Saturday, January 4, 2014

(1-4-14) Blue Jackets-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- The list of walking wounded for the Blues got a lot shorter in time for an inter-conference matchup against the Columbus Blue Jackets Saturday night.

David Backes will make his return after sitting out the past three games with an undisclosed upper-body injury, and defenseman Jordan Leopold, who's been out of the lineup since Nov. 7 with ligament damage in his right hand, will mark his return to the lineup after missing the past 26 games.

Backes, who's missed five of the previous eight games with two separate upper-body injuries, has skated regularly the past five days. He has 16 goals and 30 points in 35 games.

"Better than yesterday, and that's a good sign," Backes said when asked how he's feeling. "Hopefully good enough to find my way into the lineup. It's always a fluid situation, but feeling good and hopefully that's the case.

"It's tough. It's not something I'm accustomed to. It's tough watching the games, but the guys have been putting it on the line and winning games and you love to see that. They've done a phenomenal job, different guys stepping up, different guys taking on different roles and responsibilities and flourishing in them. You love to see that we do have that depth when guys do go down."

The Blues have gone 4-1 in the games Backes has missed and 4-0-1 in the games Alexander Steen has been out.

"I'm surprised, but I'm pretty proud of that," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "I think other guys have really stepped up. We've really missed a lot of pieces in the last month, three weeks or so. Other guys have really stepped up. We've found ways to do things. I think the biggest thing we've done is we've managed the puck well. We have not beat ourselves and I think the biggest factor is we've had great goaltending. Our goalie and even (JaroslavHalak when he was playing, they've made a difference every night. For whatever reason in the last four, five six games, we've been a little better than the opposition's goaltenders and it's given us that little bit of edge. It's not like we've outplayed teams. We didn't expect to do that, but we've certainly held our own."

Leopold's original anticipated time frame was eight weeks from the time he had hand surgery, which was a few days after his injury occurred. But with the elevated play of Ian Cole and Carlo Colaiacovo as the Blues' third defensive pairing, the Blues were able to give Leopold, 33, some more time.

"He was a good player when he got hurt and he's had two weeks extra of full bore activity," Hitchcock said of Leopold. "Sure, maybe the timing's going to be a little off early, but he's such a smart player and he's such a good player with and without the puck. He's a strong guy. We expect him to be a good player for us."

Leopold declared himself ready to go.

"I feel good. I think I'm a player tonight," he said. "It's been a while since I've been in the lineup. A lot of hard work, a lot of hard days have past. Now I've got to live in the present and excited to play tonight.

"It's one of those things where you get your first shift, get the butterflies, you get the feeling back from missing an extended period of time, but I've been down this road before. It's not unfamiliar, but I think it's just a matter of preparation and get ready to go out there and battle."

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Steen (concussion), the Blues' leading scorer who's missed the past five games, skated on his own Friday and Saturday, the first times he's skated since being declared out of the lineup.

Steen, who is third in the NHL with 24 goals and leads the Blues with 36 points, has been able to exercise during the time he's been out but has taken the next step to a return to active games.

"He skated this morning. He skated yesterday and today," Hitchcock said after the morning skate Saturday. "He's skating on his own. It's not like he's skating with the group. When he skates with us, then it's time to get excited, but he's not skating with us. You just wait it out. You don't know the time frame. I don't think the player knows the time frame. We sure as heck don't know the time frame, but he's accelerated his activity to where he's gone from riding the bike and doing minimal activity to skating on his own. Obviously the next step, whenever that is, is to join the team as a practice player, but he's not there yet."

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The Blues recalled goalie Jake Allen for the second time in three days from the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League and assigned Chris Porter to the Wolves.

Allen was brought into the fold again to back up Brian Elliott, as Halak has been sick. The team expected Halak to be well enough to be the backup Saturday, but that is not the case.

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Forward Adam Cracknell cleared waivers today after being put there on Friday. He remains with the team.

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The Blues (28-7-5) and Blue Jackets (18-19-4), former rivals in the Central Division, will meet for the second time in three weeks. The Blues won 4-3 in overtime Dec. 14 in Columbus on a Backes goal.

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The Blues' probable lineup:

Jaden Schwartz-David Backes-T.J. Oshie

Vladimir Sobotka-Patrik Berglund-Vladimir Tarasenko

Brenden Morrow-Derek Roy-Chris Stewart

Magnus Paajarvi-Maxim Lapierre-Ryan Reaves

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk

Jordan Leopold-Ian Cole

Brian Elliott will satrt in goal. Jake Allen will be the backup.

Healthy scratches include Adam Cracknell and Carlo Colaiacovo. Alexander Steen (concussion), Roman Polak (ankle/foot) and Jaroslav Halak (illness) remain out.

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The Blue Jackets' probable lineup:

Nick Foligno-Ryan Johansen-RJ Umberger

Brandon Dubinsky-Artem Anisimov-Nathan Horton

Blake Comeau-Mark Letestu-Corey Tropp

Ryan Craig-Boone Jenner-Cam Atkinson

Fedor Tyutin-Jack Johnson

Ryan Murray-James Wisniewski

Nikita Nikitin-David Savard

Curtis McElhinney will start in goal. Sergei Bobrovsky is the backup.

The healthy scratch is Dalton Prout. Derek MacKenzie is suspended. Jared Boll (ankle), Matt Calvert (upper body), Marian Gaborik (collarbone) and Jack Skille (upper body) are all injured.

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