Thursday, March 6, 2014

(3-6-14) Blues-Predators Gameday Lineup

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- It's no secret that the Blues have had tremendous amounts of success in the regular season with Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott in goal the past two seasons.

That success hasn't translated into playoff success, and it saw general manager Doug Armstrong make the big goaltending splash, trading for Ryan Miller with the Buffalo Sabres.

It's not a habit the Blues (41-14-6), who face the Nashville Predators (26-26-10) at 7 p.m. today (FSN, KMOX 1120-AM), want to prolong, but overcoming a pair of 2-0 deficits in both games Miller has played in is a sign of true confidence.

The Blues as a team, certainly exude that confidence knowing who's behind them now. Not to say it wasn't there before, but with Miller, there's a certain aura of calmness there with the 6-foot-2, 168-pounder displays.

"He's a terrific goalie," left wing Alexander Steen said of Miller, who has stopped 38 of the 42 shots he's faced in wins against Phoenix and Tampa Bay. "You can tell in practice he's very sound, he's composed. Nothing really rattles him. Our play is a reflection of him. He's stuck with it and kept playing."

"It seems like he never is panicking in the net," right wing T.J. Oshie said of Miller. "It's like he's always right there on every save. He gloves the puck so calmly and covers it so calmly. It's nice to see that confidence in him and that poise."

With the Blues' defensive six, it now gives them the confidence most importantly knowing that calming effect will settle things down if there is a mental or physical mistake made.

"I don't want to compare him to anybody necessarily, but he himself, it just exudes a quiet, confident, a calm feeling," defenseman Ian Cole said of Miller. "Even when he's making saves, he's just kind of comes across and does his job. He happens to make unbelievable saves, but he makes saves he's supposed to make. He's obviously very calm, very confident in the net and that's something that really helps us out as 'D' men for sure and it'll only get better as the chemistry grows and as the team continues to grow and get better. It'll help him out too."

Miller, a potential unrestricted free agent on July 1, understands why he's here, and if it's not the top prize a player's after, then no need to step up to the spotlight.

"To have an opportunity to play at a high level or to play for a championship, you're going to have a lot of people looking in your direction," Miller said. "If you don't want that scrutiny, don't play for the highest prizes. That's kind of the attitude I'm trying to take. It's a little bit getting used to this little shift here this year. I'm trying to quickly catch up to the mindset these guys have because it's a great attitude. I'm just trying to fall in line and blend in as well with this team because they have a good thing going.

"But it's nice to see (the comeback wins). We've gotten in a hole these last two games here and had the ability to climb out. It's good to see that they can win that way. It's not always going to be pretty, it's not always going to go your way every night. It's good to see determination and character. You see confidence in these guys. You know they're going to go out there and play the game. You can see as they start to take over games, you can almost see when that happens. It's pretty cool."

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock understands the nature of the business, but when the veteran coach hears fans or members of the media tell him the Blues are going for it now after the trade for Miller and Steve Ott, he can only laugh that off.

"I get a kick out of people saying, 'You guys are loading up looking for a run,'" Hitchcock said. "We're loading up for the next five years. We're not loading up for the next five days or five weeks or five months. We're loading up for the next five years. I think all of us are hopeful that Ryan comes and stays with us, but regardless, we're in the winning business right now and we think our players that everybody's watched grow and mature and gone through really tough times here are in a position where they've got the combination of maturity and experience necessary to win. It might happen, it might not, but we're going to stay in this window for a few years here. (Miller) and Steve really add to the window. 

"I think at this time of year, you cannot get enough professional players, players who have a professional way about them that rubs off when it's at it's most critical stage. (Miller) is a winner, Ott's a winner and we're adding them to a group of players that's learning how to win right now. It's a good mix for us, but this is a mix we're hopeful for long-term also; not just two months. We think we've got good people coming into the organization and we've already got a lot of good people here right now."

Captain David Backes saw Miller's influence firsthand at not one, but a pair of Olympics.

"His work ethic, his focus, his love of goaltending, it's out of this world," Backes said of Miller, who will get the start for the third consecutive game tonight and is 2-0 lifetime at Bridgestone Arena with a 1.00 goals-against average and .966 save percentage. "... His head's in it, he's trying to find ways to improve his style and he's over 30 and been a great goalie in this league for a long time and he's still trying to get better. That sets a good example for everyone else. It shows his desire to win and try to help us as a team."

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Patrik Berglund's stats show only 11 goals, but the Swede's offensive prowess has really come front and center since the return from the Sochi Olympics.

Berglund will head into tonight's game with three goals in the past two games playing between Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko.

But Hitchcock really believes Berglund's affect playing for Sweden at the Olympics brought out an added aura of confidence.

"I think he's the perfect example of players that benefit from an Olympic experience," Hitchcock said of Berglund. "I think he's confident, he's skating, he's moving his feet, he's not getting discouraged by the lack of success, he stays with it. If you look at his goals, they're all scoring goals (the) second half of games, late in games. That's a big factor, but I think he's a perfect example of a player that benefited from playing on a world stage."

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Ian Cole will get a second straight game tonight playing alongside Roman Polak. Cole sat the three games the Blues played on the road post-Olympics in favor of Carlo Coiaiacovo, who averaged just under 14 minutes in those three games at Vancouver, Anaheim and Phoenix.

When Jordan Leopold returns to the lineup, who Hitchcock called "85 percent" today referring to the veteran defenseman's ankle sprain, it will give the team three viable options as the sixth guy.

"We went a little while with Carlo, he was OK. He was good, and then we wanted to keep Cole part of the group, so he gets his chance," Hitchcock said. "We're really buying time to see when Leo's ready. Leo's probably at 85 percent and hopefully he gets in by either the end of this road trip or the beginning of the homestand when we get back to St. Louis, but all in all, we've got some good choices there. Carlo is a different player that Ian, but both bring a necessary element to that third pair's stability."

Forward Vladimir Sobotka (fractured kneecap) also took part in the morning skate but it's still unknown when he will return as a full-time participant. Sobotka continues to ramp up his work on the ice and is inching closer to returning.

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The Blues enter tonight's game 15-0-1 against Central Division foes. They've also won four in a row at Bridgestone Arena and eight of the past nine against a Predators team fighting for their playoff lives, a team that traded away David Legwand to the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday for a package that included Patrick Eaves.

Steen's next goal will give him 30 on the season. He will become the first Blue since Backes in the 2010-11 season to accomplish that feat. Only Backes (twice), Brad Boyes (twice) and Keith Tkachuk have reached 30 or more goals in the past decade.

Steen is also one game-winning goal shy of tying Brenden Shanahan (24) for 10th on the all-time franchise list. Backes is also one point shy of tying Wayne Babych for 12th all-time with 345.

With a win tonight, the Blues will for the eighth time have a winning streak of three or more games this season. 

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The Blues' probable lineup:

Alexander Steen-David Backes-T.J. Oshie

Jaden Schwartz-Patrik Berglund-Vladimir Tarasenko

Brenden Morrow-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 and Chris Porter. Vladimir Sobotka (knee) and Jordan Leopold (ankle) are on injured reserve.

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The Predators' probable lineup:

Gabriel Bourque-Colin Wilson-Craig Smith

Nick Spaling-Mike Fisher-Patric Hornqvist

Eric Nystrom-Matt Cullen-Viktor Stalberg

Rich Clune-Paul Gaustad-Patrick Eaves

Roman Josi-Shea Weber

Michael Del Zotto-Ryan Ellis

Mattias Ekholm-Seth Jones

Pekka Rinne will start in goal. Carter Hutton will be the backup.

The healthy scratch is Victor Bartley.

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