Wednesday, November 20, 2013


Sobotka recalls being traded from Boston
to St. Louis; Halak back in goal; Berglund out

BOSTON -- It's been more than three years since Vladimir Sobotka made his return to Boston to face the team that traded him away as a 23-year-old.

But when Sobotka steps onto the ice to face the Bruins Thursday night, it will stir some old memories once again.

"Yeah, I have great memories," Sobotka said after an optional skate Wednesday. "I still have friends on this team ... I talk a little bit with David Krejci, but I'm a Blues player right now and I love it there. I couldn't ask for more or better."

Sobotka, acquired by the Blues for defensive prospect David Warsofsky, scored his first goal as a Blue in that return on Nov. 6, 2010 to the TD Garden, site of Thursday's game between the Blues (14-3-3) and the Bruins (14-6-1).

He was drafted by the Bruins in the fourth round of the 2005 NHL Draft but never really got much a real chance with the Bruins. He played 134 games for Boston over four seasons but was never really a given a top-20 role, shuffling back and forth between the Bruins and their American Hockey League affiliate, the Providence Bruins.

"It was frustrating," Sobotka admitted. "I tried my best and it didn't work out for me and then I got traded. It's worked out really well for me. That trade really helped me."

Since joining the Blues, Sobotka has 23 goals and 77 points in his fourth season. He's become so valuable to the Blues these days, they're playing him as a No. 2 center.

Sobotka's role as a defensive-minded checker, faceoff specialist, solid skater and distributor of the puck makes him arguably the team's most valuable player in terms of overall game.

"Character," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said, describing Sobotka. "I think he's had a good skill level, but I think there was no real role for him (in Boston). I think people didn't know if he was a two or a three. I think we've all found that he's probably a two, which is really nice for us. But he's got more skill than people think and I think he's got the tenacity and grittiness to play against top players. He's found a home with us.

"It's a lot like you see with other players. Not different than Patrick Sharp. There was no room in Philadelphia for him on a consistent basis and he goes three years later and he's playing well in Chicago. That happens with younger players. Vladi's really found a home in St. Louis and he's been a big contributor for us."

Sobotka would love nothing more than to help beat the Bruins again, and he's always glad to return, even as the villain now.

"I think it's going to always be exciting to play here," Sobotka said. "In Boston, they have good fans."

* Good rebound in Buffalo -- The Blues didn't expect it. Nobody did. But when they fell behind to the Sabres 10 seconds into the game, there was no panic, no need to go into chase mode.

An unfortunate bouncing puck saw Tyler Ennis put the Sabres in front, and the worst team in hockey had only their fourth first-period goal in 23 games this season.

But the Blues regrouped quickly when Brenden Morrow scored the first of his two goals 59 seconds later and would eventually get a grip on the game and the two points.

"I thought once we go the third goal, we really managed the game properly," Hitchcock said. "Other than 10 minutes of hockey in the Washington game (Sunday) for the last three weeks or so, we've played awfully good hockey. I think the guys were rewarded for an effort that wasn't a lot different than the effort that was in Washington. We had a lot of scoring chances, we out-chanced them pretty badly. I think getting those two goals from Morrow, especially that third one really helped ease the tension of being in a close hockey game."

For the first time this season, the Blues won a game in which Alexander Steen, David Backes and T.J. Oshie did not score a goal when the team scored more than two goals.

Derek Roy's line with Morrow and Chris Stewart accounted for two big goals.

"We've had different guys step up," Hitchcock said. "We had Roy's line step up in Buffalo and then we had obviously Sobotka's line play very well in Washington.

"We've had some good performances from other people, but we still need that (Backes) line to be effective and to create scoring chances. There's going to be nights that they don't get it, but as long as they keep creating all the scoring chances, then good things are going to happen."

* Halak back in goal -- Jaroslav Halak bounced back well after being pulled in the 4-1 loss Sunday against the Capitals in which he allowed three goals on six shots.

After Halak allowed Ennis' goal on the first Sabres shot Tuesday, he shut the door, stopping the last 23 shots he would face to improve to 11-3-2.

Halak will be back in goal against the Bruins Thursday.

"We was solid," Hitchcock said. "He was competing again in the net. He was positionally strong, very good at out-letting the puck. He really moved the puck well out of traffic areas on forecheck exits and stuff like that. (He was) back engaged like he was before and we'll see in Boston.

"He's going to get a great test. He's going to see more heat against the Bruins, more traffic, more tenacity than he's seen in a little while. It's going to be a game where we're really going to need our goalie."

* Berglund out -- Center Patrik Berglund (upper-body injury) will miss his third straight game Thursday.

Berglund, who has one goal and six points in 18 games, could return to the lineup when the Blues return home to face the Dallas Stars Saturday.

"He feels better again today," Hitchcock said of Berglund. "He didn't skate (Wednesday). We'll see (Thursday) morning. If he's able to skate tomorrow, then that's Step 1. But he definitely won't play against the Bruins. We're hopefully scheduling him for when we get back home."

* Matchup with defending Eastern Conference champs -- Boston will be playing its third game in four nights and are coming off a 2-1 win against the New York Rangers, a game in which Tuukka Rask stopped 43 shots.

The Bruins, who won the last matchup between these teams 4-2 in St. Louis Feb. 22, 2012, have no players with double-digit goals but seven players with double-digit points.

"They have depth," Hitchcock said of the Bruins. "They have a lot of depth and they have a lot of competing depth. They play a game where they play right through you. You can't back off from the competitive nature of the hockey game. It's going to be a fun game to coach in. Both Claude (Julien) and I know each other very well. He's done a great job here at getting his players to play hard and committed every night. That's why they're so successful.

"I think from our standpoint, we've got to put our best game on the ice from a tenacity standpoint, and I think we've got to make it as uncomfortable for them as we can. I think we're capable of that, but we're really going to get a test. I think the test for us is going to be through the center ice position. They have four really good centers. Each guy has a personality to him and I think we're really going to have to match that strength at the center ice that they have."

The Blues have won five in a row in Boston and are 7-1-2 here dating back to 1996. The last loss came in Jan. 30, 2001.

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