2.50 GAA and .911 save percentage on the season, is in goal for the Blues.

Cam Janssen and Tyson Strachan are healthy scratches.

- - -

The Wings are dealing with a rash of injuries, just like the Blues.

Tomas Holmstrom (broken hand), Brad Stuart (broken jaw), Dan Cleary (broken ankle), Pavel Datsyuk (broken hand), Mike Modano (wrist) and Chris Osgood (sports hernia surgery) are all on injured reserve for the Red Wings.

"We know they're dealing with some of the stuff we're having to deal with," Payne said of the Wings. "I'm sure that they're matching with the same mentality. You've got to keep playing. That's the type of game we're expecting from them. They're coming off a loss in Pittsburgh and you expect a team to respond and we've got to make sure we're ready for that."

The Wings have taken two of three games with the Blues, will go with these combos:

Johan Franzen-Henrik Zetterberg-Patrick Eaves

Jiri Hudler-Valtteri Filppula-Todd Bertuzzi

Kris Draper-Darren Helm-Drew Miller

Tomas Tatar-Justin Abdelkader-Jan Mursak


Nicklas Lidstrom-Niklas Kronwall

Jonathan Ericsson-Brian Rafalski

Ruslan Salei-Jakub Kindl

Jimmy Howard, who missed Detroit's previous two games with a right knee bruise, will mark his return to the Red Wings lineup tonight and start in goal.

Rumors are floating around the Red Wings are close to a contract with former San Jose Sharks goalie Evgeni Nabokov. But the Wings better be careful what they wish for. Nabokov will have to be placed on waivers before he can join Wings. He left the Sharks in the summer to sign a contract with St. Petersburg in the KHL.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Oshie getting back to form after return to lineup

Forward says timing issues need to be
worked out, likes potential with Berglund, Sobotka

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Some soreness is all that remains of T.J. Oshie's return to the Blues' lineup.

The Blues' energetic forward returned to the lineup during a 2-1 victory over the Los Angeles Kings after missing the previous 31 games with a fractured left ankle.

Oshie did not participate in the Blues' optional skate on Wednesday and said there's nothing out of the ordinary after playing nearly 18 minutes.

"Feels good. A little sore, but it's to be expected," said Oshie, who was a minus-1 in 17 minutes 53 seconds of ice time. "The ankle's not as sore as I thought it was going to be.

"It could have been better. I guess it can always get better. I was watching some game tape with (Patrik Berglund) just building a little bit of chemistry away from the game and watching tape, kind of some things that we can do different. All-in-all, our line played pretty good. Just trying to get the chemistry a little bit. It's kind of tough being away for so long and then playing with guys that you haven't played with in a long time."

Oshie, who played on the Blues' second line with Berglund and Vladimir Sobotka, was originally scheduled to miss three months after surgery on his ankle. But the timeline was pushed up to the All-Star weekend after the healing process was working much quicker than usual. Then after full-contact practice Monday and Tuesday's morning skate, Oshie was deemed fit and ready for action.

Blues coach Davis Payne was pleasantly pleased with Oshie's play.

"It's almost like that first day of training camp feel where you get back into body contact," Payne said. "There's a general soreness there that occurs when you get into that. It's to be expected. The important part is knowing that it's just general body soreness and the ankle feels good.

"It's the National Hockey League. It's not as though you jump in and get right to pace at Game 45. Things were moving pretty quick out there and they're quicker than they were in Game 1, they're quicker than they were in exhibition. For him to be able to step in and make some plays at that pace and kind of regroup and get his timing as much under control as he could within the game to us is a successful night."

A successful night might have included maybe 12-15 minutes of ice time, but even Oshie was a bit caught off-guard by the amount of ice time, which included stints on the power play (3:57) and penalty kill (1:14).

"Yeah, definitely," Oshie said. "Especially with the signing of (Kyle) Wellwood, I thought that I would be playing a little bit less. But it's tough to sit on the bench, so I'm definitely not complaining."

Said Payne, "There was conversation there with the trainers and us as coaches ... what our thought would be on (Oshie's ice time). The final thought, as the trainers were leaving the room, was 'As soon as he's back in, we're going to play the heck out of him.' I think we hit the over, and that was probably the easiest bet of the night."

Look for Payne to continue to use Oshie with Berglund and Sobotka, as well as Alex Steen with David Backes and Matt D'Agostini.

"He and Bergy have played together in the past," Payne said. "I think they feed off each other pretty well as far as the work and the energy and kind of seeing each other, lefty to righty, leaving the defensive zone and the plays they make. It's chemistry there that I think you recognize on and off the ice. Sobe's a guy who’s going to do work. He's going play in the tough areas, he's going to possess pucks, he's going to give these guys some extra space to work with.

"It was a situation to give Backes a chance to play with Steen to see how that fits with our mix. This was, to me, the right time to do it."

Oshie and Berglund have played together in the past, and with Sobotka's physical presence, there's definitely some intrigue there.

"Me and Bergy respond very well together," Oshie said. "We can communicate really well, in the locker room and on the bench. Sobe's obviously a great player. He can make plays when you need him to and he can play the body, which I definitely like about him."

The newbie on the line is also excited.

"I'm really excited to play with Osh and Bergy," Sobotka said. "That's a great line. We changed it because Osh was back. The last two games we didn't push too much offensively. We just changed it and I think it will work well for all of us.

"(Oshie) brings a lot of energy. It's great to play with him. Just a great guy. It's amazing, his personality, just energy player, he can score goals, make plays."

Oshie totaled 10 points (1 goal, 9 assists) in 13 games before being injured but now has the opportunity to fit back in with a team that's in the thick of a playoff race.

Payne definitely likes the upside of using Berglund and Sobotka as particular linemates, as well as getting Steen, Backes and D'Agostini acclimated.

"It's lefty to righty on one unit, righty to lefty on another unit," Payne said. "It just gives two guys immediate ability to play a two-man game, to see each other, make plays, to read off each other. Those reads, which are crucial, understanding what plays guys are going to make in a split second I thought was fairly sharp last night. Another game, hopefully we'll see some more progress with those groups.

"You want that energy (from Oshie). That's how he plays. It's what makes him the player he is."


Colaiacovo to IR with eye injury; McDonald skates

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- It's happened to Carlo Colaiacovo. Again.

It's a familiar cliche, but if it weren’t for bad luck, the Blues' defenseman would have no luck at all.

After escaping with only 12 combined stitches (nine on the outside of his upper lip and three more on the inside of his mouth) following a puck to the mouth last week in Anaheim, Colaiacovo returned to the Blues' lineup Tuesday after missing only two games.

But after taking a puck off the left eye by Los Angeles' Drew Doughty, Colaiacovo will be out "a couple weeks," according to Blues coach Davis Payne.

"He's pretty sore," Payne said of Colaiacovo Wednesday after the Blues' optional skate at St. Louis Mills. "... With the eye, it's going to take some time to heal."

Payne said he didn't know any specific details pertaining to Colaiacovo, who missed seven games earlier this season with a concussion and was placed on injured reserve Wednesday.

Doughty's shot in the second period caught Colaiacovo, who turned to his right, high on his head and he was immediately rushed off the ice by team trainer Ray Barile and did not return.

"It's bad luck," defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "The one in Anaheim was just a fluky shot. Last night again ... half the time, those pucks hit your stick and goes out of play. But it hits the stick and rolls up the shaft. You feel bad for him. The guy battles, but sometimes that's just how it goes. Hopefully, he'll be alright to get back here."

Colaiacovo, who earlier this season was hit in the head by San Jose's Devin Setoguchi and returned wearing a visor, typically doesn't wear any facial protection.

"For one game there I put one on, and it felt so weird," Colaiacovo said earlier this week. "... You never want to start talking about stuff like that and second-guessing yourself. I'm not going to think about putting one on. Just worry about playing."

When the Blues (22-17-6) face the Detroit Red Wings tonight, either Tyson Strachan will be inserted into the lineup or it could be Ian Cole, who was recalled early Wednesday afternoon from AHL Peoria for a fourth time this season.

"We've got Strachs. He played a good game in LA on the road trip," Payne said before the Cole announcement. "I feel like he can step in. We'll make the assessment as to what our lineup needs to look like for tomorrow against Detroit."

Strachan says he's ready if called upon.

"That's just terrible luck for a guy the first game back," Strachan said. "We hope he's OK. But yeah, it might be an opportunity. That's why I've been here working hard to step in and help the team out."

* McDonald skates -- Blues forward Andy McDonald, who has missed the past 20 games, skated Wednesday for the first time since suffering a concussion Dec. 4 in Edmonton.

McDonald, who was the team leader in points (17) on eight goals and nine assists when he departed the lineup, skated by himself at the Ice Zone early Wednesday morning for roughly 30-45 minutes before the team practiced.

Although this is a good sign McDonald's health is improving and he could be getting closer to a return to the lineup, it's still unknown when and if he does in fact return. Blues general manager Doug Armstrong is scheduled to address the status of both McDonald and David Perron (concussion) after the first period of tonight's game.

Perron, out since Nov. 4, missed his 35th game Tuesday but was in the building to take in the Blues' 2-1 victory over the Kings.

* Porter designated -- Winger Chris Porter was placed on waivers for the purpose of being designated for assignment to Peoria.

Teams have until 11 a.m. today to claim Porter, who was a healthy scratch Tuesday with the return of T.J. Oshie to the lineup after Porter played the previous 16 games.

Porter has played a total of 25 games this season, collecting two assists.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Blues top Kings on Johnson game-winner

Oshie returns in 2-1 victory; Colaiacovo
leaves game after taking puck to face again

ST. LOUIS -- Put the puck on goal and good things will happen. It doesn't matter if it's a 100 mile-per-hour howitzer or just a harmless wrister towards an awaiting netminder.

For Erik Johnson, the bottom line was just getting the puck on net.

Johnson's wrister from the top of the right circle somehow found its way through Jonathan Quick's pads and trickle into the net as the Blues welcomed back injured forward T.J. Oshie with a 2-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings Tuesday night at Scottrade Center.

Johnson's fifth of the season and second in as many games came with 6 minutes 47 seconds remaining in the game as the Blues (22-17-6) got back one of their key injured players in Oshie, who missed the previous 31 games with a fractured left ankle, suffered Nov. 10 in Columbus.

The win gives the Blues 50 points and moves them up one spot in 11th place in the Western Conference, ahead of the Kings (24-21-1) by one point.

Johnson received a pass from Alex Steen, who has a point in 19 of 23 games, skated into the Kings zone and fired off what seemed like a harmless wrister with David Backes crashing the net. Quick appeared to smother the puck but it somehow trickled through for the go-ahead tally.

"We were having some trouble, in the second especially, we weren't shooting the puck a lot," Johnson said. "(Blues coach) Davis (Payne) was just emphasizing that we need pucks and bodies to go to the net to be successful. It's not going to take anything pretty. Like you saw, I just threw it at the net and I think Quick saw Backes flying in there and it just squeaked across the line."

It's not the way a team designs it, but a win is a win, and the Blues, who are 2-5-1 in their past eight games -- both wins against the Kings -- can use as many wins as they can get.

"We had some opportunities there on some line rushes and some odd-man situations where we didn't take the shot," Payne said. "It's one of those ones where you get to go back and say, 'This is why you put it on net.' I'm sure it's one that Quick would like back, but we'll certainly take it. It was a good decision by EJ to get the puck turned right back up and get in over the line and allow the rush to get somewhat there. Just to put it on net after a couple of the odd-man rushes we had was a good decision by him obviously."

The win was glorified by the return of Oshie, who returned to the lineup nearly a month sooner than originally expected when the injury occured.

Oshie, who skated with Vladimir Sobotka and Patrik Berglund on the Blues' second unit, took 20 shifts and had 17:53 of ice time in his return back. He received a rousing ovation when introduced.

"I felt great," Oshie said. "It took me a while to find my step out there, but everything was good. Probably half way through the second, I started getting comfortable. I was feeling like myself again out there. Obviously, the legs and lungs aren't where you want them to be. You can't really match a game from just skating by yourself on the ice at practice. All is well. The team got the win, which is a plus.

"It was awesome. I had a smile on my face all night. Even after a bad shift, it was kind of hard to wipe the grin off my face. The fans were unbelievable. That big cheer at the beginning of the game definitely helped me. It calmed my nerves a little bit. The team was behind me, (the fans) were behind me so I just went out and played my game."

Said Payne, "I thought he was good. There were some moments there where you could see his ability to handle pucks. Most importantly, the pursuit that he has. There were a couple of plays in the second period and a read on the PK in the third period ... these kind of plays that you recognize as a play that a guy makes with his head as well as his hustle. Really evident that he's able to step back in and give us a solid game. Was it top-notch T.J. Oshie? No. But it's his first game in a couple of months, so we'll take it."

Berglund scored the Blues' initial goal on a two-man advantage when Matt D'Agostini found Berglund coming down the right seam 11:56 into the opening period.

The Blues came into the game 3 for 39 on the power play dating back to Dec. 16.

"I knew (Berglund) and Steener were kind of going up and down there so there would be a little movement, kind of throwing their guys off," D'Agostini said. "Bergy was up high to begin with and then he moved into that bottom seam. I put it a little in front of him, but he went out and got it, so it was a good play.

"We knew we had to get something there, and the power play's been struggling lately so I think that was big for us to come out and get one like that."

Kyle Clifford scored for the Kings in the second period, as Matt Greene's shot hit Clifford in front, beating Jaroslav Halak on a screen play with 3:39 left in the second. Halak stopped 26 shots in the win.

As the Blues welcomed Oshie back, Johnson was struck on the wrist by a Alec Martinez in the opening period, but obviously Johnson returned.

"It hit me right in the bone," Johnson said. "X-rays were negative, which is good. I just wanted to make sure and put an ice pack on it and take an Advil and get back out. That's just hockey."

However, Carlo Colaiacovo, who was struck on the mouth by a puck in Anaheim last week, took another puck near the eye area off a Drew Doughty shot in the second period and did not return.

"No update other than we know he got hit, and I believe it was closer to the eye than the last one was in the mouth," Payne said. "We're looking into exactly what's going to go on there. He was hit in the eye area and that's all we know for now."

Oshie started the game and just made sure for his first night back that he didn't try too much.

"A lot of the guys were kind of talking to me," Oshie said. "Don't go too hard, don't try to do too much. I think a couple shifts I kind of did that little bit with the puck, trying to do a little too much with it. Just getting out there and being with the boys and being on the bench and being in the game atmosphere is a lot different than skating circles by yourself and doing conditioning drills.

"Sitting down for two and a half months or whatever it's been just watching from upstairs, you see some different stuff and you definitely don't realize how fast it is from up there. I was telling the boys that I'm two, three steps behind right now, or at least it felt like that. It felt like I was skating in cement there for a while. It's going to take a while for me to get my timing back. Hopefully not too long and I can get more and more comfortable each night."

The Blues will keep moving forward and welcome Detroit here Thursday.

"Two points in the bag," D'Agostini said. "We'll take it and move onto the next one."

(1-18-11) Kings-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- T.J. Oshie's smile was back.

Not that it's been hiding out or anything, but it was more noticeable that usual Tuesday morning.

The Blues announced early this afternoon Oshie will finally return to the lineup when the Blues (21-17-6) play host to the Los Angeles Kings (24-20-1) at 7 p.m. today (FSN, KMOX 1120-AM).

Oshie has missed the last 31 games after breaking his left ankle in a game Nov. 10 at Columbus.

The original target date for a reevaluation was three months from the time of surgery, which took place the following day after the injury, but in recent weeks, Oshie has been practicing with the team and has speeded up his process.

Monday was his first full day of contact drills and he participated in the morning skate Tuesday. Oshie had 10 points in 13 games prior to injury.

"I feel good," said Oshie before news broke of his return. "I haven't tweaked it at all in the contact drills I've been in. I've been feeling good. I haven't obviously played a game or haven't had anyone take a run at me. Other than that, it feels good out there. Still gets a little sore, but that's to be expected.

"I feel like I'm healed. Obviously there's going to be that kind of sense of urgency once you go get close to the leg and things like that. I feel like if I do get a chance to play tonight, I'll go out there, do what I can and hopefully nothing will hold me back."

Blues coach Davis Payne was cautious but sounded optimistic of a return before the announcement.

"We're going to wait and see how the ankle feels," Payne said. "It's been another pre-game skate, a chance for us to ice it down, get it calmed down and see how it feels. We'll make a decision this afternoon.

"He looked good yesterday, looked good today. These are all real solid indicators that he's awful close. We're all eager to get him back in the lineup. We also have to make intelligent decisions about it, too based on the healing and the rehabilitation of that ankle. We don't want to let our hearts get ahead of this one."

- - -

A return of Oshie to the lineup was likely predicated because the Blues have lost out trying to sign another NHL-established player to a contract after the player had a run in the Kontinental Hockey League.

Despite being on the ice for the morning skate Tuesday, center Kyle Wellwood found out just as the 24-hour waiver period was set to expire that he had been claimed by the San Jose Sharks.

Wellwood was skating on a line with Vladimir Sobotka and Patrik Berglund and was all set to be in the lineup tonight when Payne pulled him off the ice to give Wellwood the news.

"You can't be disappointed because there's another team that wants you to play," Wellwood said. "Certainly signing here and knowing some of the guys, I was excited to play tonight.

"They were one of the top four teams in the NHL last year. To go to a team that has aspirations to win the Cup is good."

The Blues tried doing this with Marek Svatos, signing him to a one-year contract before being claimed off waivers by the Nashville Predators. The Blues signed Wellwood to a pro-rated $650,000 one-year deal.

"It's part of the process," Payne said. "We're trying to get a guy into our lineup that we thought could make us a better hockey club. Obviously there's a couple teams out there that felt those players could do the same for them. ... Do we like it? No. We want him to be in our lineup tonight. But that's how it goes."

Which makes one wonder if this was a pick-up for the good of the team or to keep the Blues, a competitor with the Sharks in the Western Conference playoff race, from bettering themselves.

"We're only doing our part," Payne said. "If they make a decision that they want to add him, they do it based on their discussions. I'm not privy to their decision-making."

So the Blues will soldier on, trying to keep pace with the players they have.

"Obviously it's disappointed to see that," forward B.J. Crombeen said. "You kind of get excited when they come in and practice with you for a day. You're kind of looking forward to what they can bring to the team and stuff like that, but it's one of those things. It happens. It's funny that it's happened to us twice, which is unfortunate. It's something you really don't have any control of and we've got to find a way to win the games with what we've got right now and hopefully, get some help back soon."

To which Oshie said, "It definitely makes you want to come back a little quicker to try and do what I can to help out the team."

- - -

The Blues, with 48 points, have five more games remaining before the All-Star break.

They begin a three-game homestand tonight, then play at Colorado and Calgary.

"We put some emphasis on this five-game set," Payne said. "... Thirty-eight to go and a certain number that's going to need to be hit to get into the playoffs as one of the eight, we've got to make sure that each two points is as precious as the next, but time is ticking and the clock's not going to run forever."

- - -

With Oshie in tonight, here's how the lineup is likely to resemble:

Alex Steen-David Backes-Matt D'Agostini

Vladimir Sobotka-Patrik Berglund-T.J. Oshie

Brad Winchester-Jay McClement-Brad Boyes

B.J. Crombeen-Philip McRae-Ryan Reaves

The Blues' d-pairings will get a boost with the return of Carlo Colaiacovo (facial injury).

Eric Brewer-Erik Johnson

Barret Jackman-Roman Polak

Carlo Colaiacovo-Alex Pietrangelo

Jaroslav Halak
, who was in goal when the Blues beat the Kings 3-1 Thursday, gets the start tonight.

Chris Porter, Cam Janssen and Tyson Strachan will be the healthy scratches.

- - -

The Kings, one point ahead of the Blues, dropped a 2-1 decision in Dallas Monday night.

The Blues are 2-0 against the Kings this season, which includes a 6-4 victory here last month.

The Blues, who were 1-2 on their recent west-coast swing, played their best game at LA Thursday.

"We played a very committed game," Payne said. "We were above the puck all night long. LA had to face numbers, they had to face bodies and a large part of that was based on discipline with our puck decisions, discipline with our position. We attacked when the opportunity was there, we had a season-low in scoring chances against a pretty good offensive club. ... It was a real good imprint game for us."

Barring any changes, their lineup should feature the following combinations:

Ryan Smyth-Anze Kopitar-Justin Williams

Marco Sturm-Jarret Stoll- Dustin Brown

Kyle Clifford-Brad Richardson-Trevor Lewis

Alexei Ponikarovsky-Michal Handzus-Kevin Westgarth

Rob Scuderi-Drew Doughty

Jack Johnson-Willie Mitchell

Alec Martinez-Matt Greene

Jonathan Quick
will start in goal after Jonathan Bernier got the last two starts.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Wellwood signs one-year deal with Blues

Former Maple Leaf, Canuck must clear
waivers before deal is consummated

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- After days of speculation, Kyle Wellwood is finally a Blue.

Or is he?

On Monday, the Blues signed Wellwood, formerly of Toronto and most recently Vancouver, to a one-year contract for the remainder of the season reportedly at a pro-rated number of $650,000 after the forward was released from his contract with Mytishchi Atlant of the Kontinental Hockey League was terminated.

But the 5-foot-10, 181-pound Wellwood, 27, was placed on waivers Monday morning and teams have until 11 a.m. today to place a claim on him or he officially becomes a member of the Blues.

The Blues tried this a few weeks ago when they brought in and signed Marek Svatos to a similar deal but the former Colorado Avalanche winger, who was also playing in the KHL, was picked up by the Nashville Predators the following day.

"Try it again, I guess," joked Blues forward David Backes.

If Wellwood clears, he instantly gives the Blues an upgrade in a couple areas that they have noticeably been lacking at: winning face-offs and the power play.

Wellwood has 63 goals and 160 points in 338 NHL games in five NHL seasons, the last two with the Canucks.

"Adding pieces to make you a stronger hockey club is always a good thing," Blues coach Davis Payne said without elaborating too much more. "It's a boost, it's a push, it's a pull. Guys have to recognize that. We'll talk about that 24 hours from now."

Wellwood was on the ice Monday morning at the Blues' practice at St. Louis Mills and seems eager to go after his bout in Russia didn't work out too well.

"It's one that I'm trying to forget, but it was an experience," Wellwood said of his KHL experience. "It was fun to go, but I certainly wanted to be back home after about a month.

"They think it's a good fit for me to come in and help them out and make a push here to get a playoff spot. I'm certainly looking forward to playing in the NHL again."

Wellwood last played competitively in the KHL at the beginning of the month and tallied eight points in 25 games with Atlant but said the team informed him that he would not play once the squad changed coaches and was making its playoff push. He eventually got his release from the club.

It was obvious Wellwood was eager to get back to the NHL after going to Phoenix during training camp as a non-roster invitee.

"It's a lot harder to try to come into something in January, but with the circumstances, I'm in," Wellwood said. "It's an odd situation. ... I want to play for the Blues, and I'd be disappointed if I got picked up."

A center by trade, Wellwood will likely be in the lineup tonight when the Blues host the Los Angeles Kings and likely skate with Vladimir Sobotka and Patrik Berglund.

But he was brought in to boost a Blues team (21-17-6) that needs a quick infusion.

"He looked pretty good in practice," Backes said. "He was doing a good job on the power play down at the other end. Obviously we can use any help we can from any source. We'll take it and hopefully, it's a piece to the puzzle that rights the ship.

"Good face-off guy, has hands as good as most in the league, better than most in the league. To add that skill, we've got a lot of grit, got a lot of work horses on this team, but he may add that skill element to make a few more plays and cash in a few more of the chances that we create."

The Blues are expected to get back T.J. Oshie (broken ankle) soon but with the lingering uncertainly of post-concussion symptoms for Andy McDonald and David Perron, the Blues have been searching for any means necessary to upgrade.

"We're just constantly looking for offense," Blues President John Davidson said. "He gives us another NHL player. We don't expect miracles, just hope that he can contribute and take the load off guys. Our guys have played a lot of hockey and battled hard, but there's a lot of hockey left.

"We don't know about the three that are injured, Oshie and the two others with concussions. There's no timetable whatsoever. We're trying to find offense and maybe Kyle can come in and help. The same thing with Marek Svatos ... we'll see where it all goes."

Wellwood, who scored 14 goals and 25 points with Vancouver a season ago, was awaiting official clearance from his former club before inking a deal with the Blues.

"The power play hasn't been great the past couple weeks, so they're hoping someone can come in and help that out," Wellwood said. "I'm certainly ready to play. Hopefully, I'm a great fit for them and I can stay for a long time."


Blues could get Oshie back in lineup tonight; Colaiacovo ready to play

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- It's no secret of T.J. Oshie's amount of time spent on the ice in recent weeks. It's been countless time spent rehabbing a broken left ankle.

But Monday's practice at St. Louis Mills was more than just a practice.

"Today (was) a first full day of practice," Blues coach Davis Payne said.

By "full," it was Oshie's first time participating in full contact drills since the forward suffered his broken ankle Nov. 10 in Columbus.

Sources have indicated that there's an outside shot Oshie could make his return to the lineup tonight when the Blues host the Los Angeles Kings. It all depends on whether Oshie's ankle is sore or not this morning.

"We'll find out how the ankle responds and see where we sit," Payne said. "... One day at a time at this point."

Originally, Oshie was due to return in mid-February, but general manager Doug Armstrong indicated that the team had bumped up Oshie's timetable to a potential return by the All-Star break, which is the last weekend in January.

Monday's practice could very well determine how close Oshie really is.

"In the 2 on 2 situations, I thought he looked fine. I thought handling some of the pressure and the contact looked comfortable," Payne said of Oshie. "... Each time, we've ramped it up. There's been some response in there from his body. We've got to gauge that, the trainers have to do their jobs and the doctors theirs. ... It's not immediate. We know that. We just have to take each step, assess, take another step."

* Colaiacovo set to return -- Defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo, who took a puck to the mouth early in first period of the Blues' 7-4 loss at Anaheim Wednesday, looks set to return to the lineup after missing the last two games of the trip.

Colaiacovo, who took nine stitches to close a gap on the outside of his upper lip and another three on the inside of his mouth, skated on Monday and appears set to get back in, according to Payne.

"He practiced full today. No reason to believe that he shouldn't be available for tomorrow," Payne said.

Colaiacovo is thankful that there wasn't any more damage after going to the hospital after the game against the Ducks.

"It could have been a lot worse," he said Monday. "I was just fortunate enough that I still got all my teeth and it's not something that's going to keep me out for longer than I was. I think I've got to be grateful for the way the team treated me through this whole time, getting me home through the road trip and really concentrating on getting my rest and focus on getting myself feeling back to normal. I just wasn't feeling like myself when it happened."

Colaiacovo, who doesn't wear a visor, took a shot from close range from the Ducks' Matt Beleskey. He immediately was helped off the ice from Blues' head trainer Ray Barile and did not return.

Despite the incident, Colaiacovo, who missed seven games earlier this season because of a concussion, doesn’t think about wearing a visor.

"For one game there I put one on, and it felt so weird," Colaiacovo said. "The thing I enjoy the most now without wearing one, I feel like I'm more into the game not wearing one. You feel the wind coming through your face and everything like that. You never want to start talking about stuff like that and second-guessing yourself. I'm not going to think about putting one on. Just worry about playing."

* Reaves. McRae impressing -- Recent Peoria recalls Philip McRae and Ryan Reaves have made favorable impressions so far.

Both McRae and Reaves were recalled before the Blues departed on their west coast swing and each contributed offensively, with Reaves picking up his first two goals in the NHL at Anaheim Wednesday and in Los Angeles Thursday. McRae, the son of former Blue and current team pro scout Basil McRae, collected his first NHL point.

"I thought in the LA game, that line was good," Payne said of the McRae, Reaves and Chris Porter line. "I thought that they generated and executed our structure very very well. I thought in the San Jose game, unfortunately, Ryan was one of the guys that had better energy and execution up front. That's a tough way to beat the San Jose Sharks. Not taking anything away from Ryan. I'm taking things away from what needed to be done by the whole group up front.

"Both guys handled themselves very well on the trip."

Reaves, whose father Willard was a three-time Canadian Football League all-star with Winnipeg in the mid-1980s, is on his second recall for the Blues. His first was short-lived.

"Any time I can score two goals, it's going better than expected," Reaves said. "It's starting to feel a little more comfortable. The first time, maybe I was a little more nervous. I know what's expected and I'm feeling good.

"I'm just making sure I play my game and sticking to it. Just doing what I've been doing in Peoria. ... I feel like I went down in Peoria and got my head on straight and came back with the same mentality that I had there. I'm not going to be doing anything fancy to put the puck in the net, that's for sure. Just going hard to the net. ... Nothing miraculous is coming out of me."

* Jackman hurt in practice -- Veteran defenseman Barret Jackman left practice early Monday after catching an inadvertent puck to the ear during a drill.

Jackman, who missed nine games earlier this season with a knee sprain, keeled over in pain and immediately left the ice with Barile, but Payne said afterwards Jackman should be fine for the game against the Kings.

"It's not a very pleasant feeling, but he'll I'm sure take the rest of the day and be ready to go tomorrow," Payne said.

* Scoreboard watching -- With the Blues involved in a heavily-contested Western Conference race, one wonders if the Blues (21-17-6) are catching themselves scoreboard-watching these days.

With 48 points and four points out of eighth place, the Blues are currently in 12th place in the Western Conference but feel like there's no need to worry about what others are doing.

"If you watch scoreboards and get caught up in that, with the discrepancy in games played and you start worrying about all that other BS, it ends up consuming you and you lose focus on what really you can control, and that's the task at hand," forward David Backes said after practice Monday. "For us, that's the Los Angeles Kings tomorrow night at Scottrade Center."

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Blues empty-handed so far in 2011

Team trying to snap 0-3-1 winless skid on
west coast swing, on pace for 92 points

ST. LOUIS -- When the Blues turned the page on the 2010 calendar year, it ended the kind of beginning the team had hoped for.

Staring right smack in the face of 2011, the Blues were on a five-game winning streak and right in a crowded pack of hopefuls fighting in a fierce Western Conference battle.

But as the Blues (20-15-6) begin a three-game western road swing tonight in Anaheim, 2011 still has an empty feeling to it.

The Blues are 0-for-2011.

They're 0-3-1 in the last four after Monday's 4-3 home loss to the Phoenix Coyotes, a game in which they led by a goal with 10 minutes remaining.

Coupled with losses to Dallas (4-2), Toronto (6-5 in a shootout) and the New York Rangers (2-1), coach Davis Payne may not see a common theme in the way they're losing, but what is common is: they're losing. Not just the games but ground in the standings as well.

"I don't see a common theme. I see differences in these games," Payne said after Monday's loss. "The Dallas game was not a very good hockey game for our club. The next couple (were) sporadic. ... Certainly the Toronto game. The New York game, if we had some plays towards the net, perhaps it's not a one-goal loss. Tonight's performance is a pretty solid performance that we'd take most nights. We had some pressure there and their goaltender held firm at times. They found a way."

The Blues are at the halfway point of the season and are on pace for 92 points, which would put them on the cusp of being one of the last teams to make it into the postseason dance but considering the fact they finished with 90 points a season ago and were five points away from eighth place, they'll have to pick up the pace here in the second half.

"They're all important from here on out," said forward Matt D'Agostini, who has six points in four games after a goal and an assist Monday. "If you look at our conference, it feels like you can't lose any. ... We'll be better and we know it. Every game is like a playoff game from here on out.

"... We've got to work right to the end. We've been on the bad side of a couple close ones lately, but hopefully things turn around quick."

The Blues are ahead of last season's pace (they were 17-18-6 for 40 points), and considering that they were going through the coaching change from Andy Murray to Payne a little over a year ago and laboring in the standings, this year's squad is in a better spot considering the injuries they've dealt with and still are dealing with at the forward positions (Andy McDonald and David Perron with concussions and T.J. Oshie with a broken ankle).

"We're aware of what's gone on here in the last little bit," defenseman Eric Brewer said. "We just have to keep it reigned in and limit what's not going on and improve on what is going very well for us. It's easy to get lost in the mix, but we're not going to get lost in the mix."

The Blues will look to avoid their third losing streak of five games tonight.

"I think we're a mentally strong enough group where we can put those losses behind us and focus on the next game," defenseman Erik Johnson said. "... The 'W' streaks are good. It's the losing ones you want to get rid of."

After today's 9 p.m. start in Anaheim, the Blues play at Los Angeles Thursday and San Jose Saturday. These are all teams directly ahead of them with games in hand.

"We're in the mix," Payne said. "We're one win away from feeling better about ourselves. We've put ourselves in a position to this point ... not in a (playoff) spot but within striking distance and we know how quickly things can change in this conference."