Monday, February 28, 2011

Winchester traded to Anaheim for 2012 third-round pick

Blues deal fifth regular from lineup in last 11
days, recall Reaves, Porter; McRae placed on IR

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues made one final alteration to its 2020-11 roster on the final day in which NHL teams can wheel and deal.

A day after sending Brad Boyes to Buffalo for a 2011 second-round pick, the Blues traded winger Brad Winchester to the Anaheim Ducks for a 2012 third-round pick.

Winchester, who turns 30 today, is making $700,000 on a one-year contract and is set to become an unrestricted free agent July 1.

So with Monday at 2 p.m. central time being the NHL trade deadline, the Blues -- in the last 11 days -- have parted ways with five regulars. Two of them are set to become unrestricted free agents, three of them will have one year remaining on their respective contracts along with a conditional No. 1 pick this year or in 2012.

The dealing began on Feb. 18 with the trade of captain Eric Brewer to the Tampa Bay Lightning for the rights to defenseman Brock Beukeboom and a 2011 third-round pick.

Then came the blockbuster of this NHL trading in the early hours of Feb. 19 after the Brewer trade when the Blues sent 2006 No. 1 overall pick Erik Johnson and center Jay McClement along with a conditional 2011 or 2012 No. 1 pick to the Colorado Avalanche for power forward Chris Stewart, defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk and a conditional 2011 or 2012 No. 2 pick.

The Blues then dealt Boyes to the Sabres after the team fell 1-0 at Calgary on Sunday night before dealing Winchester in the final hour of deadline day on Monday.

In all, the Blues, who had one of the smallest team payrolls in the game, purged $8.5 million in salaries that are due to Boyes ($4 million), Johnson ($3 million) and McClement ($1.5 million) next season, along with Brewer's $4.5 million and Winchester's $700,000. Both of those players will be unrestricted free agents this summer.

It's a total of $13.7 million come off the books for next season, but the team will need to factor in pay raises to restricted free agents such as T.J. Oshie, Patrik Berglund, Roman Polak, Vladimir Sobotka, Nikita Nikitin, Ben Bishop, Matt D'Agostini, B.J. Crombeen, among others. The team will likely not keep all their restricted free agents but the majority will get qualifying offers and/or multi-year extensions.

Also on Monday, the Blues learned that goalie Ty Conklin cleared waivers and will remain with the team, at least temporarily.

Conklin, 34, will become an unrestricted free agent after this season. He was placed on waivers Saturday but will continue a tandem with Bishop as Jaroslav Halak (bruised right hand) is not quite ready to be put back on the active roster.

With the shortage at the forward position, the team recalled forwards Ryan Reaves and Chris Porter from Peoria on Monday. It was also not known whether Sobotka (foot) will be ready to play tonight in the rematch against the Flames after blocking a shot off his left foot in the first period of Sunday's loss.

Also, center Philip McRae (knee) has been placed on injured reserve. He injured his knee Thursday night in Vancouver.

Winchester played in 185 games for the Blues and totaled 43 points (25 goals) in three seasons.

Brad Boyes traded to Buffalo

Blues continue to shuffle deck, deal
winger to Sabres for 2011 second-round pick

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues continue to reshuffle their roster, the latest move announced late Sunday night when they traded winger Brad Boyes to the Buffalo Sabres for a second-round pick in 2011.

"I heard about it initially ... I'm excited," Boyes told KMOX's Chris Kerber. "It's going to be a lot of fun, the way (Buffalo plays), the coach (Lindy Ruff) has been there for a long time. That part I'm looking forward to.

"But coming in the lobby (in Calgary), guys are waiting around ... that gets real tough. The hardest thing is saying bye to them. A lot of them have been here since I've been here or shortly after I got here. ... You bond with a lot of them. This is one of the best group of guys I've been a part of."

The announcement came after the Blues' 1-0 loss in Calgary, a game in which Boyes thought he had scored the tying goal with roughly three minutes remaining, only to have it wiped out by the puck being touched with a high stick.

"When we got a call on Brad, I looked at our roster today and also looked at it moving forward," Armstrong said. "With the addition of (Chris) Stewart and knowing (David) Perron is coming back at some point (from a concussion), it was necessary to make the move now while it was available.

"You just have to manage your assets. With Stewart, Perron and T.J. Oshie (on the right side), we had to create space. We had too many right wingers."

In other words, Armstrong must feel like the Blues (28-25-9) will get Perron back sooner rather than later, or else he wouldn't part with a top-six forward.

Boyes, 28, has 12 goals and 41 points in 61 games this season and was in the third year of a four-year, $16 million contract signed during the 2007-08 season. The team will save approximately $975,000 this season and another $4 million owed for the final year remaining on the deal.

The Blues' payroll is at $44.4 million, or roughly $1 million from the salary cap floor. The salary cap ceiling is $59.4.

In five seasons with the Blues, Boyes played 327 games -- he did not miss a game -- and had 106 goals and 232 points.

"... this was a hockey decision based on personnel that we had," Armstrong said, admitting the cost efficiency.

Boyes obviously hasn't been the same player after scoring 76 goals (43 in the 2007-08 season) in back-to-back seasons. He went from 43 goals in '07-08 to 33 goals in '08-09 and dropped all the way down to 14 last season.

"That was definitely what I wanted to get back to," Boyes said regarding the 43- and 33-goal seasons. "We had some injuries this season and it was tough. The style that we played is not the style you can put up a lot of points. We were a good defensive team. It's not good or bad, it's just what it was.

"I tried to create as much as I could. I would have loved to score more. If I did, maybe I'd still be in St. Louis. But I love where I'm going, and I'm looking forward to it. I'm not necessarily surprised (by the trade). But it's tough leaving the guys. The organization was great, everybody was awesome. It's some of the best years I've had in my career. Unfortunately, I didn't get where I wanted to, and the team didn't get where we wanted to. But I don't have a bad word for Doug Armstrong or the organization."

The NHL trade deadline is set for 2 p.m. (central time) this afternoon and the Blues have now acquired two second-round picks (they picked one up for either this summer or the summer of 2012 in the Colorado trade a week ago), plus they will also have two third-round picks after getting Tampa Bay's third rounder in the Eric Brewer trade. The Blues could have a first-round pick this summer, depending on if they give it up to Colorado or give the Avalanche their first-round pick in 2012.

The Blues could be dealing some more later today, they could be dealing at the draft or they will have an abundance of new draft choices come this summer.

"Part of getting these draft picks is that it gives us good options to move draft picks for NHL players," Armstrong said. "The potential allows us to maybe do some of that (today).

"Now we have picks in play that we didn't have. There's not a 100 guarantee we will use these picks at the draft."

The Sabres, who are two points out of eighth place in the Eastern Conference race, will have a top three on right wing with Drew Stafford, Jason Pominville and Boyes.

"He was one of a few players that we've talked about," Sabres GM Darcy Regier told the Buffalo News. "We were looking for someone that could contribute for the balance of this season and a minimum next season, and given the marketplace at the deadline, he was one of the guys we were looking at.

"It's not just the goals. I certainly think the goals were there and they've dropped off, but it's also his ability to make plays, his ability to play in and around the net. He's got very good hands. He sees the ice well, can make plays, and I think that's probably the shift you see in him statistically this year ... from more goals on one end to setting the goals up on the other side. We'll be happy to take whether he's scoring the goals or contributing on the offense of someone else scoring the goals. Either one works fine."

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Blues place veteran Conklin on waivers

Unrestricted free agent in summer,
goaltender will learn his fate by Monday morning

ST. LOUIS -- Veteran backup goaltender Ty Conklin was placed on waivers today by the Blues, who will learn by Monday morning if another club put in a claim or he'll stay in St. Louis.

The 34-year-old, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer is 7-6-3 with a 3.11 goals-against averave and an .884 save percentage on the season, is 17-16-5 over two seasons with the Blues.

After a 25-save shutout on Feb. 18 at Buffalo, Conklin has allowed 10 goals on 66 shots over four games, two of those starts.

Count the fact Ben Bishop, who shut out Edmonton Friday with a 39-save effort, is likely to be given the opportunity to win the backup job next year, it made the veteran Conklin expendable. And since he's being placed on waivers, there is the likelihood there was no trade interest around the league for him.

"We just felt that there was an opportunity to see if a team wants Ty for the rest of the season, and if that occurs, then it's an opportunity for Ben Bishop," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said. "If it doesn't occur, then we'll adjust to the situation."

It appears that Jaroslav Halak (bruised hand) is close to returning to the active lineup. He was placed on injured reserve retroactive to Feb. 14 and can come off at any time. He has missed six games in a row and eight of the last 12.

"Obviously we expect him to be back soon," Armstrong said of Halak. "All indications are that he's getting closer."

If Conklin is claimed, then Halak and Bishop will be the goaltending tandem for the rest of the season, but if Conklin goes unclaimed, it's unknown if the Blues will keep him here with the parent club or send him to their American Hockey League affiliate in Peoria.

"We're not going to speculate on what will happen on Monday," Armstrong said.

Bishop is expected to get the start Sunday in Calgary, and the two teams will face one another again here on Tuesday.

The trade deadline is set for Monday at 2 p.m. central time.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Perron not ruling out playing this season

Winger has missed 50 games, in
Vancouver seeing concussion specialist

ST. LOUIS -- If David Perron has his way, he'll see the ice at some point this season with the Blues.

Even if it's for a short stint.

Perron, who has not seen the ice since suffering a concussion Nov. 4 (or 50 games ago), passed an initial baseline test a month ago and has been doing light bike riding and minimal weight lifting but has not rid himself of the concussion-related symptoms.

"We were trying to get positive results," Perron said. "I don't think there was anything negative to what we tried. If anything, it felt good to kind of do something. For someone like me with a lot of energy, I always have to do something. That brought some of my energy back in a way, and that was good. There are still some symptoms, but that's why we're here."

By "here," Perron is talking about Vancouver. He traveled with the team on a western Canadian swing that brought the Blues to Vancouver on Wednesday. Perron stayed behind as the team left for tonight's game in Edmonton to work with Dr. Don Grant, a concussion-related specialist who worked with Andy McDonald, who has returned from the concussion he suffered Dec. 4.

"I was blown away by the results with Andy and was extremely happy for him," said Perron, who received treatment the past two days. "When he got back, he was almost symptom-free and not too long after that he started skating. I'm not going to say this is going to happen with me, but that's what I'm hoping. I'll just wait and see. There's guys that react differently."

McDonald, who missed 24 games, has come back as good as can expected. He's tallied 12 points in 11 games and is hopeful what worked for him can work for Perron as well.

Other players have reaped the rewards in the past after seeing Grant. Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller recently was a visitor himself.

"You're always looking for a way to help your healing and speed it up," McDonald said. "There's a lot of different theories and methods out there. I've had some success going to this individual, so it worked out well. I don't think there's any magic pill that you can take, but if it can give you a little bit of improvement ...then it's well worth it."

Which is why Perron's not throwing in the towel on the 2010-11 season yet.

"There's no 'I'm done for the year,'" Perron said. "(General manager Doug Armstrong) has never talked to me about that. (President John Davidson) never talked to me about that. Trainers never talked to me about that. And I haven't thought about it.

"I'll keep being positive and getting ready for whatever is next. If it's playing the last 15 games of the season, then that's what it is. If it's playing the last 10 games, I just want to come back and play hockey and be with my teammates again. If it's next year, it's next year, but I'll be ready for it."

A rink rat by nature, Perron has had to deal with other aspects of life. He only knew of the hockey rink and its way, but the bi-lingual French-Canadian recently added to his array of languages to master, along with a potential new career down the road.

"I started to learn Spanish a little bit ... I'm actually getting better," said Perron, a native of Sherbrooke, Quebec. "It's quite easy because speaking French is quite similar. I'm also reading books about becoming a pilot.

"In my life, there was only hockey before that injury, and now you realize there's more. I can't say there are too many positives from the injury, because there isn't, but that's one of them. I'm looking at life in a different angle, and it's pretty good. I'm sure when I came back, though, I'll go back to the exact same mindset, but you grow as a human."

By declaring he's not ready to give up on the season, Perron is in no hurry either. He's learned coming back from a concussion too soon can be dangerous. Ask Boston's Marc Savard.

"The biggest is to recover fully ... because if you don't recover fully, and you get hit again, it takes longer," he said.

"If you told me we would play in the Stanley Cup finals, my heart would want to play, but my head is not ready. You really have to listen to yourself. Every time I talk to you, it seems like I keep saying that it's getting better. But one of these days I'll be talking to you and I'll say 'I'm good.'"

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Blues take another hard hit to playoff hopes with disheartening loss to Avalanche

Former Blue Erik Johnson scores go-ahead
goal; Colorado snaps 10-game winless skid

ST. LOUIS -- Four players, all fresh off a trade none of them expected as late as Friday evening, all had the opportunity to showcase themselves in front of their former employers in an effort to make the employer regret giving up on them.

It's safe to say that Erik Johnson got the last laugh.

At least for one night.

Johnson, the centerpiece of the Blues' rebuilding project when they drafted him No. 1 overall in 2006, came back to Scottrade Center Tuesday night as a member of the Colorado Avalanche and scored the go-ahead goal to break a late third-period tie and help the Avalanche snap a 10-game winless skid in a 4-3 victory over the Blues.

Johnson, who along with Jay McClement went to the Avalanche for Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk, beat former teammate B.J. Crombeen to a puck along the left wall, then skated into the slot and ripped a shot through Ty Conklin with 5:06 remaining and help sink the Blues (27-23-9) on this night and likely right out of the playoff chase.

The 22-year-old pumped his fist high into the air as his Avalanche teammates mobbed him near the Blues bench. The Avalanche (26-27-7) were 0-9-1 coming into the game, with their last win coming against the Blues on Jan. 24 and have now beaten St. Louis seven straight times.

Needless to say, it was an elated visiting locker room on this night.

"I don't think it could get much better than this," Johnson said. "Obviously first and foremost, you want to get a win in your old building against your old team ... to score a goal is just icing on the cake.

"To do it in front of the fans that supported me for the last number of years is humbling for me. It's just such a great feeling, I can't really say a lot of words. It's such a unique experience."

Stewart, who was playing on this side of the ledger for the first time, did his part. He scored a goal, and after the league makes the change official this morning, will be credited with the team's third goal, giving him four goals in three games with his new team.

It wasn't enough to save the Blues.

"That's two points you definitely want to have, especially this time of the year," Stewart said. "It's 2-2 going into the third. We had our chances. We had a couple key turnovers, and they capitalized.

"It was one of those games where we were in between. I think we showed when we play the right way, the damage we can do. We've just got to bring that full 60-minute effort to get two points every night."

The loss was the second in a row for the Blues, who blew a two-goal lead Monday against the Chicago Blackhawks here, then lost to the team playing arguably the worst hockey of the season.

The Avalanche had been outscored 42-14 in their 10-game slide, but the Blues could only muster three goals by Peter Budaj despite outshooting Colorado 45-27.

But time and time again, the Blues self-destruct in their own end and the puck winds up in their net.

"Mistakes are going to end up in your net or they're going to go in theirs," Blues coach Davis Payne said. "A coverage opportunity that got ourselves to a possession, lost the wall battle. Now all of the sudden we've got a guy coming right down our slot. Now we've given up the lead and we turn the next one over and we're down by two."

To add salt to the wound, Paul Stastny scored a goal and added two assists, adding another painful reminder of what the Blues could have had in the 2005 draft, when they took defenseman Scott Jackson in the second round instead of Stastny, who went seven slots later to the Avalanche.

"You give a team who is struggling a chance to believe that they can win in your building and we did that," Payne said.

The Blues came out flat and fell behind 2-0 early in the game on goals by David Jones and Milan Hejduk.

The Blues were able to fight back, getting a first-period goal by Patrik Berglund and Stewart's power play goal in the second that tied the game 2-2 with one period to go.

But the Blues once again couldn't shake the turnover bug in their zone. Both times, the puck wound up in their net.

Crombeen was beat by Johnson along the wall for the go-ahead Avalanche goal, and then T.J. Oshie had his pocket picked by Stastny trying to poke a puck on an outlet play that Stastny roofed from the slot over the glove hand of Ty Conklin with 2:38 remaining.

Conklin said, "We played about 55 good minutes or about nine, 10 good minutes and then play five laid back. ... At least make a save somewhere in there."

"We got beat in some one-on-one battles tonight that shouldn't happen," defenseman Barret Jackman said. "It ended up costing us in the end.

"Sometimes, they might be a little bit more hungry at different times, and sometimes it ends up in your net."

The third goal, originally credited to Andy McDonald but will go to Stewart, was scored 22 seconds after Stastny's goal. But there would be no miracle finishes here.

"We're trying to pull something magical out," Payne sad. "We had some decent opportunity in the third period, but again, it's just about sticking to the detail, sticking to the situation, putting your opponent in areas where they make mistakes, protecting the inside of the ice. We didn't do that.

"We didn't start with the type of checking intent. I thought a lot of intent to get up the ice. We were skating, but we were skating away from support situations. We were skating away from outlet situations. Was there energy? Sure, but we've got to make sure it's applied as a group of five making sure that it moves up ice into the right areas."

Said winger Alex Steen, "It's tough. We battled back. We just didn't do what needed to be done tonight. ... I thought we certainly had our chances, but there's some sloppy plays that ended up costing us the game. These are two tough games to lose, especially at home. I don't think they outplayed us, we beat ourselves at times by just not doing the things we normally do to win us hockey games. We got away from it tonight."

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Johnson's goals: win, make Blues pay

Defenseman hopes team that drafted him, traded him regrets decision

ST. LOUIS -- Erik Johnson wants the Blues to pay for trading him away. He didn't waste any time making good on his claim.

Johnson, playing in his second game for the Colorado Avalanche, had to feel like he netted the Stanley Cup-winning goal Tuesday night.

His sixth of the season snapped a 2-all tie and helped the Avalanche break a 10-game winless slide by downing the Blues 4-3 at Scottrade Center.

After Johnson beat Ty Conklin with a slap slot coming down the slot with 5 minutes, 6 seconds remaining in the game, he was mobbed by teammates on the ice as he pumped his fist in the air.

It's a natural reaction from a 22-year-old defenseman, who arguably still hasn't reached his full potential, who was the top overall draft pick.

"Lots of different emotions," an elated Johnson said after the game. "I just wanted to make sure I didn't celebrate at the wrong bench. I wanted to make sure I went by the right side to make the fist pumps.

"It's a very wonderful feeling to score against your old team in your old building in the first game back after the trade ... after an emotional trade I didn't expect, but a trade I'm very happy to be with Colorado. It's a great way to cap off a night."

Johnson, who was dealt along with center Jay McClement and a conditional first-round pick this year or 2012 to Colorado for a pair of first-round picks in power forward Chris Stewart and defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk along with a conditional 2011 or 2012 second-round pick, was back in town with McClement and his Avalanche teammates for Tuesday night's game against the Blues.

Johnson, who readily has admitted this season hasn't been as good as would have liked, is now on the other side of the ledger and he openly is poised to make the Blues and general manager Doug Armstrong regret dealing him away -- and so soon.

"I want to make them live to regret trading Erik Johnson," Johnson said following Tuesday morning's skate. "I think any player who wants to be a great player in this league would say the same thing. They got two good hockey players over there. This team got two good hockey players over here, but at the end of the day, I want to make them regret it."

The deal gave each organization a huge makeover. The Blues needed a big-bodied forward with a nose for the goal. The Avs were in a desperate search for a player they think can be a cornerstone d-man for the future.

"Sometimes you need that, to kind of inject the fresh blood and get stuff stirred up," Blues winger Brad Boyes said. "Doug's been around for a long time, he's a respected GM and he knows what he's doing. He's doing what he thinks is right to improve our hockey club. This is a deal that he believes (in), and we're going to believe it, too."

Johnson admitted only being in the visiting locker room "maybe once" prior to Tuesday morning. He definitely has immediate goals in mind, as well as long-term ones.

"It's going to be a different experience out there, but I want to beat them more than I want to beat anybody else," Johnson said of the Blues. "It's just like playing another team, and I definitely want to get another win.

"It's nice to know that Colorado wanted me and inquired about me for the last two or three weeks to a month trying to inquire about me. It's amazing how things can change so quickly and how things end up the way they do. It's nice to be wanted in Colorado. Hopefully, it works out for both teams. I have a lot of respect for the St. Louis Blues organization."

Avs center Paul Stastny, a close friend and linemate of Stewart, admitted that sometimes to make deals like this, it takes sacrifice on both ends.

"It's kind of bittersweet. It's tough, you lose 'Stewy' ... one of my good friends and one of our top players," Stastny said. "Then obviously we get E.J., who's a good buddy of mine too and a top-caliber defenseman. Sometimes to get a lot, you have to give a lot. I think it's big for us to add a piece like him to our d core that's been missing."

McClement, who has been with the Blues organization since being selected in the second round in 2001 (57th overall) and was the team's first draft choice that season, was with Johnson Friday night as the Blues touched down from Buffalo following a 3-0 win.

Both knew something was going on when Armstrong was awaiting the team at the airport awaiting to give them the news firsthand.

In a matter of hours, both were on a flight to San Jose and in the Avalanche lineup Saturday night.

"It sinks in pretty quick when you're in the lineup for another team 24 hours later," McClement said. "I think it was good to get in a game right away. It's the best way to get to know the guys, get to know the coaches and what this team's all about.

"They have a good young team. Obviously they've had some injury problems, but I think it's an exciting opportunity for me and Erik. Now that the dust has settled, I'm definitely looking forward to it. A new challenge, a new opportunity, a new city."

McClement added that it's not about proving anyone wrong, as far as he's concerned.

"I feel pretty lucky to have been here for six years," he said. "I don't have any hard feelings or anything like that. Everyone's going to move on at some point in their career, so I feel pretty lucky. I have nothing but good memories here. It's a great organization, good people, I had a lot of great friends here.

"For me, it's not about proving them wrong. It's about proving these guys right and proving myself here. I think of myself as a proven player here and fit into their future here."

The Avalanche will be here again in March. By then, all players involved will be firmly entrenched in their new cities and new teams.

"As much as I love St. Louis, things change and things happen," Johnson said. "That's the part of hockey and that's the tough side of the sport. At the same time, I don't think I could have gone to a better city. It's a team that's got a great organization, a team that's won Stanley Cups in the past, who know what it takes to win. I think it speaks volumes they want me in Colorado. It's nice to be here. I'm really excited.

"The Blues are a first-class organization, treated me with a great amount of respect. I've got a lot of respect for all the people I've met here. It's a great opportunity I had here. It's a great opportunity I have in Denver going forward. I hope to see them get back to the top where they have been in the past."

(2-21-11) Avalanche-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- Old faces in new places. That's the theme for both the Blues and Colorado Avalanche, who meet here tonight at Scottrade Center.

The blockbuster trade barely has had time to settle in that blew the hockey world up in the wee hours of Saturday morning, and three days later, it's time for the players to face their former squads.

The trade that culminated with the Blues send defenseman Erik Johnson, center Jay McClement and a conditional 2011 or 2012 first-round draft pick to Colorado for power forward Chris Stewart, defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk and a conditional 2011 or 2012 second-round draft pick come back to St. Louis will get its first real reviews tonight at 7 (FSN, KMOX 1120-AM).

For Stewart and Shattenkirk, both first-round picks like Johnson, it's a chance to settle into the trade here rather than making the visit to Denver. The ease of it all will be more beneficial for the new Blues.

"It's going to be a good game tonight," Stewart said. "There's going to be a lot of emotions out there.

"Definitely a little nervous. I played with those guys the last three, four years. I came up with all the younger guys the last five years. They're kind of like my family over there. There's not going to be any friends on the ice tonight."

Said Shattenkirk, "It'll be nice to play here and have the loud crowd going and the support's kind of around you versus the other team when you're in the opposing building. The fans in Colorado were great to me, but it definitely will be refreshing to play at home."

It doesn't mean that there won't be any extra motivation for either player.

"I think there's definitely something to prove there," the Shattenkirk 22-year-old said. "You always want to make sure that you're showing everyone they maybe made the wrong decision. But at the same time, I have a lot of respect for the organization and all the guys there who I was pretty much dealing with for the last three years or so."

Stewart, 23, will likely use his 6-foot-2, 228-pound frame with a little extra oomph tonight.

"Trades are part of the business," he said. "You're going to compete no matter what, but for sure, you know you're going to get up for this one a little more than any other game."

- - -

As for Johnson and McClement, the emotions will be a little different tonight. Literally days after being in the home locker room for four and six years, respectively, they made the turn into the visiting room after the shocking trade.

Neither holds any grudges, but both will definitely feel the emotions of what it will be like playing against the franchise that basically gave up on them.

"I want to make them regret trading Erik Johnson. There's no doubt about that and I say that with the utmost respect in the world for them," said Johnson, the top overall pick of 2006. "I respect (Blues general manager) Doug Armstrong, I respect (president) John Davidson, everybody I met here in this city. At the end of the day, I want them to be kicking themselves for trading me.

"I definitely want (Armstrong) at the end of the day saying, 'Why'd I trade Erik Johnson?' Don't get me wrong, they got two great players over there. Shattenkirk and Stewart are great players. I know Shatty real well and Stewart gave us fits when I was with the Blues. At the end of the day, I want to make Doug Armstrong regret trading me."

Johnson's former teammates truly understand his feelings and expect nothing less.

"That's the greatest attitude to have when you're in a situation like that," Colaiacovo said. "He's a young kid. He's got a great career ahead of him. I think he just has to find it within himself to prove everybody wrong. That's the type of mentality you have to have. I think if he has any other mentality than that, he's hurting himself."

Said Avalanche center Paul Stastny, "Anytime you get traded, I think you always want to get back at the other team and show them what they're missing. ... I think it always seems like guys play with an extra step when you're going against your former team and I'm sure all four guys will be doing that tonight."

McClement, the Blues' second-round pick (57th overall) in 2001, feels like making his new team glad they traded for him.

"For me, it's not about proving them wrong," McClement said of the Blues. "It's about proving these guys right and proving myself here. I think of myself as a proven player here and fit into their future here.

"I feel pretty lucky to have been here for six years. I don't have any hard feelings or anything like that. Everyone's going to move on at some point in their career, so I feel pretty lucky. I have nothing but good memories here. It's a great organization, good people, I had a lot of great friends here."

Armstrong, who along with Colorado GM Greg Sherman made the deal happen after ongoing talks, said the night should be interesting.

"It's going to be emotional, probably more emotional for Jay McClement," Armstrong said. "He was here the longest. He's got a lot of friends in there. He's married now. This is his home and his community. For Erik Johnson, the emotions will obviously flood back.

"I think for our two new players, it's not like playing in the Pepsi Center, so it won't be as emotional, but they'll see some new teammates. ... When the competition starts, the friendships go out the door and you play to win, and I expect nothing less from Jay McClement and Erik Johnson when they come in here, and I expect nothing else from the two players that are coming here. We're going to play to win, they're going to play to win. It's going to be a heck of a hockey game and I know our fans are going to show the appreciation for Erik and Jay they deserve."

- - -

The Blues (27-22-9) are coming off an exasperating 5-3 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks on Monday and must quickly regroup to stay in the playoff hunt.

The projected lineup includes:

Andy McDonald-David Backes-Chris Stewart

Alex Steen-Patrik Berglund-T.J. Oshie

Brad Winchester-Vladimir Sobotka-Brad Boyes

B.J. Crombeen-Philip McRae-Matt D'Agostini

On McRae, Blues coach Davis Payne said, "I feel he gives us some flexibility, gives us an option there in the middle. Real strong on faceoffs. The situations are defined by each opponent, but a guy who's been up here and shown that he can play at pace, shown that he can make plays and defend and take faceoffs.

"Each situation's a little bit different, and we'll wait and see whether that determines for tonight or in Vancouver. But we expect to use him."

Cam Janssen will be a healthy scratch.

The d-pairings could see a mix as well:

Barret Jackman-Alex Pietrangelo

Nikita Nikitin-Roman Polak

Carlo Colaiacovo-Kevin Shattenkirk

Tyson Strachan, recalled earlier in the day from Peoria, will sit out.

Ty Conklin, who is 3-4-1 with a 3.08 GAA and .881 save percentage against the Avalanche, will get the start.

Starting netminder Jaroslav Halak, who is eligible to come off injured reserve today, will not be activated and Armstrong will address his situation, as well as that of David Perron, tonight.

- - -

The Avs (25-27-7) know all about injuries, as they've suffered a ton, just like the Blues. They're in a brutal stretch and in the midst of a 0-9-1 stretch of games.

Matt Duchene (hand) is expected to return to the lineup tonight after missing two games.

The projected lineup includes:

Ryan Stoa-Paul Stastny-David Jones

Brandon Yip-Matt Duchene-Milan Hejduk

Kevin Porter-Jay McClement-Daniel Winnik

Ryan O'Reilly-Philippe Dupuis-Cody McLeod

D-pairings include:

Ryan Wilson-Erik Johnson

John-Michael Liles-Ryan O'Byrne

Matt Hunwick-Jonas Holos

Peter Budaj, 9-5-0 against the Blues with a 2.46 GAA and .911 save percentage, is expected to start.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Blues waste opportunity in 5-3 loss to Blackhawks

Four-goal second period enables Chicago
to overcome 2-0 deficit, earn two critical points

ST. LOUIS -- Whatever it is that the Blues don't seem to understand about playing a full 60-minute game has cost this group dearly in a season of near-misses.

And because of a plethora of near-misses, the Blues are where they are in the Western Conference standings right now: on the outside looking in.

Playing with a purpose in the game's first 20 minutes, the Blues gained a decided edge on the Chicago Blackhawks, one of those teams they are chasing in the west. But a lousy middle 20 minutes once again was the deciding factor, which why the Blues' fan base feels so discombobulated on a number of nights.

The Blackhawks erased a two-goal deficit with a four-goal outburst and they were able to hold off the Blues' third period rally in a 5-3 victory Monday afternoon at Scottrade Center.

The Blues (27-22-9) could have really asserted themselves and thrown their hat into this frantic playoff race, when it looked very bleak after back-to-back losses to Minnesota recently. But as has been the case on a number of occasions, they wilted under the heated battle and still trail the last playoff spot by five points.

And this time, they failed in front of goalie Ben Bishop, who earned the start based on his 20-save effort Saturday.

That lost battle turned out to be a 10-plus minute stretch of the second period when the Blues' 2-0 lead (Andy McDonald and Brad Boyes gave them a first-period lead) turned into a 4-2 Chicago lead based off turnovers, missed assignments and poor decisions in the neutral zone.

"We stopped skating and they started pushing forward," defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "Usually that's a bad combo. We're a team that's got to skate to create opportunities and we weren't really doing that in those five, six minutes. We've got to play a full 60 minutes against that team."

Blues coach Davis Payne summed it up best.

"I don't know if it was as much as we were flat, they made the decision to make a charge to get back in that hockey game," Payne said. "I thought we played a solid first. They're a good hockey club, we got the jump on them. They got the jump on us in the second period, and I think it all started with puck possession at the red line. We decide to make a play that doesn't get a puck in deep, all of the sudden you're facing a team that's skating downhill."

The Blues buzzed the entire first period, got two quick goals in a 1-minute, 45-second span and had chances to go up by three or even four.

They left the crack open ever so slightly, and the Blackhawks (31-23-6) pounced, with Viktor Stalberg and Dave Bolland scoring early in the second exactly one-minute apart. Patrick Kane gave the Hawks the lead for good and Jonathan Toews' power play goal was the end of the afternoon for Bishop, who allowed four goals on 18 shots but really none were his fault.

Ty Conklin, who was replaced by Bishop Saturday, came on and stopped all seven shots he faced.

"I felt good going into the game, felt good in the first," Bishop said. "I felt good in the second, too. Just a couple of breakdowns there. They're a highly-skilled team, so they capitalized on their chances. ... I've got to make one big save there to keep the team in the game."

One could make a case of the Blues using a timeout after the two quick goals that tied the game, and Payne even said that he considered pulling Bishop after the Kane goal.

"Yeah, I considered the timeout even prior to that, after the first one based on how we weren't playing, but the right things were being said on the bench," Payne said, who left his timeout in his pocket the rest of the way. "It wasn't any situation where you want to identify any sort of panic in our game. There's a time for it, and there's a time not. I decided not to use it.

"(Pulling Bishop after the third goal) just from the standpoint of what the team wasn't doing, not based on what Ben wasn't doing. He didn't have a look. That puck came through two people. You're not going to put an onus on a goaltender when the team's playing like that."

The Blues, who now trail the Hawks by five points in the standings, thought they had pulled within one when Pietrangelo's shot from the right circle got through a crowded crease and past Corey Crawford, but referee Tim Peel waved the goal off, claiming B.J. Crombeen created goalie interference by pushing Chicago's Nick Leddy into Crawford.

"I didn't see what happened," Pietrangelo said. "I just know they said our guy ran into the goalie. ... That's a tough one, especially at that time of the game, but we answered again."

Crombeen said, "I thought I just drove their d-man back. And if he makes contact with their goalie, that's not my fault. But it was the call that went against us and we've got to be able to rebound and make sure we're getting back in that game."

The Blues did get that goal back, as Pietrangelo picked up his seventh of the season a short time after when his blast from the top of the blue line got through Crawford with 11:12 to play in the game.

The Blues, who once again found their game in the third period, had countless opportunities to get the equalizer, including Patrik Berglund, who redirected David Backes' centering feed wide from in front of the crease with 42 seconds remaining.

"We had a game plan to go in there, get a good start and play a full 60," said forward T.J. Oshie. "Obviously in the second period, we took our foot off the gas a little and they just took advantage of it. It's a tough team to catch when you're behind by two goals. It's just an unacceptable second period.

"It's always tough playing from behind, especially against Chicago. They're a tough team to catch. They know how to put pucks by you and keep the puck in your zone. You can't score goals 200 feet away."

Marian Hossa's empty-netter with 0.4 seconds remaining sewed up two huge points for Chicago, and the Blues saw them get away.

"They just turned it up," Payne said of the Blackhawks. "A good hockey team turned it up, and we didn't recognize that soon enough."

* NOTES -- Defenseman Tyson Strachan was reassigned to Peoria on Monday morning. ... Pietrangelo now has eight points (seven assists) in the last four games. ... McDonald has 11 points (six goals) in nine games since returning from a concussion. ... Oshie has seven points in three games after two assists today. ... Berglund picked up two assists and has 17 points in 16 games, including a six-game point streak. ... The Blues' top line of Backes, McDonald and Chris Stewart was a combined minus-9 in the game. Stewart, who scored two goals in his Blues debut Saturday, fired wide of an open net from a sharp angle with roughly 30 seconds left in the second period that would have cut the Hawks' lead to one.

(2-21-11) Blackhawks-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- It's amazing what a change from one month to another can do for the Blues.

A forgettable January in which the club went 2-8-1 had taken a 180-degree turn into a 5-1-2 February thus far after the Blues won their third in a row Saturday in a 9-3 blasting of the Anaheim Ducks.

The last two wins came in the heels of a makeover management has done with the trade of Eric Brewer (Tampa Bay) that was followed by a mega deal with Colorado that sent 2006 top overall pick Erik Johnson and veteran Jay McClement to Colorado.

The Blues (27-21-9), who entertain the rival Chicago Blackhawks (30-23-6) in a 1 p.m. President's Day matinee today (FSN, KMOX 1120-AM), still have a climb on their hands -- they sit five points out of a playoff position -- but they have games in hand on all the teams they're chasing, including the Blackhawks.

The Blues are getting healthy, they've added key pieces in Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk in the trade with the Avalanche and are reaping the rewards for what they say has been hard work despite a rough weekend recently against Minnesota.

"We've always been a hard-working team," winger Alex Steen said. "Now, it's starting to click lately. The hard work that we've put in is starting to pay off and I think guys feel that.

"A (9-3) win, it doesn't matter. It's two points and that's all it was. Now we've got Chicago and Colorado, another two tough games back-to-back. We're in a tough schedule right now. It was a good game, but we've got to win the next one."

While the sentiment is that the Blues are still a long-shot to make the playoffs, that's not the message being tossed around in the locker room.

"I still think this team can and will make the playoffs," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said. "We need to continue to play the way we've played recently. We’re excited about where we are today, but more importantly I’m excited about where we are and where we are moving forward."

- - -

Even though they were a combined plus-7 in the victory over Anaheim Saturday, even the top line of Andy McDonald, David Backes and Stewart are not taken off the hook when the coaching staff feels like mistakes are being made.

For instance, Backes played a season-low 12 minutes, 54 seconds, was a plus-4, and had a goal and two assists in the game.

But as Blues coach Davis Payne likes to put it, all players are accountable, and the line was momentarily benched in the second period.

"There's a shift there in the second period that enabled Anaheim to come back towards our net a little bit too easy that we weren't entirely pleased with," Payne said.

But, the fact that the game was out of hand so quickly enabled the Blues to take away some minutes to top players in the middle of a heavy schedule of games.

"They're a group that's going to continue to play high-pressure, high-quality hockey for us," Payne said of his top unit. "As that game wound down, we were in the middle of a busy stretch (of games). Any time we can pull some of those minutes down works for us going forward."

- - -

Ben Bishop, who got the win -- his second career victory -- in relief of Ty Conklin, by making 20 saves in Saturday's 9-3 victory over Anaheim, could get another start this afternoon, which would be his first-ever against Chicago.

Payne was not ready to commit to a starter after Sunday's practice.

"I know what my role is when I'm up here, so I don't try to change anything," said Bishop, 2-1-1 in his NHL career. "If I get the nod, I get the nod. If not, I'll be backing up and ready just in case."

Conklin, after shutting out Buffalo Friday night, was lifted Saturday after allowing three goals on five shots. But he is 1-1 against Chicago this season.

- - -

The Blues could insert Philip McRae into the lineup today, but after winning their third in a row, Payne may not alter what's been working the last few games.

In case they do, here is the projected lineup:

Andy McDonald-David Backes-Chris Stewart

Alex Steen-Patrik Berglund-T.J. Oshie

Brad Winchester-Vladimir Sobotka-Brad Boyes

B.J. Crombeen-Philip McRae-Matt D'Agostini

That would mean Cam Janssen would sit out. If Janssen plays and McRae sits, Slide D'Agostini into the fourth-line center slot and Janssen on right wing.

The d-pairings likely won't change from Saturday:

Barret Jackman-Alex Pietrangelo

Nikita Nikitin-Roman Polak

Carlo Colaiacovo-Kevin Shattenkirk

Tyson Strachan will likely sit out again.

Ben Bishop is the projected starter this afternoon.

- - -

The Blackhawks, who are 0-2 here at Scottrade center this season, sit three points ahead of the Blues in the standings with the Blues having two games in hand, come in off a Sunday 3-2 shootout victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins in a battle of the last two Stanley Cup champions.

The Hawks will once again play without their head coach, as former Blues coach Joel Quenneville was admitted to the hospital with gastrointestinal bleeding. However, he is home and getting better and is close to returning.

The team is being led by assistant coach Mike Haviland, with a helping hand from another former Blues coach, Mike Kitchen.

The Hawks' probable lineup includes:

Patrick Sharp-Jonathan Toews-Patrick Kane

Michael Frolik-Dave Bolland-Marian Hossa

Bryan Bickell-Tomas Kopecky-Troy Brouwer

Viktor Stalberg-Ryan Johnson-Jake Dowell

D-pairings include:

Duncan Keith-Nick Leddy

Niklas Hjalmarsson-Brent Seabrook

Brian Campbell-Jordan Hendry

Marty Turco
, who was sensational here the last time these teams met (a 3-1 Blues victory), could get the start today after Corey Crawford stopped 24 shots in Sunday's win over Pittsburgh.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Stewart fits bill of NHL's top power forwards

New Blues acquisition quit the game as a
teen for couple years, re-emerging into rising star

ST. LOUIS -- Growing up in a family of seven, including five younger sisters and one older brother, Chris Stewart understood the hardships that his mother and father had to go through just to raise a family.

It was not easy for Norman and Sue Stewart.

Despite the tough way of living for Stewart and his family, he still loved the game of hockey. But expenses of putting a child through hockey were not cost-effective.

Stewart quit hockey for two years when he was 14. He had the body of a football player, which was something that definitely caught his eye and something he considered just because it was more affordable.

But Stewart and his older brother Anthony found their way onto the North York Jr. Canadiens, a Junior A hockey club. A team representative thought so highly of the brothers, all their expenses were paid for.

Through all the trials and tribulations, it all worked out, and Chris Stewart arrived in the National Hockey League, as did his brother.

Brendan Shanahan, Jarome Iginla, Keith Tkachuk, Ryan Smyth, Bill Guerin, Todd Bertuzzi. They're names that are synonymous with big, strong players that didn't mind playing in the so-called dirty areas to find success.

Blues fans know what that sort of player is all about, since Shanahan and Tkachuk showcased themselves on many nights here playing the power forward role to a tee.

Saturday night was the welcoming party of 23-year-old Chris Stewart in a Blues uniform, and if the two-goal performance in a 9-3 win against the Anaheim Ducks is any indication, Stewart will be a big hit with his newfound fans here in the Gateway City. And he'll be a Blue for a long time.

Stewart, at 6-foot-2 and 228-pounds, Stewart was originally drafted by the Colorado Avalanche in the first round (18th overall in 2006). He's is sculpted like the perfectly molded skater that fits the power forward role dead-on. The 23-year-old from Toronto said it was easy to know who he wanted to model himself after once he figured out the ice rink was the way to go instead of the gridiron.

Although all the above candidates were mentioned at one time or another by Stewart, a certain member of the Atlanta Thrashers always caught his eye.

"Honestly, my brother," Stewart said, referring Anthony, who Chris played with when the two were in the OHL. "It was his last year in the OHL, it was my first year in the OHL (with the Kingston Frontenacs), we had the chance to play together on the same team. He finally just took me under his wing and I learned first hand.

"... He molded his game after Todd Bertuzzi and his game. He's a big, fast, tough power forward, goes to the tough areas, stick up for your teammates, pretty decent and tight hands."

Sound familiar?

Both of Stewart's power play goals Saturday night -- right in front of the net -- came off a scrum and another off a redirection of a Kevin Shattenkirk feed.

Both Stewart and Shattenkirk became new members of the Blues with the blockbuster trade with Colorado that saw Erik Johnson and Jay McClement move out west.

"They took me in with open arms," Stewart said of the Blues. "EJ was a big part of this team. We were both shocked on both sides. Hopefully, it works out for the both of us."

There's a certain art to playing in front of the net. It may not be pretty, but it is an art form, and Stewart credits Smyth with a lot of the tutelege.

"Just getting low on your legs, a lot of power comes from your legs," Stewart said. "A big body like myself, it's going to be hard for guys to move you, especially with the new NHL rules.

"I'm just most comfortable. I like seeing pucks, I like tipping pucks. I try to model my game off guys like (Tomas) Holmstrom and Ryan Smyth. My first year in the NHL, I got to learn from Ryan Smyth personally. I'm a big body and the goal can't stop what he can't see."

The Blues agree, and they liked Stewart enough that they parted with the top overall pick of 2006 in Johnson, who still at 22 could blossom into a cornerstone defenseman the Avalanche now get the opportunity to groom. But the Blues couldn't pass up the opportunity to bring in another David Backes-type player.

"Stewy is a big, strong body. He gets to the dirty areas," Blues winger Alex Steen said. "He scored a lot of goals against us last year just doing that going to the front and (Paul) Stastny would find him, tip something in. He's going to be a big asset.

"Every night, you're going to get the work ethic out of him. You can't have enough of those guys. ... He's going to be a good player and he's just going to get better and better with the work ethic that he has."

In his Blues debut, Blues coach Davis Payne wasted little time in using Stewart and Backes together on the same line. The payoff, according to the Blues' coach, is grand.

"Now they've got to deal with two big bodies," Payne said, speaking of the opposition. "The defensemen have to expend energy to defend both guys. I think that's valuable, and on the flip side of that, you're trying to defend big bodies and chase a guy like Andy McDonald. To me, that makes for a lot of elements that can work in our favor."

Stewart, who scored a career-high 28 goals and added 64 points a season ago in 77 games, had 32 points (15 goals) in 37 games in a season that took away 21 games because of a broken hand sustained in a November 21 fight with Minnesota's Kyle Brodziak. At the time, he played in 23 games and had 25 points (11 goals, 14 assists).

Now healthy, the Blues are anxious and eager to work a scorer into a system as they desperately need another big body and another added element with a nose for the net.

Sounds a lot like Iginla, doesn't it?

"When I made the NHL, that's the kind of the guy I look up to and mold my game after," Stewart said. "He's an up-and-down winger, two ways. He plays with his heart on his sleeve, sticks up for teammates and is a great leader."

Added Payne, "You're talking about guys scoring with people on them, can score in traffic. There's a certain knack for playing through those certain types of battles, a certain knack for positioning yourself on both of his goals. ... The ability to drive through sticks, drive through contact knowing what your strength and advantage is. I think this is what makes him a productive player.

"I think with Stewart, a guy that can play around the net-front, can finish with a guy on top of him, a guy on him. The battle situations that he can find in space and create plays will also open up some areas for the guys around him. We feel these are guys that fit into our mix extremely well."

Stewart's new teammates are certainly aware they've now got under their wing the 'Blues Killer'.

That's what Stewart was dubbed by his new teammates.

"They were calling me the Blues killer," Stewart said laughing; he has eight goals and 15 points in nine career games against St. Louis. "I found that kind of funny."

"I don’t have their stats, but I think he’s only averaging about nine or 10 points against us," Backes joked. "He's a prototypical power forward, it's down the wall hard and you don’t want to get in his way because he’ll run you over. If you think you’re going to get a good lick on him, he’s making a move around you and making a good play. Obviously he’s a great player that we’re glad to have. He’ll do those things in a Blue Note just as well as he did in an Avalanche jersey."

The Blues are counting on Stewart running over those obstacles, just as he did growing up.

"I closed the chapter on Colorado as of (Saturday)," Stewart said. "I'm happy to be here. I'm glad to be a Blue. We've got a bright future here. We're in a playoff race and it's going to be a dogfight to the end."

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Stewart, Shattenkirk make successful debuts as Blues overwhelm Ducks

Newly acquired players add two goals,
assist in 9-3 blowout; Bishop gains win in relief

ST. LOUIS -- New players, new start, but the Blues quickly found themselves in a two-goal deficit Saturday against Anaheim.

Uh, oh. Right?

Not a chance. These are the new Blues, and fans quickly embraced the changes.

The Blues, who responded accordingly in Buffalo after trading off captain Eric Brewer on Friday afternoon, were even more resilient Saturday night with the debut of Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk, acquired in the early hours of Saturday that sent Erik Johnson and Jay McClement to Colorado.

Both newcomers made an impact, as Stewart tallied a pair of power play goals and Shattenkirk assisted on one goal, as the Blues got big games from a number of people, including hometown's Ben Bishop, in a 9-3 dismantling of the Ducks before a boisterous sellout crowd at Scottrade Center.

The Blues (27-21-9), who have won three in a row and pulled within five points of eighth-place Anaheim (32-24-4) in the Western Conference standings, saw five players tally three points and two more earn two points, including Stewart, who along with Shattenkirk got into St. Louis around 1:30 Saturday afternoon ready to battle with their new teammates.

It was the kind of game that the newcomers couldn't have asked for a better start to the new chapters in their lives.

"That was picture-perfect start," Stewart said. "I had my game going hard to the net, created space and trying to be a good screen."

Exactly the kind of words the Blues predicted they needed and got from Stewart and Shattenkirk as well.

"I think you see some of the decision-making," Blues coach Davis Payne said. "You see both guys playing to their strengths. ... I'm real pleased with their games, respectively, based on the fact that they had to go through what they went through last night and get up real early and travel. Solid effort by them."

The Blues fell behind 2-0 less than seven minutes into the game, then scored twice in a seven-second span on goals by Andy McDonald and T.J. Oshie that really jumpstarted a team that needed a big infusion.

"One really big shift got us back in that hockey game," Payne said. "We're in the middle of a change (and) Osh makes a great read. The tip-in by Andy to get us started and the goal right after that just on a neutral zone execution off a face-off really got us back to a spot where we felt like we could have enough traction to establish our game and go forward with it.

"Erasing a two-goal deficit was really, really important for us. A big shift by that group in particular. A couple great plays by Osh."

Oshie and McDonald, along with Alex Pietrangelo, David Backes and Alex Steen were a group of five players with three points in the game.

"The first shift after a goal was very huge," said Oshie, who netted his first two-goal game of his career Saturday. "We wanted to get in their zone right away. Mostly just Steener making a great play finding me through the middle. I was fortunate enough to get it over his pad on the backhand.

"If there was one play that really (got the team fired up) was Jax's hit down in our end. We scored on that same shift. And then I got another one right away. From then on, I think we settled down a little bit. We had a good start. They just got on the board first."

Said McDonald, "It's a great sign, because it's encouraging to see a team that's able to respond, especially after getting down."

Bishop picked up his second career NHL victory by backstopping all 20 shots faced on the night. He came on late in the first period when starter Ty Conklin allowed three goals on five shots a day after blanking the Sabres.

When Ryan Getzlaf scored a long range goal that squirted inside the left post with 3 minutes, 18 seconds left in a wild first period, Payne made the move to Bishop.

"I figured with a couple minutes left in the period, he's probably just going to wait until the end of the period," Bishop said of Payne. "When he said my name right then, I was like, 'Here we go.' I was pretty nervous there, but once you get in, you forget about it.

"I don't think the guys could have made it any easier on me scoring all those goals. It was tough going in there. I was a little nervous at the beginning. I felt good out there. It obviously helps when the guys score all those goals in front of me."

The Blues came out of the first period with a 4-3 lead and chased Ducks starter Curtis McElhinney, but when Timo Pielmeier made his NHL debut in the second period, the Blues made it a rude awakening by scoring five unanswered goals on 12 shots the rest of the way.

When Stewart, who's torched the Blues to the tune of eight goals and 15 points in nine career games, scored his first goal as a Blue -- the fifth player in team history to score more than a goal in his team debut -- 19,150 fans gave him a rousing ovation that got louder after scoring his second power play goal than made it 8-3 as the Blues were 3-for-5 with the man advantage.

"That was great," Stewart said of the crowd. "That was probably the best crowd I've ever been in front of. It's going to be easy to play here if the fans are like that every night.

"(The adjustment) wasn't that hard. It was an easy transition. The guys were great in the locker room. By the time I landed, I had about three or four texts and messages from the boys on the team. That was very comforting and it was a very easy adjustment."

The Blues had no time to adjust. They have games to win and no time to dwell.

"It was not like we had a few days to adjust," McDonald said. "It was on a game day and I think the guys handled it pretty well.

"We were down 2-0 at the start, had me a little worried, but we got going a little bit and things started rolling. The two new guys had strong games."

Blues trade with Avalanche done with calculation

Magnitude of deal not a knee-jerk transaction;
Stewart, Shattenkirk make debuts in victory over Anaheim

ST. LOUIS -- A deal of such magnitude that took place between the Blues and Colorado Avalanche wasn't by any means a knee-jerk reaction deal.

This was calculated and took time to get the proper pieces in order.

Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said Saturday morning that the trade that sent defenseman and top overall pick Erik Johnson, checking center Jay McClement and a conditional No. 1 pick to the Avalanche for power forward Chris Stewart, defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk and a conditional No. 2 pick began to spin its wheels around the All-Star break, along with a number of different talks.

"Really since the end of the All Star Break, the phone lines have been quite a bit more active talking to a lot of teams about a lot of different things," Armstrong said. "We were talking and seeing how our team was going to play, seeing where we were when we traded Eric Brewer what our thought process was going to be, and all of the other deals we were contemplating were hockey trades and hockey trades are a rarity in today’s game.

"It took a little time to work with (Colorado GM) Greg Sherman ... I don't want to go into the exact timelines. It's not something that happens overnight. The names became involved, we talked to our pro scouts, John Davidson gave me excellent counsel on how to move forward with Larry Pleau and ownership, and I think it was very important for us to make a proper deal moving forward and I think that happens over time and it came to fruition last night."

In a nutshell, the emergence of Alex Pietrangelo, the Blues' top pick (No. 4 overall) in 2008, made this deal possible. Without Pietrangelo's rapid emergence, the Blues don't feel quite as comfortable making this trade.

"I think anytime you have good hockey player, it makes deals easier and Petro’s done a good job here," Armstrong said of Pietrangelo. "I would be na├»ve or probably disingenuous if I say I'm not surprised at how, or I am surprised at how good he's playing so quickly. I'm not as surprised today as I was two months ago because you see it every day now. He's a special player and when I look at our right side with Petro there and Roman Polak and now Shattenkirk I believe it's a right side that we can move and go forward with, and I think Petro and Roman made a deal like this possible."

Shattenkirk, 22, was the Avalanche's first-round pick (14th overall) in 2007. He's second among rookie defensemen with 26 points (19 assists), behind only Anaheim's Cam Fowler (29 points).

"Shattenkirk has shown the ability to be a real good decision maker, a real good puck distribution guy, a guy who can make decisions under pressure and allow zone time to be more effective and take what the opponent is giving you," Blues coach Davis Payne said.

"We did lose a little bit of size (Shattenkirk is 5-foot-11, 193 pounds), but we did gain puck creativity on the blue line," Armstrong said. "You always have to give something to get something. There'll be a mandate for our players to play on the back end. ... It's going to be something that we're going to have to work on."

Both players, just like the members who departed St. Louis, had whirlwind days just getting to their destinations.

For the Blues' newcomers, it was worth the adventure but nevertheless shocking to have to alter their lives.

"I found about 11 o'clock (Friday night) I was being traded here," Stewart said. "We had a 4 o'clock (in the morning) shuttle to San Francisco. We flew from San Francisco to Salt Lake City and Salt Lake City in here. Came in about 1:30, grabbed some lunch, relaxed for about an hour and came to the rink."

Added Shattenkirk, "It was obviously shocking, but as a rookie, you learn that it's a business and that happens. You kind of have to roll with it and happy to be here."

The Blues seemed to embrace their new teammates with open arms.

"It's tough losing a couple buddies, especially core guys that I kind of came into the team with," T.J. Oshie said. "It's a business side. We got two good players and we lost two good ones. Just a different look, but great additions."

Shattenkirk felt that if he looked at the positive side of it in that the Blues wanted him and Stewart instead of the Avalanche giving up on them, it makes the transition that much easier.

"They emphasized that," said Shattenkirk, who Stewart said has the game of San Jose's Dan Boyle. "It was something that they wanted. Obviously they gave up a great player in Erik Johnson. They seem pretty excited about it, and I'm excited about being here. They obviously have a lot of confidence for us to come in here and then hopefully contribute."

Blockbuster trade sends Johnson, McClement, pick to Avalanche

Blues receive Stewart, Shattenkirk,
conditional 2nd round pick in mega deal

ST. LOUIS -- On the heels of dealing away team captain Eric Brewer, the Blues performed admirably in a 3-0 victory over the Buffalo Sabres Friday night.

The team got a solid foundation from everyone involved. They gained two points in the standings. The players and coaches made the charter flight back to St. Louis afterwards.

All was well, right?

But as the Blues' plane touched down in the early hours of Saturday morning, there was an explosion of sorts, and it had nothing to do with the wings carrying them.

General Manager Doug Armstrong was at the airport awaiting the team and news of a blockbuster deal that saw the Blues trade former first overall pick Erik Johnson, gritty center Jay McClement and a conditional first-round pick in 2011 or 2012 to the Colorado Avalanche. In return, the Blues receive power forward Chris Stewart, defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk and a conditional second-round pick in 2011 or 2012.

Armstrong informed the players upon arrival Saturday morning that they will be en route to their new destination, and the makeup and change taking place with the Blues was in full engagement.

"We think they're young players who are going to help us get to the areas we want to go to," Armstrong said of Stewart and Shattenkirk. "They make us a better team today and more importantly I think they make us a better team in the future."

In dealing Johnson, who the Blues chose with the first overall pick of the 2006 draft, they gave up on a player considered a future face of the franchise and marked as a cornerstone defenseman for many years to come.

Johnson was in his third full NHL season and has five goals and 19 points in 55 games. He, along with David Backes, were part of the U.S. ice hockey team that won a silver medal at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

"We feel (Johnson) is a good, solid defenseman with great size and skill and still an opportunity for a great upside," Blues coach Davis Payne said. "His ability to skate, shoot and defend. I think there's progress there, but we made a decision to go in a different direction that we feel makes our team better in the long run."

Johnson's four years with the Blues included a solid rookie season in 2007-08 that saw the right-handed defenseman bag five goals and 33 points. He missed the entire 2008-09 season after a freak golf cart injury that saw Johnson tear the ACL in his right knee before netting career-highs in goals (10), assists (29) and points (39).

"I think quite honestly moving any player … your emotions don't change whether you're a first overall pick or a seventh-round pick," Armstrong said. "You’re part of the family. You work with these people, you travel with these people, you see these people and from an emotional standpoint or human standpoint there’s no difference between moving the first overall pick, or the 50th or 150th, they’re people.

"But competitively I think when you want to get a player of Stewart’s caliber, a potential budding power forward, someone that we think that we can continue to build and grow with and around, you have to give up something of quality so, I think this is a show of the great character and the great strength and the great hockey ability of Erik Johnson that we were able to acquire a player like what it cost us to acquire a player like Chris Stewart and then Shattenkirk coming in fills the void somewhat that Erik’s going to leave. He’s an excellent puck mover, a right shot. He can help us on the power play and help our transition game, and can help generate offense. It’s a deal that was made without creating a hole on our team."

Johnson, who has been unavailable for comment Saturday, as he and McClement were en route to San Jose to meet up with their new teammates for a game against the Sharks Saturday night, said in a text message in the early-morning hours, "All a shock (right now)."

The Blues also gave up the 27-year-old McClement, played 449 games in a six-year career with the Blues as a penalty-killing, shutdown center type of player.

He became expendable with the emergence of Vladimir Sobotka.

"Jay McClement brought a lot of the detail work that we strive to have in our game, and that's positionally, that's with puck decisions, it's with defensive responsibility on the penalty kill," Payne said. "He did a fantastic job for us, and now it's situations where Vladimir Sobotka is going to step into those roles, B.J. Crombeen ... guys that are having to take some of that responsibility are now going to go full steam with it. We feel the guys that are in there are the guys capable of getting the job done."

In Stewart, 23, the Blues will get a Backes-type of player that has been a thorn in the Blues' side, particularly last season.

Stewart, who suffered a broken hand in a fight with Minnesota's Kyle Brodziak Nov. 27 that forced him to miss 21 games. He has 13 goals and 30 points in 36 games after putting up career numbers last season with 28 goals, 36 assists and 64 points. Stewart, 6-foot-2, 228-pounds, was picked 18th overall in the 2006 draft.

"We obviously got a good forward in Chris Stewart that is gong to provide some size and a lot of scoring ability around the net for us," Backes said. "With Shattenkirk on the back end ... both of those guys have had a ton of success against us, so for nothing else, take Chris Stewart off the Avalanche so we don’t have to defend him. That’s pretty nice, and for him to be contributing to our offense is going to be great.

"Shattenkirk is a guy that can move the puck and join the offense, a young guy that’s got a lot of promise."

A 2007 first-round draft pick (14th overall), Shattenkirk, 22, is second among rookie defensemen in points (26), only behind Anaheim's Cam Fowler (29).

"Starting with Shattenkirk, a guy who's got great vision, great skill, a really good skater as far as defining gaps and creating opportunities and outlet passes," Payne said. "With Stewart, you've got your prototypical big forward that can shoot, can skate, plays with an edge, spends a lot of time around the blue paint, which we feel is a definite asset for our hockey club. A big-bodied, skilled guy with that type of edge and tenacity we feel will add into our top six immediately."

Payne added, "We know that Brew, EJ and Jay Mac were good hockey players for the St. Louis Blues and even better people. That's the tough part of it. Bottom line is with Stewart and Shattenkirk coming in, we feel they give us some elements that make us a better hockey club. That's the goal."

Stewart will not have to torment the Blues any longer, after posting eight goals and 15 points in 9 career games against them.

"Any time you add somebody it’s exciting for guys," forward Brad Boyes said. "Stewart ... I think he has half his career points against us, so that’s a good sign. We’ve seen a lot of offense from him."

The message from Armstrong, President John Davidson and ownership is that the latest deals were in no means a way of throwing the towel in.

"The message was we're not naive to the emotional and the personal part of these trades. These are their friends," Armstrong said. "They've gone to war with these guys. Some guys for 40 games, some guys for five or six years. I wanted to address that we as an organization from ownership down understand the personal part of it. But I also wanted to get them excited about the fresh start that some of these guys are going to be given with guys gone and the opportunity of bringing new guys in.

"Our job is to win hockey games. It's an ugly part of the business, but it is a part of the business. We have to make hard decisions as management, and players have to react and play every day for the guy sitting beside them.

"I think that we've added a power forward that we’ve coveted for awhile here. I think that it’s a difficult animal to find and to capture, and we were able to do that yesterday. It cost us two excellent players, but by gaining that player I also think we protected ourselves by bringing Shattenkirk in, a very good puck moving defensemen."

(2-19-11) Ducks-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- In light of the whirlwind 24 hours for the Blues, the season still must go on and no matter who they have and who they don't have tonight, the Anaheim Ducks are in town and a very crucial two points are on the line.

The Blues (26-21-9), winners of two straight for the first time in the new calendar year, come into the matchup tonight on the heels of an impressive 3-0 win at Buffalo, which was played hours after team captain Eric Brewer was traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning and hours after the blockbuster deal that saw Erik Johnson, Jay McClement and a conditional first-round pick traded away to Colorado in the early hours of Saturday for Chris Stewart, Kevin Shattenkirk and a conditional second-round pick.

The Blues trail the Ducks (32-23-4) by seven points for the eighth and final spot in the Western Conference in the chase for the playoffs but responded as well as can be against Buffalo in light of the Brewer deal.

"Very pleased with the response," Blues coach Davis Payne said. "(The Brewer trade) happened in mid-afternoon and there's a different element in coming to the rink and preparing for a hockey game when something like that happens. We just simply addressed the fact that there is an element there that we are not going to deny. A friend and teammate and captain is out of the lineup and no longer with us.

"The bottom line is that first five minutes of the hockey game against Buffalo became the most important thing and I thought our guys had real clear direction and commitment to that first five. We're going to have to have that same type of commitment here tonight."

In light of the late-night, early-morning trade with the Avalanche, the Blues recalled center Philip McRae and defenseman Tyson Strachan from Peoria in case Stewart and Shattenkirk ran into travel troubles getting to St. Louis.

Both players were expected to arrive in time and make their Blues debuts tonight.

Payne would not address the lineup status for tonight's 7 p.m. contest, but there were some discussions to the following combinations:

Andy McDonald-David Backes-Chris Stewart

Alex Steen-Patrik Berglund-T.J. Oshie

Brad Winchester-Vladimir Sobotka-Brad Boyes

B.J. Crombeen-Matt D'Agostini-Cam Janssen

That makes center Philip McRae the healthy scratch.

The new defensive alignment would see:

Barret Jackman-Alex Pietrangelo

Nikita Nikitin-Roman Polak

Carlo Colaiacovo-Kevin Shattenkirk

This alignment would make Strachan the healthy scratch.

Payne did say that Colaiacovo, who took a shot to the head in the third period of last night's game, is good to play tonight. Colaiacovo left roughly five minutes into the third period after a hit by Patrick Kaleta and did not return.

Ty Conklin, who blanked the Sabres making 25 stops, will get the nod once again tonight. He is 4-1 with a 2.39 GAA and .905 save percentage against the Ducks but got lit up in Anaheim last month during the Blues' 7-4 loss at Honda Center.

- - -

Anaheim, which was blasted by the Blues here in early October 5-1, played in Minnesota last night and suffered a 5-1 loss.

The Ducks did not skate this morning and are expected to roll out the following lineup:

Bobby Ryan-Ryan Getzlaf-Corey Perry

Jason Blake-Saku Koivu-Teemu Selanne

Jarkko Ruutu-Brandon McMillan-Maxim Lapierre

Todd Marchant-Kyle Chipchura-George Parros

The defensive pairings include:

Toni Lydman-Lubomir Visnovsky

Cam Fowler-Andreas Lilja

Francois Beauchemin-Luca Sbisa

Curtis McElhinney
, playing for the injured Jonas Hiller (head), is expected to make the start despite allowing five goals on 26 shots Friday.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Blues deal away captain to Lightning for prospect, pick

Brewer waives no-trade, heads to Tampa Bay for
defenseman Beukeboom, 2011 3rd round draft choice

ST. LOUIS -- With a flurry of trades already underway well in excess of the Feb. 28 trade deadline, the Blues finally dipped their feet into the mix.

But maybe it wasn't the immediate impact deal Blues fans were looking for.

The Blues made a major move, dealing away defenseman and captain Eric Brewer Friday afternoon to the Tampa Bay Lightning. In return, they acquire the rights to defenseman Brock Beukeboom along with a 2011 third-round draft pick.

The Blues, who are 26-21-9 after Friday's 3-0 shutout victory in Buffalo, sit in 13th place in the Western Conference with 61 points, seven in back of eighth-place Anaheim, who the Blues happen to host tonight.

And with an uncertainly of making the playoffs and a chance to join a contender, Brewer, 31, opted to join not only a playoff contender but also a Stanley Cup contender in the Lightning, who are second overall in the Eastern Conference (34-18-6). He waived his no-trade clause in order to do so.

"I talked to Eric earlier on in the week and told him the direction we were leaning," Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said. "Then I had a conversation with his agent (Don Meehan) and we talked about some teams. Tampa Bay was a team that he expressed interest in. Then I talked to (Tampa Bay GM) Steve Yzerman, and once I had gone to Eric and given him the direction we were taking the St. Louis Blues, today just happened to be the day that made the most sense for all parties involved."

Brewer, who has been the Blues' captain since Feb. 8, 2008, was in the final year of a four-year, $17 million contract, with $4.5 million in salary ($4.25 million cap hit) remaining this season. He is set to become an unrestricted free agent in July and has been with the Blues since the 2005-06 season.

He was the last piece of the trade that sent Chris Pronger to the Edmonton Oilers.

"Just the fact that (the Blues) were inquiring and wanted to have some dialogue about a possible move ...," said Brewer, who two weeks ago welcomed a newborn daughter into the world along with wife Rebecca. "I think in the end, you just want to make a good decision for everyone and put yourself in a really good spot to play hockey for a long time. Playing in Tampa will certainly change that this year."

The player the Blues get out of this is Beukeboom, whose father Jeff played for the Edmonton Oilers and New York Rangers.

The younger Beukeboom, 20, was the Lightning's third-round pick in 2010 (63rd overall) but did not sign a contract. He has played in 44 games for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) this season, recording eight points on a goal and seven assists.

The 6-foot-2, 199-pound defenseman has spent each of the last three seasons with Sault Ste. Marie, accumulating 45 points (10 goals, 35 assists) and 144 penalty minutes in 165 games. He was rated as the Lightning's top defensive prospect according to

"We were looking to add some assets, some future assets," Armstrong said. "You never know what interest there's going to be, what the level of interest will be.

"I think getting Brock Beukeboom, who is a very early third-round pick last year, and a third-round pick this year, gives us another bullet in the chamber at this year’s entry draft and it gives us another young prospect on defense. I had information from people at Hockey Canada about him. They said very good things about him. I was very comfortable with the prospect and the pick is something the scouts obviously want you to get more of. It was a return that I felt was satisfying enough to make the deal now."

The Blues have a glutton on defense, making Brewer somewhat expendable even in the midst of a playoff chase that may never materialize. But the emergence of young d-men Nikita Nikitin and Ian Cole allowed Armstrong to not only accommodate the veteran Brewer but it will also give the Blues the time to get extensive looks at their future prizes.

"After seeing Nikitin play and seeing Cole, we think that these players are going to have a good chance to push," Armstrong said. "A little bit like we did earlier this year. Unfortunately for David Perron it didn't work out well, and quite honestly for T.J. Oshie, we created that space in the summer. We wanted them to come in and express themselves for a season to see how they were going to play. And I think if we want to find out about Nikitin and we want to find out about Cole, we have to play them and we have to create opportunities.

"What it does, it springboards us the opportunity to find out how they play in a very intense time and a very hectic schedule, how they respond to the NHL environment, how they're going to respond to games played. Nikitin is in here now. If another player gets called up, he's going to have that opportunity. But it gives me a much better feeling of what we're dealing with over the summer once we find out how these guys play in the spring."

Cole said via text Friday night, "I'll miss him. Great guy who was definitely a mentor to me. It's easy for older guys to ignore the younger call-ups, but he was always teaching me a ton and I really appreciate everything he did for me and the team."

Armstrong said there was interest from multiple teams but that some of those teams wanted to wait closer until the deadline to make a move. But when this package presented itself, Armstrong felt like it was a plus-plus on both ends.

"I was quite honest with Eric that where we are in the standings is an uphill battle," Armstrong said. "I believe strongly in our team that they're going to push and that they're going to fight. But with Eric's situation and our young players moving forward, I thought it was an obligation of the franchise to be honest, what direction we were going to go over the summer with our defense. It gives Eric a chance to go to a Stanley Cup contending team that has a chance to play into May and June. It allows him to show his worth, show his skills and it allows us to get some things for the future.

"I wanted to try and get him into a location where he was comfortable and Tampa Bay was high on his list and I focused in on that group for him."

Brewer, who played 332 games over six seasons with St. Louis, had eight goals and six assists along with a plus-1 rating in 54 games this season after being slowed by injuries the previous two years. He totaled 30 goals and 95 points with the Blues, but his defining moment in a tenure marred by inconsistent fan appreciation directly related to the Pronger trade was being the leader of this hockey club.

"I was very, very proud to be named captain of the Blues," Brewer said. "It was one of the biggest compliments I've ever gotten. It's a position I really truly loved ... just being a guy that's relied upon for a variety of different things. It was really quite enjoyable and got a view from the coaches' side of things, which helps you understand why things are done a certain way. But at the end of the day, you're there for the guys, and the guys were wonderful for me. I think for the most part, they thought that I was a guy that was there for them."

Armstrong said that this deal was not particularly made as prelude of things to come but that anything's possible.

"I'm not sure we'll be busy. We're going to be active, certainly making phone calls," Armstrong said. "We're going to be active listening to what's available. I think quite honestly, when I look at our roster now, I would say the deals that we'll make moving forward will be more 'hockey trades' than trades for futures. Obviously, Eric's the one. He's an Olympian. He's our team captain. He had an excellent reputation around the league. He was someone that I felt was going to garner some interest from teams that were looking to add. I think it speaks well for him. But I think the deals now we have moving forward are going to be more hockey-oriented than draft pick oriented."

Armstrong also said that the team will not replace Brewer immediately with a new captain and that the team will utilize its four alternates (Alex Steen, David Backes, Barret Jackman and Erik Johnson).

"What we're going to do is we're going to play the rest of the season with the assistant captains that we have," Armstrong said. "We'll evaluate the organization from this point forward with regards to leadership. Then (head coach) Davis (Payne) and I will sit down and we'll discuss who's the next captain of the St. Louis Blues, or if we don't find the right person, we may continue with the assistant captains.

"We hope that someone steps up and takes grab of the locker room. But you never know what might happen. There might be a new player come in from a different organization between now and then that has captain written all over him. So for the rest of this year, we're just going with the A's as they are."

As for Brewer, he was always open to resigning with the Blues and wouldn't be opposed to it this off-season.

"It was always probably our first choice," Brewer said. "I guess it sounds weird now that I've been moved, but we've always liked (St. Louis). But both myself and Army decided that we'd move on with it. It went very well and that was that. But we certainly had lots of thoughts and were of the mind that we would stay, but stuff changes pretty quick.

"We've always really liked it in St. Louis. It's been easy to live there and been easy to like the people around us."

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Most important stretch of season begins tonight in Buffalo

Blues have played fewest amount of
games in NHL, will play 7 in 10 days.

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- When they step onto the ice tonight to face the Buffalo Sabres, the Blues will head into the most important stretch of games this season.

And they'll do so by having played the fewest amount games in the NHL this season. But a stretch of six games in eight days and seven in 10 will ultimately determine if the Blues (25-21-9) will indeed make another magical run of two seasons ago or if they'll be a wisp of smoke, like last season.

The Blues will play Game No. 56 tonight, which is only one fewer than their counterparts tonight, the Sabres (27-23-6), but they'll have played two, three, four, even five games fewer than some of the teams they are chasing in the Western Conference playoff race. They began the night nine points in back of a playoff berth with 59 points.

After tonight, the Blues return home to face Anaheim Saturday, then host Chicago and Colorado on back-to-back days Monday and Tuesday before heading on a Western Canada trip to play Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary in a span of four days. The game with Colorado is a makeup from a weather-related cancellation on Feb. 1.

It all ultimately leads right into the Feb. 28 trade deadline.

To say the challenges that lie ahead will be tough are putting it mildly, but the Blues are ready to embrace all comers.

"Managing the rest and managing the elements that we have to teach upon and improve upon and the adjustments that we have to make," Blues coach Davis Payne said, referring to the challenges that face the team. "We have to be very, very sharp with our heads, in the meeting rooms with the video, with the teaching tools that we have available. The group has to be very diligent and pay attention to the things that we have to improve upon and adjust because we don't have a lot of time to get it out on the ice and replicate it physically. We've got to make sure we're kind of practicing our game mentally. That's really the biggest challenge."

The Blues have had busy stretches of games before. But this upcoming slate will be as compacted as any stretch they'll face this season.

"The schedule has been busy," Payne said. "All these guys have been through busy schedules before. It's (also) making sure our game looks a lot like it did against Vancouver (a 3-2 win Monday) and it's trusting that game, it's being committed to that game even more so than we were against Vancouver because we can improve and making sure we take that look and understand that we're going to line up every night and repeat that."

The Blues will undoubtedly revisit the strategy of using seven defensemen and 11 forwards, as they've done twice since the return of Carlo Colaiacovo to the lineup.

There's been a real solid commitment to utilizing defenseman Nikita Nikitin, particularly on power play. The Blues were 2-for-5 in that department Monday, with Nikitin picking up a power play assist.

Winger Cam Janssen has been the odd man out when the Blues do go 11/7, but according to Payne, they'll go according to matchups.

"It'll be game by game," he said. "You look at the Vancouver game, we had the stretch (of days) off after, so loading up on some minutes, flexing a guy into that role between (Matt) D'Agostini and (Brad) Winchester was to us ... especially against a team that was going to use their four lines, it was important for us to have that balance. Niki's given that power play a spark. We feel it's important to keep that there and available and use it.

"We'll look at it game by game knowing that the workload's going to get heavy and we have to be conscious of that."

That means guys like Andy McDonald, T.J. Oshie, Vladimir Sobotka and Jay McClement particularly will play a role in double-shifting and collecting gaining more minutes.

"It's based on what their prior shift looked like with the shift going forward," Payne said. "Those guys have the understanding to roll through quickly, make sure it's your first-change opportunity (and) come right back with the next group.

"The thing it does, too, it gives a guy a chance to ride a guy when he's got it going. It gives him a few extra minutes. We've used Sobotka in that role, we've used Oshie in that role, Andy Mac, Jay Mac's seen some time in that situation. We're talking about guys getting into the flow of the game, a few extra minutes when they've got good energy. We're trying to make sure it gets back on the ice."

* Halak to IR -- The Blues placed goaltender Jaroslav Halak on injured reserve Thursday, retroactive to after Monday's game against Vancouver with a right hand injury, and recalled goalie Ben Bishop from Peoria.

Halak, who missed two games because of what is believed to be the same injury, returned to action Feb. 8 against Florida and has played in four straight games. But he injured himself again in Wednesday's practice at the team's practice facility inside St. Louis Mills and immediately came off the ice with head athletic trainer Ray Barile.

Halak, who will be eligible to come off injured reserve Monday, is 19-17-6 on the season with a 2.63 GAA, .907 save percentage and four shutouts in 43 starts.

Bishop is 15-12-1 with a 2.52 GAA and .916 save percentage with a pair of shutouts with the Rivermen. Bishop played in six games with the Blues in 2008-09, going 1-1-1 with a 2.94 GAA and .893 save percentage.

Expect Ty Conklin to get the start tonight against the Sabres.