Wednesday, December 9, 2015


Paajarvi has chance to stick on top line; Lehtera, Jaskin, Fabbri 
line has potential; Bortuzzo a right wing; Elliott in goal Thursday

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- It was one game, one sample size for Magnus Paajarvi.

But the reviews for the left wing's first game playing on the top line with Paul Stastny and Vladimir Tarasenko came back very positive.

Paajarvi, who has had an enigmatic tenure with the Blues to say the least since they acquired him from the Edmonton Oilers in 2013 for David Perron, has his best opportunity to thrive in a top-six role.

It's an opportunity that places a heavy onus on him to have an impact in the lineup and one that requires him to play on the level of his linemates.

Paajarvi, who assisted on Tarasenko's game-tying goal in the second period against Arizona Tuesday night, wants to thrive in the pressure.

Or is it pressure?

"Sure, I'll do it myself," Paajarvi said after Wednesday's optional practice. "I think you (media) guys do it as well."

Teammate and fellow Swede Alexander Steen came to Paajarvi's defense.

"No, no pressure," Steen said. "I think you guys (the media) announced that, but there was no real pressure on 'Maggie.'

"'Maggie's been playing great for us since he came back up. He's had great legs, which you really saw (Tuesday). He played great. He's been playing the same way he's been playing this whole time. He says he's had some up-and-down games, but I've liked his game. There's a few where the games get a little choppy and he doesn't see the ice real well, but it's a tough situation to get back into games when you've been out for a little bit and you've got to get back in. When that happens several times a game, it's not easy. He's been working his (tail) off. I was very happy for him (Tuesday). That pass he made to 'Tank' was fantastic."

Paajarvi will remain on the top line when the Blues (16-8-4) host the Philadelphia Flyers (11-11-6) on Thursday. The challenge for Paajarvi, who has a goal and two assists in 15 games will be to sustain good play and give the Blues good minutes.

And according to coach Ken Hitchcock, be a noticeable player.

"It's more having an impact in the game," Hitchcock said. "If you play down the lineup, you breaking even is what the coaches expect. That's the deal, but when you play up the lineup, you've got to have an impact in the game. Yesterday he had a good impact in the game, he was a factor and that's what we're looking for. If you're going to play that high up in the lineup, you've got to be a factor in the game."

Paajarvi played 13 minutes, 19 seconds, which isn't really conducive to a player that will continue to play on a top line. But if the coaches can trust Paajarvi in situations of special teams' play, then he can certainly be an impactful player.

"That would be nice, absolutely," said Paajarvi, who was used in all situations with the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League. "You've got to earn it. I think I'm on the way where I can earn it. I need to play more consistent like I do right now and maybe there's a chance.

"I'd be playing elite minutes in a lot of places. That's what I want to do. I want to play as much as I can, but I think I speak for every player. The more you play, the more comfortable you are, the less tired you are. It really works that way. Of course I want to play a whole lot. But when you play with those guys, you know your minutes are going to go up a little bit and you've really got to grab it."

Paajarvi played 12:29 at 5-on-5, Stastny was at 12:08 and Tarasenko at 12:12, so the line was on par with even-strength play, which is what Hitchcock wants at this time.

"We need just real good 5-on-5 play," Hitchcock said. "We work with (Paajarvi) every day on the power play and that's going to come; there's going to come a time where hopefully he gets some of those minutes. 

"We don't need any more penalty killers, but if he's able to do the things 5-on-5, that's a real good base to build from, so we're trying to build a consistent base here with Magnus. Hopefully he has the same type of input in the game tomorrow night that he had last night."

* Third line impact -- For the first time this season, it appeared the Blues stuck with the same line combinations throughout the game Tuesday. But Hitchcock joked that he made one small change for a shift by switching Robby Fabbri and Scottie Upshall "for a shift because I didn't like what a certain player was doing to (No.) 15," he said. But other than that, things remained the same.

And for the Blues, who began a stretch Tuesday of nine games in 15 days, getting a solid impact from their third line is vital.

They got it from Jori Lehtera, Dmitrij Jaskin and Fabbri, who helped set up Kevin Shattenkirk's goal in the third period to make it 3-1.

If that trio can make an impact in the game, it supports the top two lines, including the second unit of Steen, David Backes and Troy Brouwer.

In the group, there's the meat-and-potatoes guy in Jaskin, who provides the big body; the play-making Lehtera with his precise vision all over the ice and Fabbri, the speed and sniper mentality that completes it with a unique character trait that can be effective on all fronts.

"There's size, there's speed and there's some skill," Fabbri said. "We just have to make sure we make use of all those things and play a lot in their end.

"'Jask's a big body, will work in the corners, Jori's sight; I just try to fit in with my competitiveness as well as skill to match both guys. We meshed pretty well and we've just got to keep it going."

"'Fabs' and Jori, they're pretty close, pretty similar players," Jaskin said. "Both are really smart and Fabs is a fast goal scorer. ... I try and make room for them so they can make plays and set me up.

"I think we were skating, the right forechecking, it was patience on the puck. Those are a couple of the main points we've got to do to and just be real smart."

Play in the Coyotes' end is what the Blues did a lot of as the game progressed, and Hitchcock wants them to build off that success.

"Just build on what they did yesterday," he said. "Yesterday was excellent. Scoring chances, big goal, zone time, second forecheck, knocking people down, bring some weight to the game, that's what we need. They had a big impact in the game.

"Two guys bring weight to the game and when they bring weight to the game, good things happen."

* Bortuzzo a right winger? -- Robert Bortuzzo is a defenseman by trade, but he's also a player that doesn't want to be sitting in the press box either.

Bortuzzo, who has been a healthy scratch in four of the past five games and 12 of the past 17, wants to be in the lineup. And if that means playing some right wing, then why not.

Wait, right wing?

Hitchcock is toying with the idea of using the big 6-foot-4, 215-pounder as a forward, kind of like the San Jose Sharks did there for a stretch with Brent Burns.

"At the end of the day, you want to be contributing," Bortuzzo said. "I think I would do that best as a defenseman, but if that's an idea that they have and they think I can contribute and help our team win, that's all I want to do is help this team win hockey games in whatever capacity that could be."

Bortuzzo has one goal in 15 games this season, but it's been tough for him to crack the lineup lately. And if playing forward is his only ticket in right now, then he's open to the idea.

"I think I have decent instincts, when to jump in there, when not to," Bortuzzo said. "Obviously I am confident in my ability to skate, and in terms of providing energy, that's something I enjoy doing. It could be something there. Just be ready to go. Anyway we can contribute to win hockey games."

* Lineup update -- Brian Elliott will start in goal for the Blues against the Flyers, who the Blues have defeated four straight times on home ice, including three shutouts.

Elliott will be making just his fifth start in 17 games but two of them have come in the past four games.

Elliott shut out the Flyers here last season 1-0 in a shootout, making 28 saves and stopping both Flyers shooters in the shootout.

Hitchcock said no other lineup changes will be made, which means Bortuzzo and Scott Gomez will be healthy scratches.

No comments:

Post a Comment