Friday, October 21, 2011

(10-22-11) Hurricanes-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- Struggling out of the gates is the last thing the Blues expected. In fact, there was so much hype coming out of camp that a 2-4-0 start was the furthest thing from their minds.

"We'd love to be 6-0 right now," veteran winger Jamie Langenbrunner said, "but it's all part of the process and we'll continue to work through it."

The Blues, who entertain the Carolina Hurricanes (3-2-1) at 7 p.m. today (FSN, KMOX 1120-AM), have work to do in all areas of their game. Special teams is an obvious area, where the Blues are 30th in the league in both power play and penalty killing.

"I think we just need to simplify it," defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "Once we don't have the success we want initially, I think we kind of want to look for some alternate options rather than sticking with who we have and getting back to the basics.

"With what we had going last game in LA, we had some good scoring chances, some good opportunities. Right now, I think it's just a matter of coming out tonight and doing the same thing. When we get that one chance to score, we have to really bare down and put it in the back of the net."

Seems teams are relegating the Blues to the outside and not allowing any interior play, which was pretty evident in their recent road swing where the team went 0-for-16 with the man advantage.

"Penalty killing it seems like it's even better this year than it was last year," Shattenkirk said. "It comes as a result of us not being successful getting the puck in and setting up. When you're scrambling and looking for pucks, it's kind of easy for teams to set their pressure and not allow us to get that time and space to work."

Said Blues coach Davis Payne, "We're concerned about every aspect of our game. Our game isn't up to snuff. Goaltending's one of them, power play's one of them, penalty kill's one of them. ... There's a number of areas that's concerning. We've got to get them corrected."

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Getting the ship righted in goal is an area that's a must for the Blues, and Brian Elliott will spell the struggling Jaroslav Halak against the Canes tonight.

Halak, who began last season with an 8-1-1 record, a 1.46 goals-against average and .944 save percentage, is only 1-4-0 with a 3.47 GAA and .835 save percentage.

"You've got a proud athlete," Payne said of Halak. "He knows he's got to get better. He's accountable to it. He's not hiding from that fact. His assessment is no different from ours. We know where we are and we know where we've got to go. He's a good goaltender. He's going to put the work in and he's going to be a good goaltender."

Elliott is 1-0-0 with a 2.26 GAA and .929 save percentage in two games. In his only start against San Jose, Elliott stopped 34 shots, including a highlight-reel save on the Sharks' Dan Boyle in a 3-2 game late in the third period.

Payne said the decision to go with Elliott tonight is simple.

"The way he played in San Jose, the way he played in the third period against L.A. and Jaro's play," Payne said. "Quite simply put, (Elliott) has given us a chance. He needs to give us another."

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The Blues, trying to improve on their 2.5 goals per game average, will change up their lines in an effort to do that, including moving fourth line players Vladimir Sobotka and Chris Porter up to top six roles -- at least for one game.

Sobotka will step up to play with David Backes and Chris Stewart on the top line, while Porter will move up with Patrik Berglund and former North Dakota teammate T.J. Oshie.

"I'm not going to change my game," Sobotka said. "I'm going to try and play the same hockey like I do on the fourth line. I'm going to battle for every puck. We're all going to battle and have the same work ethic. I don't think there is much difference between the first and fourth line.

"We're going to shoot more, put the puck in the blue paint and go for it. If we battle for every puck, we can score more goals."

Payne said Sobotka needs to continue to be who he is.

"That's why he's there," Payne said. "I'm not asking him to do any more or any less. He's a competitive guy. He plays hard in the battle, he plays hard every game. That's why he's there. I'm not saying Sobi, you're out there to score goals, you're there to compete, plain and simple."

Porter will try and get his former college teammate going and look to lift the line in general.

"I've been working hard in the games I've been playing in," said Porter. "When they tap you on the shoulder, it's obviously a good opportunity to show what you can do. Obviously Bergy and Osh are two good players.

"I'll do my best to play my game and hopefully get them on the board."

With Andy McDonald (concussion) out of the lineup, the Blues have been scrambling for the right combinations.

"Well, we've been kind of switching things since Andy's been out," Payne said. "Now in the groups we have, there's workers with guys who need to play better. That is part of the message there. How long that stays will depend on how the game goes."

- - -

Defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo (concussion) has been taken off of injured reserve and will be back in the lineup tonight.

Colaiacovo missed the previous five games after being injured in the season-opener Oct. 8.

"Three good practices under his belt, but a solid practice yesterday, handled the pace and the competitive aspect of it," Payne said of Colaiacovo. "He should be ready to go, give us a boost."

That means Nikita Nikitin will sit out for the first time after playing six games. Nikitin has struggled to begin the season and is a minus-4 thus far despite averaging 20:30 per game, which was second behind only Alex Pietrangelo's team-leading 24:18.

"Struggling, I don't know is the right word," Payne said. "We've asked Niki to play a lot of important minutes in important roles against very good hockey players. You take that trip through the West Coast and you're talking about, starting in Anaheim and what the matchup there was, he's played some good hockey. But he's also got to make sure that he continues to learn and learn from what works and what doesn't and against who."

- - -

Forward David Perron (post-concussion syndrome) once again skated with the team this morning but unlike Thursday's 15-20 minutes of ice time, he participated in the full pre-game skate as he continues to make progression from a 10-month long injury.

Perron didn't look out of place and was all smiles after practice, with no indications of any symptoms that might come from exerting energy.

- - -

The Blues' lineup against Carolina tonight:

Vladimir Sobotka-David Backes-Chris Stewart

Chris Porter-Patrik Berglund-T.J. Oshie

Alex Steen-Jason Arnott-Jamie Langenbrunner

Evgeny Grachev-Scott Nichol-Matt D'Agostini

Kent Huskins-Alex Pietrangelo

Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk

Carlo Colaiacovo-Roman Polak

Brian Elliott gets the start in goal; Jaroslav Halak will be the backup. No decision has been made yet who starts Saturday night in Philadelphia.

- - -

The Hurricanes, after starting the season 0-2-1, have reeled off three straight wins and are going for four in a row tonight.

Captain Eric Staal said it was just a matter of sticking with the game plan despite the winless start.

"We've come with energy and aggressiveness every game," said Staal, who has three goals and an assist in six games. "I think we're pretty comfortable with the way we need to play to win. We were doing that for parts of games the first couple of the year but weren't getting results. We didn't alleviate from that and stayed with it and have gotten the results the last three. We want to keep it going."

The Hurricanes, who won 2-1 in the only matchup between the teams a season ago here, realize there is a desperate team they will face here tonight.

"For us, it's we want to make sure we're matching or bettering that aggressiveness and intensity every single game," Staal said. "It's a good test for us. It's a team we don't see a lot, but it's a team that plays hard every time we've been in this building. It's been a close game and we need to expect that and look forward to bringing our work ethic and worrying about our game."

Carolina coach Paul Maurice expects the Blues to be flying.

"It's a similar situation to Boston," Maurice said regarding the win over the Bruins Tuesday. "... Desperation does kick in very early for teams. We all know what that means. It's difficult to have a rough start and then you're fighting for it the rest of the year. Confidence is very important to develop and we expect them to come hard, chip a lot of pucks, try to get their forecheck established early."

- - -

The Hurricanes' lineup against the Blues:

Alexei Ponikarovsky-Eric Staal-Tuomo Ruutu

Jiri Tlusty-Brandon Sutter-Patrick Dwyer

Jussi Jokinen-Jeff Skinner-Chad LaRose

Brett Sutter-Tim Brent-Anthony Stewart

Tim Gleason-Bryan Allen

Joni Pitkanen-Jamie McBain

Jay Harrison-Tomas Kaberle

Cam Ward gets the start in goal; Brian Boucher is the backup.

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