Monday, February 23, 2015


Blues juggle lines again; Shattenkirk skates; Allen in goal; Jaskin's strong play

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- The Blues stepped onto the ice at the Ice Zone on Monday with a bit of a different look.


Coach Ken Hitchcock, who has seen his team go through its share of ups and downs in February, tweaked three of his four forward lines looking for a fresh approach.

All three changes are on left wing, where Patrik Berglund was playing with David Backes and T.J. Oshie, Alexander Steen was with Jori Lehtera and Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz suited up with Paul Stastny and Dmitrij Jaskin.

The practice had a teaching flavor to it, and the veteran coach is calling for continued balance with 23 games regaining in the regular season.

"We'll take a look at them in the pregame skate (Tuesday before facing the Montreal Canadiens), see how we look and try them out," Hitchcock downplayed. "I don't think anything's cast in stone. I think it all depends on the players and the continuity. We're not gonna wait 10 games to sit on it. If we think there's some energy ... there's a couple lines, they looked very good today. If there's good energy, then we'll continue down that path. If not, we'll make a change.

"... If you look at this thing, this is three balanced lines. This is three lines you can't tell the different in. There's three balanced lines here; fourth line has played solid hockey got a little while now. This is three balanced lines where I'm not worried about who's going against who. They should feel confident they can play against anybody. That's the way we're going to play the game for a little while."

The only line in tact was Steve Ott, who returned to practice after wife Erica delivered the couple's son Saturday morning, Marcel Goc and Ryan Reaves.

"We need a different dynamic in our team," Hitchcock said. "I think the group that played the last game, we've run our course with that group. So let's see if we can find a new bit of energy. A lot of teams are going through it right now. Some are building, some are trying to tread water like us and some are floundering. We want to go from treading water into the top echelon again. Why not try some new stuff that's worked on a very small sample but looks pretty dynamic. There's a couple lines that's looked very dynamic and let's have a look at it, give it a little bit bigger sample a couple games and see how we look."

Of course, the players are doing what they're told despite the feeling they were well-balanced in the first place.

"Coach's decision obviously," Schwartz said. "I played with 'Stas' and 'Jask' for not very long before, but I have played with them and both great players, so I'm looking forward to that. Hopefully I can boost the line and give some energy.

"I thought we were balanced before, too, but just a little different look. Get some chemistry, get a few more goals. We were balanced before, but we'll see how she goes tomorrow."

Tarasenko and Steen have been down this path before.

"He was my first linemate here in St. Louis, he and Andy McDonald," Tarasenko said of Steen. "We had a lot of time to play together and it was a good experience. Happy to be together again.

"... It's a great line. We play like this before. We have some success. It's a pleasure for me to play with every guy on this team. I play with many guys before this season and nothing new, nothing special; just keep going and try to give more energy to our team."

For a guy like Jaskin, playing with whomever is his preference. He's glad to be in the NHL, period.

"I don't really care who I play with," Jaskin said. "All these guys are great players. We'll just try to make it work tomorrow.

"(Schwartz is) a really fast skater and really good on the puck. I'm expecting the same kind of game, maybe a little faster and he's really smart. More opportunities in the offensive zone. ... I think it was OK before, but he's a totally different guy than Bergy; he's a different player, but we still can really protect the puck and make some plays. I'm excited for tomorrow."

* Maverick on board -- Ott's first son -- he has a daughter from a previous marriage -- born at 9:37 a.m. on Saturday, makes it two kids in his household these days.

The veteran left wing missed his second game of the season Saturday against the Pittsburgh Penguins after his wife went to the hospital Friday night and he rushed out to be with her after the Blues' 5-1 win against the Boston Bruins.

"It is the best. Anybody that knows that has a kid in this dressing room or in the world, there's no better feeling that can relate to that moment when you get to meet your child for the first time," Ott said. "At the same token, mama and baby are doing great.

"That's the only reason (to miss a game). No one ever wants to miss a game. During the game (Friday), she went into the hospital and I went over there in my suit, got a change of clothes and we had him at 9:37 in the morning (Saturday), so we pulled an all-nighter and obviously there was no chance in making the (Saturday) game by then in the type of situation I was in. The Blues organization were first class and told me, "Obviously family's your most important and this is my second family.' I'm back at it and strong at it today on a Monday."

And where did the name Maverick come from?

"My wife's a southern girl from Dallas and she came up with a bunch of names," Ott explained. "When she said that's the one, I agreed in an awfully quick fashion. I just wanted a strong name and hopefully he lives up to it."

* Teaching day -- The Blues' practice on Monday didn't have quite the punch -- and demand -- that the practice after a 4-1 loss to the Dallas Stars recently had, but there were moments of high octane.

"We did a lot of instructing," Hitchcock said. "You can get upset by the energy level this time of year ... this is the time where the energy level has to come from the players a lot and we've got to find a way to get the technical part of our game back on track. Today was lets get back where we got some continuity going and let the guys take care of the energy level where they want to take it to. Let us do the accountability from a teaching standpoint. So from positional play to just being in the right spots from puck support standpoint, this was a good teaching day.

"This team absorbs well when you really work on things. When there's an actual physical element to what you want to teach, this team really responds in a positive way. It doesn't absorb the visual part as much. This is the physical element to the teaching."

The practice was a reminder of the past.

"There was almost some training camp stuff going on in the sense of reiterating what our strong forecheck is, the strong details in our game, things that maybe we've been lacking a little bit that make us really, really strong to play against," Ott said. "It's our job in here to grab those details and start executing them."

But the demand for games down the stretch seems to be stressed, and the Blues are catching opponents playing desperate.

"It's a big part of the year and everyone knows it," Schwartz said. "Teams are trying to get in that playoff race and teams are trying to move up the ladder. It's like this every year. The level of play and intensity goes up and we need to match it and better it. ... This is the fun time of the year. This is what you play for, exciting games and points go a long ways. The intense games are the fun ones to play in."

* Shattenkirk skating -- Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk was back on the ice, but not in the capacity of skating with his teammates just yet.

Shattenkirk, who two weeks ago had abdominal surgery, skated for roughly 30 minutes, according to Hitchcock, and has skated with trainers the past few days.

"He's skated the last few days. Not with us yet obviously, but it's nice to see him out there shuffling around," Hitchcock said of Shattenkirk. "He's working with the training staff. Things look positive in that direction.

"Everybody's really excited and happy. It's nice to see him part of the team, it's nice to see him back on the ice. He's graduating up to where he's starting to move a little bit more on the ice. I think he was out there for about 30 minutes today."

Hitchcock still termed Shattenkirk "weeks" from returning.

"Until I see the whites of his eyes and he comes to practice, I don't worry about it," he said.

* Allen in goal, Lindbohm's, Jaskin's and Elliott's play -- Goalie Jake Allen, who played his junior hockey in Montreal, will get the start in goal against the Canadiens on Tuesday.

"Jake's a Montreal guy, isn't he? I hope he is because he told me he was ... I hope he didn't lie to me," Hitchcock joked.

As for Elliott, who is 2-4-0 with a 3.85 goals-against average and .876 goals-against average in his past six starts that includes being pulled twice, Hitchcock said, "He's a perfect reflection of our team: up, down, up, down. That's our team right now."

Defenseman Petteri Lindbohm's recent recall has seen the Finnish native play both games over the weekend, and Hitchcock called it a mixed bag.

"Game one was good," Hitchcock said. "He had a couple mistakes in game two that came back and haunted him just like it does any young player. But he has good energy. He brings good energy, brings good focus, he's very competitive. I really like what he brings right now."

Jaskin, who has three goals in the past six games and five in 11, Hitchcock really likes what he's seeing.

"He just plays," Hitchcock said. "He's a big, strong guy. He just plays. Man, he's really playing right now. He's got tempo in his game, he's really playing. Wherever we play him, he brings a lot to a line. He brings a lot of heavy, offensive, on-the-puck, at-the-puck, for-the-puck kind of play. Whoever he plays with, he brings a lot."  

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