By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- From both the St. Louis Blues and Detroit Red Wings perspectives as far as the realignment is concerned, there's one common denominator that both teams are excited about.
Particularly from the Red Wings' perspective, who have to play out of the Eastern Time zone, cutting down on travel is something that really excites both teams.
"The initial reaction is I like the format," said Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom. "It's going to be a lot less travel for the team. That part I like."
Wings coach Mike Babcock said the body works wonders when there's the less travel involved.
"When you live in the East and you play in the West, that's the hardest thing," Babcock said. "One more hour is a huge deal. Lots of teams think they go through the same thing, I disagree. Body-clockwise, it's huge for you.
"I think it's a great thing for the Detroit Red Wings but maybe even better just that our fans get to see the Original Six teams every year and any new kid that's drafted in the league that you haven't seen, you get to see now just because you play everybody."
From a travel perspective, the Blues like the move as well. That means one less trip to California and one less trip to Western Canada.
"That's huge," Blues center Jason Arnott said. "You find a big difference, especially in the East and West, travel-wise ... especially in the playoffs, it will help a lot. More rest will make for a better game."
One conference will see the Blues, Red Wings, Chicago, Nashville, Columbus, Minnesota, Dallas and Winnipeg, which Blues coach Ken Hitchcock would like to travel to very early in the season.
"I hope we go to Winnipeg in October and November," Hitchcock joked. "That's my first thought, or maybe they can move it to September. It's good football season there.
"You look at the eight teams ... pick four that are out. It's a hard thing to do. There's a lot of hard teams in our conference. You're going to have to have your 'A' game for a lot of nights if you expect to make the playoffs now. It's the toughest conference I've ever been associated with since I've been in the league if you look at that for next year."
Hitchcock believes the team that benefits most is Dallas, a team he once coached and remembered the day when the Stars, from the Central Time Zone, were jettisoned to the Pacific Division.
"I was there when we went to the Pacific, and it was like, 'Oh my God,' because it wasn't just like going to the Pacific, it was eight games in the Pacific, and it was four games up north with Vancouver and it was very very hard on everything," Hitchcock said. "... It seemed like two or three times a month, you would arrive home in rush-hour traffic. It felt at times during the second half of the schedule that you were living your day backwards. It was not comfortable.
"I think that they're probably the team that benefits the most because they're back in their time zone and they're back with a lot less travel."
As far as rivalries, the teams from the current Central Division keep what rivalries they feel they have, plus develop new ones with the Stars, Wild and Jets.
"The Detroit-St. Louis rivalry and the Chicago-St. Louis rivalry are real eye openers for me," said Hitchcock, who's coached in Columbus, Dallas and Philadelphia. "Both of these rivalries feel very similar to the Rangers-Philadelphia, Philadelphia-Pittsburgh rivalries. It's a very familiar feeling when you're on the bench and you're looking in the stands and the intensity of the games and the noise in the building. It's very similar for me."
Added Babcock: "I would have been ecstatic if they told me we were going in the East, but I'm happy with this, too. It works out good for everybody.
"St. Louis and us, we haven't really had a rivalry, but I think there's going to be one coming just because of how good their hockey club is now."
Hitchcock believes that as hard as it is to make the playoffs now, it will be even tougher beginning next season.
"To make the playoffs, it's looking like you're going to need close to 100 points, so it doesn't matter how you get it, how many teams are there, how many teams are out," Hitchcock said. "A hundred points is a hundred points. I think it equals itself out by playing two games against each other. It really equals out.
"I think you're going to find out the teams that are really good overall are going to get in now. You're not going to have those schedule wins and those schedule losses you used to have where you knew a third game in four nights of travel was a tough game. It's going to be really equal footing."
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The Blues will get Carlo Colaiacovo (hamstring) back into the lineup tonight. He will be paired with Alex Pietrangelo after missing the last eight games. He was injured Nov. 17 against Florida.
"That's a good pair for us," Hitchcock said. "That was a great pair until he went down. They were playing really well together.
"He's a big help. He and Petro really work well together. The thing that Carlo adds to us is he sees things from an offensive standpoint on the power play really well. He's able to think ahead, which is going to really help us on the power play also over time here."
The Blues will also go with Vladimir Sobotka down the middle, playing between Matt D'Agostini and Jamie Langenbrunner. Jason Arnott centers the fourth line between Chris Porter and Scott Nichol on the wings.
"He doesn't have to play 200 feet every shift," Hitchcock said of Arnott. "I think he can play a 150-foot game and be a really good player for us.
"For us, I think on paper anyway, this looks like a pretty effective group."
Winger Evgeny Grachev, who's been on injured-reserve since taking a pick near the left eye on Nov. 27, was activated Tuesday but will not play.
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The Blues' juggled lineup for tonight's game against the Red Wings:
Alex Steen-David Backes-T.J. Oshie
David Perron-Patrik Berglund-Chris Stewart
Matt D'Agostini-Vladimir Sobotka-Jamie Langenbrunner
Chris Porter-Jason Arnott-Scott Nichol
Carlo Colaiacovo-Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk
Kris Russell-Roman Polak
Brian Elliott, who beat the Red Wings 2-1 here in Nov. 15, starts tonight for the Blues; Jaroslav Halak is the backup and will start Thursday against Anaheim.
Healthy scratches for the Blues include defenseman Ian Cole and wingers Grachev and Ryan Reaves. The Blues are also without injured players Andy McDonald (concussion), B.J. Crombeen (shoulder) and defenseman Kent Huskins (ankle).
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The Red Wings, who had a seven-game winning streak snapped Sunday night in a 4-2 loss at Colorado, will play the following lineup:
Johan Franzen-Pavel Datsyuk-Todd Bertuzzi
Dan Cleary-Henrik Zetterberg-Jiri Hudler
Chris Conner-Darren Helm-Justin Abdelkader
Drew Miller-Cory Emmerton-Tomas Holmstrom
Nicklas Lidstrom-Ian White
Niklas Kronwall-Jonathan Ericsson
Jakub Kindl-Brad Stuart
Jimmy Howard, who did not play for the first time in 18 games Sunday, returns to his perch in goal tonight; Ty Conklin, who stopped 32 shots in Sunday's loss, will be the backup.
Defenseman Mike Commodore is a healthy scratch.
Detroit will play without winger Valtteri Filppula, who took a skate blade to his shin at Colorado Sunday. Filppula has eight goals and 13 assists in 25 games.
"It's as good as it can be, but I just can't push it," Filppula, who is listed as day-to-day, said after Tuesday's morning skate. "I'm hoping it gets better soon. I can't say enough, but probably every day, I'm going to give it a try.
"It was pretty painful. I could cruise around a little bit, but then when I had to try skating faster, I couldn't really do it."
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