Thursday, March 13, 2014

(3-13-14) Oilers-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- Some teams did the bulk of additions to their lineup at last week's NHL Trade Deadline. The Blues certainly did their part with the addition of Ryan Miller and Steve Ott.

It's not often a team can add a player with the versatility of a Vladimir Sobotka. The Blues (44-14-7) can.

Sobotka, who's missed 12 games dating back to Jan. 31 with a fractured left kneecap, will mark his return to the lineup when the Blues host the Edmonton Oilers (23-35-8) at 7 p.m. today (FSN, KMOX 1120-AM).

"I've been cleared by doctors on Monday and I tried to push more every practice," said Sobotka, who has seven goals and 25 points in 46 games. "I feel good so I'm going to be playing tonight.

"It's been a long break for me. It's been probably six weeks right now, and it's been a tough injury for me. I'm excited to be back."

Sobotka will play center tonight between Vladimir Tarasenko and T.J. Oshie.

"There's still some kind of pain, but the kneecap has been healed, but I've been cleared and everything's good," Sobotka said. "I had a couple practices. I did a couple battle drills with Leo and Revo (Jordan Leopold and Ryan Reaves). There's no time for practice or stuff like that. I guess I'm going to have to try it tonight. I'll try my best. I feel good. Nothing can stop me to not play tonight."

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock will welcome Sobotka back with open arms. His team went 8-2-2 without Sobotka in the lineup.

"He's an 18-minute player," Hitchcock said. "He's arguably had the best season of anybody on the team. When you get an elite player like him back, it's going to help you a lot. We expect him to be helping us. It's going to take him a few shifts to get up to speed, but he's such a good player for us right now. He controls the middle of the ice and he's such a competitive guy. The more the merrier. The more depth we add to our group, the better we feel about it. He stabilizes anybody he plays with because he manages the ice so well.

"He plays all three ends of the game. Five-on-five, special teams, both ends of special teams. I'm not sure how much we're going to play him today minutes-wise, but anybody that comes in your lineup and plays that many minutes is going to help you, even if he gives you a dozen minutes tonight, he's really going to help us."

Sobotka's teammates are glad to have him back as well.

"We're excited. He's a big part of our team," left wing Jaden Schwartz said. "He's a guy that brings a lot of energy and he plays in all situations. We're extremely to have him back. He makes us deeper than what we already are. He's a guy that creates a lot of offense, but at the same time, he's a guy that plays 200 feet. He's a good penalty killer and a good faceoff guy. He's a guy that brings a lot. It's just going to add to our four-group even more."

With Sobotka coming off injured reserve, veteran Brenden Morrow will sit out the game as a healthy scratch but not because of his play.

"It was easy for us. It's not easy for the players," Hitchcock said of the decision. "We've got a game plan for Brenden. There will be two, maybe three other occasions that Brenden will sit out getting ready for (the) playoffs. So there's a plan there. 

"(Chris) Porter's just got to wait his turn. Brenden is a planned exercise by both Doug (Armstrong) and myself getting him to have high energy when it's really on the line."

With the shuffling of lines, the Blues will move Patrik Berglund to left wing. He will play with Derek Roy in the middle and Ott on the right side.

"He's good on the boards, he's big," Hitchcock said of Berglund, who has four goals and five points in six games. "Some guys are just more effective without the puck. 

"He plays faster, he gets up ice, he can hang onto the offensive zone a little longer. He's a good player for us when he plays left wing. Every time we seem to get him there, we get an injury and we can't recover and we end up putting him back at center ice, but I think all of us like him at left wing. He's very effective for us. He's great on the forecheck, he's a smart player, he hangs onto the puck. I think he's way more effective offensively when he's able to play left wing. Both him and Steve can cover up in our own zone and I think you've got three guys that all can play down low in our own zone. Hopefully it's an effective line."

Hitchcock said the plan is to get Sobotka back together with Schwartz and Tarasenko but not quite yet.

"We know we can go back with (No.) 9, 17 and 91 and be effective, but we'll probably wait on it a couple days and see how this looks right now," Hitchcock said. "We need other people playing better than worrying about where Sobe's going to fit. He'll fit wherever. He can play left wing, he can play center ice, he can play on the No. 1 line, he can play on the four line. Just the way he plays is very effective."

The moves also keep Magnus Paajarvi, who will be facing the team that traded him that brought Edmonton David Perron, in the lineup.

"I'm more worried about keeping Paajarvi going," Hitchcock said. "He's our hottest scorer right now. If the coach was smarter and played him more, he'd probably be even a better player. He's been great for us."

- - -

The Blues' probable lineup:

Jaden Schwartz-David Backes-Alexander Steen

Vladimir Tarasenko-Vladimir Sobotka-T.J. Oshie

Patrik Berglund-Derek Roy-Steve Ott

Magnus Paajarvi-Maxim Lapierre-Ryan Reaves

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk

Ian Cole-Roman Polak

Ryan Miller will start in goal. Brian Elliott is the backup.

Healthy scratches include Carlo Colaiacovo, Brenden Morrow and Chris Porter. Jordan Leopold (ankle) is still out.

- - -

The Oilers' probable lineup:

Nail Yakupov-Ryan Nugent-Hopkins-Jordan Eberle

Taylor Hall-Sam Gagner-David Perron

Matt Hendricks-Boyd Gordon-Jesse Joensuu

Luke Gazdic-Ryan Smyth-Ryan Jones

Mark Fraser-Justin Schultz

Oscar Klefbom-Andrew Ference

Martin Marincin-Jeff Petry

Ben Scrivens will start in goal. Viktor Fasth will be the backup.

Healthy scratches include Philip Larsen and Anton Lander. Anton Belov (oblique) is out with an injury.

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