Saturday, November 26, 2011


Sobotka to miss at least a game; Crombeen on the ice with teammates

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- After taking a puck to the mouth late in the third period of Friday's 2-0 win over Calgary, Blues winger Vladimir Sobotka will need a game to get himself back together.

Sobotka will miss Sunday's game at Columbus with what coach Ken Hitchcock called " a fracture in the bone area of the teeth," but is expected to join the team in Washington for Tuesday's game against the Capitals.

"He's got soreness. ... He got hit in the mouth ... upper (lip) and below it," Hitchcock said of Sobotka, one of the Blues' best forwards through 22 games. "The freezing has worn off, and now you've got the real pain coming.

"He's got a fracture in the bone area of the teeth, so that's probably what's causing the problem. We'll leave him here overnight and he'll join us in Washington."

Sobotka was hit after a clearing attempt from within the Calgary zone struck him flush in the mouth.

Although Hitchcock said a final decision wasn't made yet, it looks like Chris Porter will step in and play on the third line against the Jackets with Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner.

"We haven't really talked about it, but leaning probably towards Porter because it's going to be a quick game tomorrow," Hitchcock said after Saturday's practice. "We want to keep (Brett) Sterling in because of the energy that he's bringing. So I would say probably right now Porter. He'd be the guy. He's played with Langs and Arnie."

* Blues option D Fairchild -- After the game Friday night, the Blues sent defenseman Cade Fairchild back to Peoria in time for this weekend's games against the Chicago Wolves.

Fairchild, 22, was brought in as an extra defenseman, but the Blues wanted him playing this weekend's games. There's the likelihood the Blues recall a D-man after the game Sunday to take to Washington, but they will only carry six to Columbus.

"Not too sure after that," Hitchcock said. "We'll determine what's going on after Sunday's game."

* Crombeen skates -- There was another body skating in David Perron's former red jersey, and it was B.J. Crombeen.

Crombeen, out since fracturing his clavicle (left shoulder) on Oct. 1, the Blues' final preseason game against Dallas, was on the ice with his teammates for the first time after beginning skating roughly a week ago.

"It makes it a little easier when you can get around the guys," Crombeen said. "... I've been skating on my own just getting the conditioning back and getting out there.

"It's nice getting back around the guys and feeling you're more a part of it. There's still a way to go but it's good to get out there and start feeling more and more comfortable."

Crombeen is not cleared for contact nor will he be for some time still but he's able to shoot, stick-handle and all the other aspects of gaining back range of motion.

"I feel pretty good," he said. "There's still obviously a ways to go, but I think it feels about as good as it can at this point. It's improving every day so that's obviously a good sign. ... Jan. 1st is still the hopeful timeline, but it's tough to put it on a dead-set timeline."

* Russell returns -- Not only is Hitchcock returning to Columbus after being fired there two seasons ago, defenseman Kris Russell will play as a member of the Blues against his former team for the first time.

Russell was traded to the Blues for fellow defenseman Nikita Nikitin on Nov. 10 and both will face their former squads for the first time since the trade.

"It's going to be weird," said Russell, who spend four-plus seasons with the Blue Jackets. "It's going to be a little different. I've never been in a situation like that.

"Columbus treated me very well. ... It's going to be a bit different, but once the game starts, hopefully I simplify things and get in there quick."

* Scouting the Jackets -- The Blues, who face the Blue Jackets at 5 p.m. today (FSN, KMOX 1120-AM), are seeing a team finally catching its stride.

After an NHL-worst 2-12-1 start to the season, Columbus has gone 4-1-2 in the seven games since, and they've added some important pieces back that the lineup was missing.

"A very mature team and a very mature game right now," Hitchcock said. "That's a veteran hockey club playing really well.

"(Jeff) Carter back in really solidifies things. That guy's a helluva player. He really kind of organizes the lineup. You're not trying to scramble around trying to find a spot for somebody to play with (Rick) Nash. You know who's going to play with Nash.

The thing with Carter that he never gets credit for is he's hard to defend. He makes plays off the rush that people don't think he can make. He's really good. He can shoot it. He's strong and he can score from distance, but he can also make plays off the rush, and that's difficult to defend."

The Blue Jackets were also missing defenseman James Wisniewski, who was suspended the first eight games of the season. He's been paired with Nikitin to form the team's top defensive pairing.

* A look back -- The Blues received many contributions during Friday's 2-0 win over Calgary. Namely, the 24-save effort from Brian Elliott, who earned his third shutout of the season, as well as more top-line work from David Backes (one goal, one assist), Alex Steen (one assist) and T.J. Oshie. Also, Alex Pietrangelo scored his second goal in as many games.

But looking back on what Hitchcock didn't like was the fact the Blues allowed three breakaways and other qualify scoring chances.

"Calgary activated their defense against us more than any team all year," Hitchcock said. "Their defensemen were up in the rush, they were in the zone, they were active as hell and that gave us trouble for the first period. They created scoring chances with their defensemen more than any team because they were in around the net area and taking risks more than any team we've played all year. We took a while to get adjusted."

The players heard about it, too.

"There's pretty much nothing he hasn't seen in this game," Langenbrunner said of Hitchcock. "He knows what to say when the situation presents itself. The scoreboard doesn't really dictate what message he's sending. It's the way we're playing.

"A great example last night: we're ahead 1-0 after the first period, but we all knew we played an off game and he let us know that we have to be better than that and we got lucky."

Hitchcock returns to last place he was fired

Blues play at Columbus; coach says return not a big
deal, current team thriving at 6-1-2 since he took over


HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- When Ken Hitchcock goes back to Columbus today, forgive everyone if the 59-year-old doesn't get all emotional and teary-eyed about it.

Maybe another time and another place, especially if it was Hitchcock's first job, there would be mixed emotions. But the veteran coach has been there, done that. This will be Hitchcock's third time going back to a place he once called his bench.

(Getty Images)
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock has seen his team go 6-1-2 since taking over
on Nov. 6.

Hitchcock, who has coached in Dallas, Philadelphia, Columbus and now St. Louis, was with the Jackets for four seasons before being fired in 2010, the third time a franchise has relieved him of his duties.

"I've been out two years (in Columbus) doing work for them," Hitchcock said of the Columbus organization. "I've developed a friendship with obviously the American (Hockey) League guys and some of the business people there just for fun, getting to know other people in the business.

"If it was (a big deal), I'd tell you. It isn't. But it was hard in Dallas."

Yes, Hitchcock admitted that at one time, it was difficult, and that was when he was fired from his first National Hockey League job with the Stars, for whom he had won a Stanley Cup with in 1999 and spent seven seasons with.

"I said to people it was tough for me going back to Dallas," Hitchcock said. "It was really hard because we were in on the design on some of the stuff in the building. We were in on the design of the locker rooms, coach's offices, training rooms, murals that are up there that are still there ... we were in everything. Mr. (Tom) Hicks (who owned the Stars at the time) included us in everything. So it was really hard for me to go back there. Very emotional."

But this will be just another game for Hitchcock, who is 6-1-2 since taking over the Blues after they fired Davis Payne on Nov. 6 following a 6-7 start.

The Blues went from 14th in the Western Conference at that time to sixth heading into Saturday's action, and they've done it by buying into a style that has seen Hitchcock win at all levels he's been at.

"When we do it, they have found value in puck management and checking," Hitchcock said. "They've found real value in managing the three lines on the ice and checking. They've seen through a lot of video how that can manage the game properly and create scoring chances.

"I think the toughest thing in this league is to convince the players that the harder they check, the more they score. I think that's where the players are getting a good feel for ... if I compete and check, then that's how I get the puck because just waiting for the game or waiting for the puck to come to you doesn't work in this league. Teams are too good."

In the initial aftershock of Payne being let go, it's natural for players to react in a favorable way, simply because they understand that it's now time to hold the players accountable after management serves notice by relieving a coach.

"Any time you get a shakeup like a coach getting fired, it sends a message through the whole team," said veteran winger Jamie Langenbrunner, who played for Hitchcock in Dallas. "Things weren't going horribly here. We were right around .500 but still the message was sent we expect to be bigger and better. I think that was a wake-up call for everybody.

"Unfortunately, Payner pays the price for it, but I think the message was heard loud and clear."

And the Blues have responded to Hitchcock's demanding style of play with a smothering style that has yielded only 11 regulation/overtime goals in nine games. Although the power play still has work to do, the penalty kill is much improved and the 5-on-5 play is spectacular, allowing only six goals in the nine games under Hitchcock.

"It's attention to detail, just doing the little things," said goalie Brian Elliott, who leads the league in goals-against average (1.34), save percentage (.951) and is tied for shutouts with three to go with a 9-1 record. "If you go around the room, that's what guys would say. It's being accountable and knowing why you're doing the things you do. He has a good way of explaining how and why you're doing things. When you know why you're doing it, then it helps a lot. Everybody can read off each other easily. It's simplifying our game and playing to our strengths and doing it for 60 minutes.

"He expects a lot out of you, but I think in the end, he enjoys being around the guys. It's nice to come in to see a smiling face every morning, someone you can go to with a question and you don't feel uncomfortable. He knows what he's talking about. He's been around the game so long. Anything you get out of him you can probably trust is the right thing."
(Getty Images)
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock returns to the last place he coached Sunday
when the Blues face the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Defenseman Kris Russell, who played for Hitchcock in Columbus and who will be making his return to Nationwide Arena for the first time since being traded to St. Louis Nov. 10, said of Hitchcock: "He brings structure, leadership. He's a guy that's been there. He's won a Cup obviously. He took a team in Columbus to the playoffs when they've never reached it. Those records speak for themselves.

"I'm sure he wants us to play as well as we can to get a win in there, but Hitch is a coach that is pretty even-keeled every game. He takes it one game at a time. You can't be too high, can't be too low in this league or you go for a ride."

The Blues are enjoying the ride they're on now, and as long as they can adhere to Hitchcock's message, they may just keep themselves in the thick of the rugged Western Conference race.

"For me, the controlling of the three lines ... when we do it well, we can play with and against anybody," Hitchcock said. "We did it for two periods and five minutes in Pittsburgh (Wednesday) as well as we've ever done it since I've been here. We were really good. If we do those things, then we can beat anybody. That's where, to me, the buy-in has started. When your best players do it, then everybody else has to follow.

"It's not fun to play that way. It's a constant tug-of-war. The more success you have, the more they want to go back and play a different way. It's not easy playing that way. It's not easy at all. Not fun. It's very rewarding, but it's not fun. But when those guys buy in and play that way, we're very good."

Friday, November 25, 2011

Elliott, Backes intrumental in Blues' 2-0 shutout of Flames

Netminder earns third shutout of season; captain collects goal, assist

ST. LOUIS -- Those chants of E-L-L-I-O-T-T bellowing from every corner of Scottrade Center are not for the ET character that pops up on the jumbo-tron. They've got Blues netminder Brian Elliott, who's quickly becoming a fan favorite even though he doesn't realize it.

"I think it's the ET on the screen that's the fan favorite," Elliott joked.

(Getty Images)
Blues goalie Brian Elliott (right) makes one of his 24 stops on the Flames'
Mikael Backlund during Friday's 2-0 victory.
No Brian, it's you.

There's a reason for it, too.

Elliott continued his dominance this season. He pitched his third shutout of the season, which ties him for the league lead with a 24-save effort in a 2-0 win over the Calgary Flames Friday night before 19,150 pleased spectators that cheered every Elliott save.

The Blues' netminder improved to 9-1 and lowered his already sparkling league-leading goals-against average to 1.34 and save percentage to .951.

"I just try to stay even-keeled, not really get up on yourself," a modest Elliott said. "Those things can sneak through just the same.

"I try not to really think about it. You can be playing the same way and not getting the wins or results. You just try to keep it rolling when you can."

David Backes scored shorthanded and Alex Pietrangelo scored his second goal in as many games and the Blues (12-8-2) moved into sixth place in the Western Conference.

If Elliott doesn't want to talk about himself, his teammates have no problem doing so.

"Lights out ... both goalies (including Jaroslav Halak) have been," said Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, who also scored in the game.

"He's making saves he has no business making," captain David Backes said of Elliott. "When you've got that behind you, it gives you confidence to make a few more plays in front of him. ... Kudos to him."

The Blues needed every bit of Elliott, who will start again Sunday at Columbus based on Hitchcock rewarding goalies that earn shutouts, made three key stops in the third period when the Flames (8-12-1) were buzzing around the goal.

He stopped Brendan Morrison, who walked in from the side of the net, then made breakaway stops on Jarome Iginla and Alex Tanguay to preserve a one-goal lead.

"I was lucky enough to make the saves and keep them out of there," Elliott said.

"We got two major goals from our top players, we got a great goaltending display and our fourth line was terrific," said Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, whose team is 6-1-2 since he took over for Davis Payne. "That was the difference.

"It wasn't clean, it wasn't pretty. It was a really physical, hard game again. We seem to be in a lot of these games right now where they feel like playoff games."

Backes was the key source of both goals, playing his hard-hitting, physical style with a hint of grittiness. He used every bit of his 6-foot-3, 225-pound body in scoring a goal and assisting in a key third-period goal.

"He's a machine right now," Hitchcock said of Backes. "He's given us everything he's got. He's playing in every situation.

"That line (with Alex Steen and T.J. Oshie) is good right now. We need that line because they're carrying an awesome responsibility. They're scoring and checking and that's hard to do. It's easy to check, as long as you can focus, but when you've got to finish the plays off like they're doing, that's a hard thing to do. And they're doing it for us right now."

Backes got an outlet pass from Kevin Shattenkirk and was able to beat defenseman TJ Brodie, power his way past the Flames D-man and lift a shot over the glove hand of Blues killer Miikka Kiprusoff, who was 19-4-2 with a 1.90 GAA and .927 save percentage in his career against the Blues coming in. The goal came 10 minutes 39 seconds into the game.

"Just keep your legs going," Backes said. "Hopefully, if worse comes to worse, you get a stride on a guy and he hauls you down and you play four-on-four.

"All of the sudden, there was a little open ice in front of me and I just tried to get a shot to the top half of the net and found a little twine there."

The Blues outshot the Flames 13-4 in the middle 20 minutes but produced no goals. Their fourth line of Scott Nichol and wingers Brett Sterling and Ryan Reaves produced the best scoring chances. The Blues did get a shot off the post from Matt D'Agostini during a lengthy shift that had the Flames scrambling.

"They gave us the shifts that mattered," Hitchcock said of his fourth line. "They gave us shifts early in the game and we weren't able to build on it. Then they gave us the shift that started the momentum in the second period. It really led to a lot of energy ... energized the bench.

"You get those type of shifts from your fourth line, it gives you a really good feeling. ... That's a very effective line for us right now."
(Getty Images)
Blues enforcer Ryan Reaves (left) lands a knockout blow to Calgary's Tim
Jackman during the first period Friday night.

The Blues got Pietrangelo's all-important goal with 6:43 left when Backes crunched Kirkwood native Chris Butler in the corner, creating a loose puck for Steen. Steen was able to slot Pietrangelo in front and the Blues' defenseman roofed a shot over Kiprusoff.

"Good timing again," Pietrangelo said. "Obviously another great pass by Steener. A good heads-up play. I almost fell down there. Kind of a funny play, but I was able to get it to the back of then net.

"... We're feeling pretty good in here right now. It wasn't our best game, but we got away with two points."

* NOTES -- The Blues assigned defenseman Cade Fairchild to Peoria after the game. Fairchild was brought up as insurance. ... Backes now has four goals and six points in five games after scoring four goals in the first 17.

(11-25-11) Flames-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- It was only his 31st career game, but for Blues defenseman Ian Cole, it was the most critical -- and certainly most challenging -- assignment he's drawn as a National Hockey League player.

It helps having Alex Pietrangelo as a defensive partner, but you'll draw tough assignments on a nightly basis, but when you're asked to harass Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby, that's a different breed.

But Cole and Pietrangelo came out with flying colors, not only keeping the best player in the league scoreless in his second game back from a concussion but also winning in a building that's been tough on visiting teams this season.

"It was for sure, but then in that third period when they were down by a goal, they started throwing Crosby and (Evgeni) Malkin out there together," Cole said of the Blues' 3-2 overtime win in Pittsburgh Wednesday. "And then you're playing against two of the best players in the world. They're arguably one-two or one and top five. ... It was definitely a test, definitely a battle. But it definitely feels good to shut those guys down."

It was Cole's fifth game of the season and it was a season-high in minutes at 21:48. Pietrangelo played a game-best 27:59 and scored the game-winner in overtime.

"There's not many defensemen where you say this guy's got a chance to be a one. He has a chance to be a one," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of Pietrangelo. "Not many teams have that. We have an opportunity to have a player like him become a one over time. He's a young guy, he's just learning how to play the game.

"There's not many players in the league that are able to play against top players, play on the power play (and) kill penalties. He's got a chance if he keeps improving to be in that one category. Those are valuable guys where you can play them heavy minutes and not worry about them."

Hitchcock said Pietrangelo reminds him of Nashville's Ryan Suter and lists players like the Preds' Shea Weber and Los Angeles' Drew Doughty as those players that have that ability to be a No. 1 guy.

With Cole, it wasn't a question of whether to throw him out against Crosby. Hitchcock felt like it was time. The Blues' coach liked the end result.

"Really good," Hitchcock said when asked to summarize Cole's game Wednesday. "To get to the next level, if he can get firmer with the puck, it's going to help us a lot. But he's hard on people. He's really got that second and third effort defending-wise, which is really good.

"If we can just get him firmer under pressure with the puck so he's not feeling like there's three guys after him ... there's just one, sometimes younger players think there's more coming at them than there is. If we can get him up to speed there, he's a very competitive guy, which is a good sign for us."

So after Crosby debuted with four points against the New York Islanders Monday, Cole and Pietrangelo held Crosby scoreless Wednesday. Malkin did have two assists.

So is there a secret to containing Sid the Kid?

"There's not one thing that you can do," Cole said. "He's so good, so well-rounded. You've just got to play him hard and stay in his face, not give him too much room. If he has room, he makes stuff happen."

- - -

After stopping 31 shots, including 15 of 17 in the third period, the Blues will once again turn to backup Brian Elliott today against the Calgary Flames (7 p.m. on FSN, KMOX 1120-AM).

Elliott is a sparkling 8-1 on the season with a league-leading 1.48 goals-against average and .946 save percentage.

"The guy that's playing tonight, he weathered the tsunami in the third period ... more than weathered it, so he gets to play tonight because he got real wet in the third period," Hitchcock joked. "Just out of sympathy alone, he gets to come back and play today."

- - -

The Blues will not make any lineup changes from the one they used Wednesday night in Pittsburgh:

Alex Steen-David Backes-T.J. Oshie

Chris Stewart-Patrik Berglund-Matt D'Agostini

Vladimir Sobotka-Jason Arnott-Jamie Langenbrunner

Brett Sterling-Scott Nichol-Ryan Reaves

Ian Cole-Alex Pietrangelo

Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk

Kris Russell-Roman Polak

Brian Elliott will start in goal; Jaroslav Halak is the backup.

The Blues will sit Evgeny Grachev, Chris Porter, and Cade Fairchild. David Perron (post-concussion syndrome), Andy McDonald (concussion), Carlo Colaiacovo (hamstring), Kent Huskins (ankle) and B.J. Crombeen (shoulder) remain on injured reserve.

- - -

Flames defenseman Chris Butler, a native of Kirkwood, Mo., was more than happy to spend the Thanksgiving holiday here.

Butler, whose parents still live in the St. Louis area, also saw his brother and sister come to town to spend the holidays. The Butlers entertained the Flames organization for dinner Thursday night at Chris' parents house.

"I don't think I've been home for a stretch since I left for juniors," said Butler, who still owns a home here and spends his summers here. "For me, it was an exciting time. ... We had the whole team over for Thanksgiving dinner last night. It was awesome.

"For me, it will always be home."

Butler, who was traded to the Flames from Buffalo this past summer, will play his third game here against the Blues (second time this season, once with Buffalo) and said the trade really helps his family see him more often. The trade also gave him a perspective of where he fits in with the Flames.

"For my family, it's nicer being in the Western Conference," said Butler, who has four assists in 20 games this season. "They can go to games in Chicago, Columbus and obviously here in St. Louis. It keeps a few miles off the car for my dad.

"I had a relatively smooth transition. I sat down with the coaches in training camp and talked about what my role is going to be with this team and where they see me fitting in, the type of game that we like to play. I felt like that type of game really suited the way I like to play the game."

Butler is a huge baseball fan and was obviously thrilled to see the Cardinals win the World Series.

"I've always enjoyed the game of baseball," Butler said. "Most nights in the summer time, I sit around watching Cardinals games. ... Once they got into the playoffs and they beat Philly and they beat Milwaukee and to win the World Series, I was loving every minute of it. It's neat to see what they did."

- - -

Looking to bolster their lineup, the Flames claimed forward Blake Comeau from the Islanders on Friday.

The Flames put a claim in with the understanding they were getting a player coach Brent Sutter was familiar with.

Comeau played for Sutter at the World Juniors, and Sutter knows him from coaching against him when Sutter was in New Jersey and when Comeau was playing for Kelowna of the Western Hockey League and Sutter was in Red Deer.

"Blake is a real good, solid two-way player," Sutter said. "He can skate, he's intelligent. I like him as a hockey player. ... He's a good penalty killer, definitely a top-nine player. We'll see when he gets here. His best position is the left wing side. He can play both sides, but he's a better player on the left side."

The 25-year-old Comeau was en route to St. Louis today and barring any further complications, was expected to be in the lineup Friday night.

"He is a player that we have been watching for some time," Flames general manager Jay Feaster said. "He is someone that our scouts feel very strongly will fit into the way we want to play. He's a very good skater. He's a responsible guy defensively. He's a very reliable player in that you can put him out there with a lead in the last minute of play. He's also a guy that can score some goals. Our scouts have been watching him this year and feel that the thing that he needs most is a change. He needs a new opportunity. When we saw he was on waivers, we jumped on that opportunity."

Comeau had no goals and zero points in 16 games for the Islanders this season and was a minus-11. He's coming in on the heels of a 24-goal season in Long Island last season.

"There's reasons for it, obviously, or else he wouldn't be on waivers," Sutter said. "It's something you can't read too much into. There's circumstances that surround that. We're excited about having Blake become a Calgary Flame."

To make room for Comeau, the Flames sent forward Paul Byron to their American Hockey League affiliate in Abbotsford.

"As I explained to Paul, that's simply because we have to do something in order to be able to create the roster spot," Feaster said of Byron, who had two goals in six games. "It's no reflection on the way Paul's played. My goal starting right now is to create a roster spot for Paul Byron and get him back here just as quickly as we can."

- - -

Sutter said aside from Comeau, the Flames lineup will be the same as it was Wednesday night in Detroit:

Alex Tanguay-Mikael Backlund-Jarome Iginla

Curtis Glencross-Olli Jokinen-Rene Bourque

Blake Comeau-Roman Horak-Lee Stempniak

Tom Kostopoulos-Brendan Morrison-Tim Jackman

Scott Hannan-Mark Giordano

Jay Bouwmeester-Chris Butler

Derek Smith-TJ Brodie

Miikka Kiprusoff, who owns a 19-4-2 lifetime record and a 1.90 GAA and .927 save percentage against the Blues, will start in goal; Henrik Karlsson is the backup.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Third period costly for Blues in loss to Kings

Pair of Jackman mistakes lead to goals;
Oshie apparently OK after hit from Doughty

ST. LOUIS -- For a team that just hasn't been scoring many goals on average this season, there's a fine line for the Blues between winning and losing.

And when your steady-solid defenseman, who's been a rock on the team so far through the first quarter of the season, makes a couple costly mistakes that end up in the back of the net, it becomes difficult for the Blues to win hockey games.

Barret Jackman, known for his solid play thus far, coughed up a couple goals that led to the first two Kings goals, and unsung hero Willie Mitchell, playing in his 664th career game, scored the game-winning goal with 5 minutes 49 seconds remaining as the Kings slipped past the Blues 3-2 Tuesday night before 18,178 at Scottrade Center.
(Getty Images)
The Blues' Roman Polak (left) battles the Kings' Dustin Brown (middle) on
a shot that comes in on goalie Jaroslav Halak Tuesday night.

The Blues (10-8-2), who lost for only the second time in regulation in 10 home games (7-2-1) and play tonight in Pittsburgh, have scored three goals or fewer in 16 of 20 games this season. And as coach Ken Hitchcock, who lost for the first time in regulation as Blues coach (4-1-2), put it, there's not a big margin for error with the team.

"When you're scoring two goals a game, you're living on a fine line," Hitchcock said. "We've been on the right side of it for the most part. But we're going to have to get extending ourselves a little bit better if we expect to win."

But Hitchcock did point out on Jackman, "He's a pretty solid guy. He'd be a stand-up guy with it, too. Tough plays."

The Kings' Anze Kopitar scored the tying goal 7:36 into the second, a power play goal after Mike Richards picked off Jackman's turnover in the right corner, feeding Kopitar in the crease, who beat Jaroslav Halak.

Richards broke a 1-all tie in the third when Andrei Loktionov picked off another Jackman puck, fed Richards in the slot and he beat Halak cleanly 4:41 into the period.

"The first one on the PK, I just made a bad read with good players on the ice," Jackman said. "I thought the play was in the middle, but obviously it wasn't and they jumped on it and scored.

"The second one, the puck just bounced over my stick. It was going the wrong way and I couldn't recover."

Alex Steen and Vladimir Sobotka scored for the Blues, who only lost for the second time in regulation in 10 home games. Jaroslav Halak stopped 25 shots.

"I think the last two games in the last two periods, we've probably come off it a little bit in the third period," Hitchcock said. "We've kind of been the team making a few mistakes. We've made a couple errors in our own net that have ended up in our net or ended up us taking a penalty to give the momentum back to the (opposing) team.

"It's a frustrating loss for the players to battle back like we did and give it up so quickly. It's a tough loss."

The Blues were quietly not pleased with a play at the end of the game in which Kings defenseman Drew Doughty took the Blues' T.J. Oshie hard into the corner boards late in the game. There was only a two-minute cross-checking penalty issued, but Oshie skated off the ice with a trainer holding his left shoulder and head.

"The end result is a two-minute penalty and a face-off outside the zone," Blues captain David Backes said. "They might as well just run clock on that.

"I guess if that's the extent of it, that's a good way to kill the clock ... no hold's barred at the end of the game. But it can't come down to the last three seconds. We should have been in better position, where it's us closing out that game."

Hitchcock said he didn't see the hit immediately after the game but when asked about Oshie, "He's good."
(Getty Images)
Blues defenseman Ian Cole (23) is being trailed by LA's Justin Williams in
action Tuesday night at Scottrade Center.

The Blues, got took a lead just 1:07 into the game on Steen's team-leading eighth goal, tied the game 2-2 when Sobotka finished off Matt D'Agostini's drop pass into the left circle. Sobotka one-timed his second of the season past Jonathan Bernier with 7:32 to play but coughed up the lead less than two minutes later when Mitchell's shot from the left point got through a Scott Nichol screen and past Halak at the near side.

"The third goal was disappointing because we came off of coverage," Hitchcock said. "We got beat to the puck below the goal line and we had couple people go for a skate instead of just stopping and playing. Those are the things in the third period that we want to see things change. ... Just stay with it."

The Blues' Patrik Berglund nearly untied the game twice in the ladder stages of the second period, once after stripping a puck at the blue line shorthanded and creating a 2 on 1 breakaway. But Berglund couldn't finish his shot as Bernier made a shoulder stop. Berglund also saw Bernier rob him in the slot on a backhand shot after taking Sobotka's saucer feed.

"He's playing a solid game. He's just not burying the chances," Hitchcock said of Berglund, who now has one goal in 11 games. "That's emotionally draining for him. He's had a lot scoring chances ... at least since I've been here. He has a lot of responsibility here.

"The difference for us was when we had all the chances in the second period and we couldn't grab the lead. For me, that was disappointing."

* NOTES -- The Blues placed defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo on injured reserve, retroactive to Friday. They have recalled defenseman Cade Fairchild from Peoria. Fairchild has two goals and four assists in 17 games and a team-leading plus-13.

(11-22-11) Kings-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues' Ken Hitchcock and the Los Angeles Kings' Terry Murray have seen a few NHL games in their time.

When the Blues (10-7-2) host the Kings (10-7-3) at 6:30 p.m. today (Versus, KMOX 1120-AM), it will be the 1,048th game for Hitchcock and 1,004th game for Murray. The two are the oldest coaches in the NHL (Hitchcock is 59, Murray is 61) and the two friends go back a long way together.

"We go back way into the (International Hockey League) for crying out loud," Murray joked this morning. "He was coaching Kalamazoo where we spent some time together."

Murray, whose Kings beat the Blues 5-0 on Oct. 18, is glad to see his friend back in the game.

"I'm real happy for him. He's a real quality guy," Murray said of Hitchcock. "He's a real good coach, obviously. He's got a lot of games under his belt and had some great success, a Stanley Cup winner in Dallas.

"He waited for his time. He stays involved in the game when he was out ... probably running coaching clinics someplace, working with some people, some teams on the ice helping out there. He loves the game. I like to see a lifelong coach get back in."

When the Blues and Kings drop the puck, Hitchcock said look for a game of wits between two crafty guys behind the bench.

"Pretty snarly," Hitchcock said when asked to describe the Kings. "It'll be an interesting game; two coaches who know each other very well, are good friends, have the same belief system with the way the game has to be played.

"I would say this would be a game with not a lot of room. You're going to have to fight for your space and it isn't going to come easy. If both teams are on the mark, you'll see a helluva hockey game. We've coached against each other and with each other for a long time. Not much changes."

Added Murray: "That's so true in the game today. The way teams are structured on their checking part of the game. Everybody's relentless. There's a lot of dot-to-board battling going on. You've got to really fight for your space in front of the net now. The spacing that everybody shows defensively and offensively for puck support is getting tighter. There has to be a lot of dig-in attitude here tonight for sure."

- - -

After the month of October where they surrendered 20 goals in 11 games playing 5-on-5 hockey, the Blues have really buckled down in the month of November.

Through eight games, the Blues have surrendered only four goals playing 5-on-5, including three in six games with Hitchcock as coach.

"I think they bought into the checking part of hockey," Hitchcock said of his players. "They were already partly bought in and we just kind of continued the program.

"If they buy into it, the harder they check, the more they score and then they see results. I think what happened was we came out checking hard and scored because of it. The buy-in was a little bit easier."

Playing with a sense of urgency each and every shift seems to have paid dividends.

"I think we keep our shifts short," center Scott Nichol said. "I don't think we really over-extend ourselves. When you over-extend yourself and get tired, your game starts slowing down and you don't react quite as quick.

"All year long, we've done a good job of staying fresh and rolling our lines."

Added captain David Backes: "... When you're playing at that high rate changing lines over quick, it's tough to play against when the guy against you is going 100 miles an hour. Even when we're making mistakes, we're making them at full speed so we can recover and get back above the puck. Other guys are bailing guys out when mistakes are made. It's a good recipe."

- - -

Blues winger David Perron was cleared for full contact drills and has participated in five days now without the no-contact red jersey. Perron, out since Nov. 4, 2010 (concussion), has been involved in two days of hard practices where contact has been evident with no ill effects.

"It's hard when your player comes to full contact that he's not ready to play, but then you see endurance stuff," Hitchcock said. "He's getting closer from an endurance standpoint, and that's encouraging.

"I think for us, for him to be able to go through every day and then not have any repercussions the next day ... our focus is all on the next day. How does he feel the next day? He's had all the hockey soreness stuff and all the areas that you like with no repercussions at all. For us, that's good news.

"The next step is when does it slow down in his head? The tempo we practiced with the last two days, he had to keep up with it. I think the first day was a struggle for him, and yesterday was a lot better. We're getting closer. Now is just a matter of taking the next step. Taking the leap of faith and say it's time to go. He's the only guy that's going to know that. He's going to have to tell us when he thinks he's ready to go."

- - -

Blues winger T.J. Oshie, who sat out the last two practices with a sore wrist, has been deemed good to go by Hitchcock. But there is still no news as far as winger Andy McDonald (concussion) is concerned.

"I haven't seen Mac at all," Hitchcock said. "I don't really have a comment on it because I haven't even seen him here in person here. ... He's not able to participate yet."

Defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo (hamstring) will miss his third straight game but Hitchcock said there is progress.

"He feels better," Hitchcock said. "We're hopeful that towards the end of the week he can get back on the ice. We'll go from there, but he feels better.

"We need him back in the lineup. That's an injury where you don't know until you get on the ice. It's a hamstring injury. It might be good in 24 hours and you just go from there or it might take a few days. He's made improvement and that's a good sign."

- - -

Murray was asked how he would assess the first quarter of his team's season, considering they opened in Europe and on the east coast for two games.

The Kings played their home opener against the Blues on Oct. 18.

"I like where we are," Murray said. "Starting off with the trip over to Europe, I thought it was a very demanding start to the schedule. To come back with a couple more games on the east coast, we got through that.

"With all of the scheduling that we've had, especially the week before going over to Europe, then going overseas and regrouping and coming back, we got through the first quarter of the season in pretty good shape."

- - -

Tonight's Blues lineup against the Kings:

Alex Steen-David Backes-T.J. Oshie

Vladimir Sobotka-Patrik Berglund-Matt D'Agostini

Chris Porter-Jason Arnott-Jamie Langenbrunner

Evgeny Grachev-Scott Nichol-Ryan Reaves

Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk

Ian Cole-Alex Pietrangelo

Kris Russell-Roman Polak

Jaroslav Halak will get the start in goal; Brian Elliott will be the backup.

The Blues continue to play without Perron and Andy McDonald (concussion), winger B.J. Crombeen (shoulder), Colaiacovo (hamstring) and defenseman Kent Huskins (ankle). Brett Sterling, recalled from Peoria Sunday, is a healthy scratch.

- - -

Tonight's Kings lineup against the Blues:

Simon Gagne-Anze Kopitar-Justin Williams

Andrei Loktionov-Mike Richards-Dustin Brown

Kyle Clifford-Jarret Stoll-Trent Hunter

Ethan Moreau-Colin Fraser-Kevin Westgarth

Jack Johnson-Drew Doughty

Willie Mitchell-Slava Voynov

Rob Scuderi-Matt Greene

Jonathan Bernier, making only his fourth start this season, will be in goal; Jonathan Quick will be the backup on back-to-back nights, as the Kings play in Dallas Wednesday.

The Kings will be missing wingers Dustin Penner (hand) and Scott Parse (lower-body) along with defenseman Alec Martinez (upper-body) are on injured reserve. Centers Brad Richardson and Trevor Lewis along with defenseman Davis Drewiske are healthy scratches.

Monday, November 21, 2011


Oshie expected to play; Jackman OK after puck to head; 
Colaiacovo likely out at least next two games

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- It appears as if Blues winger T.J. Oshie will not miss any time.

After injuring his wrist in the first period of Saturday's 3-2 shootout loss to Minnesota, all Oshie needed was a couple days off. There was some speculation that Oshie could miss time, and the team had recalled Brett Sterling from Peoria. But Blues coach Ken Hitchcock feels Oshie should be ready for the game Tuesday night against the Los Angeles Kings.

"We gave him two days off. He feels good," Hitchcock said of Oshie. "Unless something changes, he's in and ready to go tomorrow."

Monday at practice, Blues defenseman Barret Jackman took a puck off the side of his head and needed "four or five stitches" according to Hitchcock but won't miss any time either.

"They tell me Jacks gets that three or four times a year," Hitchcock said. "He was a guy you didn't want to be around in the locker room so we let him go to the hospital. He'll be fine for tomorrow."

Defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo, who is out with a mild hamstring strain, will not play Tuesday against the Kings and likely will miss Wednesday's game in Pittsburgh.

"I would say for sure he's not a player for the next two games and then we'll evaluate from there," Hitchcock said.

* 5-on-5 stingy -- After the month of October where the Blues surrendered 20 goals in 11 games playing 5-on-5 hockey, the Blues have really buckled down in the month of November.

Through eight games, the Blues have surrendered only four goals playing 5-on-5, including three in six games with Hitchcock as coach.

"I think they bought into the checking part of hockey," Hitchcock said of his players. "They were already partly bought in and we just kind of continued the program.

"If they buy into it, the harder they check, the more they score and then they see results. I think what happened was we came out checking hard and scored because of it. The buy-in was a little bit easier."

Playing with a sense of urgency each and every shift seems to have paid dividends.

"I think we keep our shifts short," center Scott Nichol said. "I don't think we really over-extend ourselves. When you over-extend yourself and get tired, your game starts slowing down and you don't react quite as quick.

"All year long, we've done a good job of staying fresh and rolling our lines."

Added captain David Backes: "... When you're playing at that high rate changing lines over quick, it's tough to play against when the guy against you is going 100 miles an hour. Even when we're making mistakes, we're making them at full speed so we can recover and get back above the puck. Other guys are bailing guys out when mistakes are made. It's a good recipe."

* Sterling ready -- Whether he plays a game here or not, winger Brett Sterling is ready to do whatever the Blues need of him.

Sterling has 12 goals and 22 points in 18 games with the Rivermen this season, and just in case Oshie can't play, Sterling will step in.

"Wherever I get into the lineup or whatever they want me to do, I'll do it out there," Sterling said. "My goal is to stick up here. Whatever situation you get, you've got to make the best of it because you never know how many chances you'll get."

* Fourth line success -- Hitchcock has raved about the play of the Blues' fourth line and with good reason.

They may not be scoring goals, but whether it be Nichol, Ryan Reaves, Chris Porter or Evgeny Grachev, they're making things happen.

"It's not all about scoring goals on our line," Nichol said. "It's about changing momentum or keeping the momentum or tiring their third or fourth line or their fourth, fifth, sixth defenseman out by keeping them in their end. ... We're just kind of keeping it simple."

* Kings come calling -- The Blues' brief one-game home stint will see the Kings come to town. It was back on Oct. 18 that the Blues arguably played their worst game of the season in LA, a 5-0 loss that saw Jaroslav Halak, who will start in goal once again Tuesday against the Kings (6:30 p.m. on Versus, KMOX 1120-AM), get pulled after allowing four goals on 18 shots.

"They've got a good team over there," Backes said of the 10-7-3 Kings. "We kind of sloughed a little bit and they took advantage of every opportunity they had.

"We've got to make sure we play a much more solid game and we're aware of their speed and their weapons offensively and we're capitalizing on our chances."

After saying that Halak and Brian Elliott would split the upcoming two games, Hitchcock would only say Halak starts Tuesday and anything after that, "then we'll see."

Sunday, November 20, 2011


Blues recall Sterling; Oshie (wrist) day-to-day;
top line producing; shootout auditions

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- The Blues have recalled forward Brett Sterling from Peoria as a precaution in case T.J. Oshie (wrist) will not be able to play Tuesday.

Oshie, who has eight points in the last eight games -- including a goal and assist in Saturday night's 3-2 shootout -- hurt his wrist in the first period Saturday in what coach Ken Hitchcock called a collision on the half wall near center ice.

Oshie returned and finished the game after briefly leaving the bench but was not on the ice for practice Sunday afternoon.

"We're just being cautious with it right now," Hitchcock said. "We're hopeful that he plays on Tuesday.

"He played good. He played really hard (Saturday). That line's been good. They've competed. They've had a major assignment on our team. ... We need to get more than one line up to speed if we can get going on it."

The 27-year-old Sterling, who the Blues signed to a one-year deal this past summer after spending last season with the Pittsburgh organization,
is second in the AHL with 22 points. His 12 goals in 18 games are tied for the league lead for the Rivermen this season.

"Don't even ask me what (Sterling) is," Hitchcock joked. "I don't know. Never seen him play."

The 5-foot-7, 175-pound forward has 26 games of NHL experience, posting nine points (five goals, four assists).

* Top line magic -- The Blues have found something with their top line, as Hitchcock mentioned.

Oshie along with winger Alex Steen and center David Backes have combined for 38 points in 19 games and they're the top three-point leaders on the team.

Steen and Backes each have four points in four games. They had six points Saturday and accounted for all the scoring.

"We're working hard," Steen said. "Last night, both Backs and Osh go to tough areas to get goals."

Added Hitchcock: "They score because they just outwork you. They have skill, and they have ability, but they outwork you.

"It makes for a good combination. When you're willing to work for your chances in this league, you usually get love. And they've been able to finish. When you look at most of their goals, it's from checking turnovers. The second goal (by Oshie in the third period Saturday) they got was a checking turnover."

* Shootout audition -- With their second shootout loss under Hitchcock -- the Blues' only two losses in six games for their new coach -- the Blues will come to practice this morning auditioning for the opportunity to represent when shootout attempts present themselves.

Hitchcock has relied solely on his assistant coaches when it comes to the two shootout games and would like to know his personnel more in that regard.

"Tomorrow, we're having tryouts, because I don't know these guys," Hitchcock said. "I want to see what people can do. We're going to start focusing on that stuff.

"I'm getting the information of the coaches, but I haven't seen anybody in action. I want to start seeing what guys can do putting lunch or dinner or something on the line, so there's a little bit of pressure."

The Blues have gone 1-for-6 in two shootouts this season, while the opposition has gone 1-for-5.

"Every goalie in the league can go post-to-post," Hitchcock explained. "We've beaten goalies and not put (the puck) over 18 inches. Every team that has good shootout people puts it over 18 inches. That's the height of the pads.

"To me, we've beat them. Then we put it back in the pads. The focus has to be the back of the net, not across the goal line but the back of the netting."

* Shattenkirk wants the shootout -- Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who took his first NHL shootout attempt Saturday night, beat Josh Harding on the Blues' third try but the puck rolled off his stick and Harding had his pad in the right spot to make the save, giving the Wild a 3-2 win after winning the shootout 2-1.

"I really wanted to put it in," Shattenkirk said. "... I took three (previous) in the AHL.

"It was something that I wanted to prove to the guys that I can do it. Everyone was giving me a pat on the back saying, 'Don't worry about it. Tough break.' I definitely welcome the challenge to come in and hopefully show them that I can be one."

Hitchcock said he went with the coaches' decision on using a defenseman in a third opportunity.

"I was told he was good," Hitchcock said. "He beat (Harding) clean. It either went off the stick or he didn't get it up.

"Any goalie just goes post to post and hopes. If you look at the goals that got scored ... if you look at (Mikko) Koivu's goal, you look at these goals that got scored, you get scored in the top half of the net."

* One that got away -- Hitchcock and the Blues players called Saturday's loss at Minnesota one that got away, considering the Blues had a 2-1 lead with under two minutes to go.

"There's some (shootout) games like the Toronto game that felt like a win, but it was a loss because we played so well and we came back," Hitchcock said. "Yesterday felt like a loss. Yesterday was the feeling everybody had. That was kind of garbage in, garbage out. We gave them the game."

The Blues have played flawless hockey, especially 5-on-5, but did some things that they haven't done since the coaching change two weeks ago.

"Yesterday was the first game we played without the precision that we've played with before," Hitchcock said. "We were making mistakes that we haven't made. We've got to address that and we'll go from there."

"We gave up odd-man rushes off of fore-checking mistakes and puck-management mistake and we haven't done that. Some of the credit goes to their team, too. because they check well. But both teams gave up scoring chances off of mistakes. We gave up the scoring chances ... we had them limited down to nothing. They had very few quality scoring chances after two. We gave them six in the third period, which is way too many."

Added Shattenkirk: "We played well, but we had a few breakdowns there with the power play. We got a little lackadaisical. It's a marginal call I think that the end there (on Jason Arnott, a slashing penalty that led to Koivu's game-tying goal). A tough one to call on Arnie. But they executed well and it's tough to give up a goal like that, especially a little flutter puck like that.

"So far, (special teams have) kind of been the theme of the year for us. We really need to pick it up in those areas, especially on the road. If you get three power plays, you need to get one and not give up one."

The Blues have only allowed two 5-on-5 goals since Hitchcock's arrival and have been among the league's best in even-strength situations.

"We're doing a lot of good things as of late, especially the last six games," Steen said. "Special teams can't be losing us games like it did yesterday."