Thursday, December 3, 2015

Blues to shift Lehtera to wing

A natural center to play left wing with Stastny, 
Tarasenko; Jaskin, Gomez, Bortuzzo to play vs. Islanders

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- In a move to perhaps help get some offense out of not only Jori Lehtera but more consistent scoring from others, the Blues will have a bit of a new look when they play the New York Islanders at Barclays Center on Friday.

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock will move Lehtera, a center by trade, to left wing to play with center Paul Stastny and right wing Vladimir Tarasenko.

Lehtera, who started the season with eight points (six assists) in 10 games, has only one goal and two assists in the past 15 games.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Jori Lehtera (12) has only three points in 15 games and will move to the
wing to play with Paul Stastny and Vladimir Tarasenko on Friday.

To Lehtera's defense, the Blues have shuttled wingers in and off of his line and can make it tough to develop chemistry with any consistency. But the Blues (15-7-3), who are coming off their worst outing of the season in a 3-1 loss to the Florida Panthers on home ice, have become predictable to play against and are looking for ways to get more production throughout the lineup, Lehtera included.

"We're looking for more inclusion with more people," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We'll see how it looks in a couple games and how long it lasts. Wanted to look at it; we had two days of practice. We finished with (Alexander) Steen, (David) Backes and (Troy) Brouwer and it was very good in the third period, so we wanted to continue down that path. We know Lehtera and Tarasenko have had good success, so we'll see how that looks with Stastny. We wouldn't be opposed to going back where we were, but for right now, I think we'll use Lehtera as a left winger for the next couple games.

"... We need second wave, second tier offensive support and just support in our whole game. We need to become more diversified throughout the lineup where we get more chipping in and more inclusion. Rather than just talk about it, put more people in position to help us more and see if they can do the job."

Lehtera is open to the idea and very receptive, especially when it gives him the chance to get back with his buddy Tarasenko and the skilled Stastny.

"I like to play wing when there's a good center," said Lehtera, who indicated that it's taken him longer than he thought to come back fully healthy from the ankle surgery he had in August. "There's 'Stas' and 'Vladi,' so that's nice. 

"I played winger many games, Olympics, World Championships, so I'm fine playing winger. ... I think I played a couple games last year as a winger. It works for me, especially with those guys. I'm actually happy to play a couple games as a winger. ... The team's been playing good, so that's why I'm kind of happy. My own game, I haven't played as good as I can for the last while. It's going to be a long season and I'm going to start (playing better) tomorrow. New season for myself."

Tarasenko, who was back on the ice after missing practice Wednesday feeling sick, was all for not only playing with Lehtera but sticking with Stastny.

"Everybody knows on this team and everybody knows around the league he's an elite centerman," Tarasenko said of Stastny. "We are close in the locker room and it's easier to play when you're friends with a guy. But he has great hockey sense, great passing skill. It's really nice to play with him and Jori right now.

"I think we played a couple times when (Lehtera) was playing wing. For me, I'm really happy to play with both Stastny and Lehtera. First of all, they have really good personality. They're really good friends of mine. It'll be a little bit different to see (Lehtera) on the wing, but he's played there before. I think he played there on the national team in Finland. He got some experience and I'm just looking forward to playing tomorrow."

By playing him with skill guys Stastny and Tarasenko, Hitchcock hopes it's the jump-start Lehtera needs and gives himself opportunities to get to the net.

"We need to get more, and you just can't keep going down the same path and expect a different result," Hitchcock said. "We need to get more, so put him in the opportunity to give us more and see if he can help us out.

"There's managing the game and then there's contributing. We've got him in a position where he can really help us. We're hoping that he takes advantage of it; we think he will, so we'll see how it works. ... To me, it's attacking the net more. We want to see him get to the net more, we want to see him attack the net more, get off the perimeter and really use his size and his weight and puck strength to his advantage. This way by playing wing, it's a lot more of a drive game. Hopefully this turns out fine."

As for secondary scoring, Dmitrij Jaskin will return to the lineup along with Scott Gomez and Robert Bortuzzo. Hitchcock wasn't committing on who will sit out but by the looks of practice, chances are that Scottie Upshall and Magnus Paajarvi will sit among the forwards and Joel Edmundson among the defensemen.

But Jaskin, who had struggled with one goal and four assists in 22 games, has been a healthy scratch the past two games and three this season. The Blues have worked with him extensively on moving his feet more efficiently.

"I think you've just got to regroup and think about it from the other side," Jaskin said. "It's never bad to get some other thoughts and just regroup, let a lot of energy and get ready for the chance.

"Sure (Jaskin's game) can be better. It always can be better. I hope it will be better. ... It's a lot of games, 82 games and couple more in playoffs. It's a long season and sometimes it comes to the point it's not the way you want it. You just have to be patient and wait for another chance."

With the tough game against the Panthers, Hitchcock feels Jaskin's last handful of practices have him ready to grab a spot again.

"We talked about skating with the puck," Hitchcock said. "We've worked hard with him for five days now, moving his feet. Sometimes when you've got hesitation in your game, your first tendency is to stick-handle first and skate second. We're trying to get him to move his feet and get active that way. He's had two good practices, so we'll put him in the game and see how he looks.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Dmitrij Jaskin (23) has been a healthy scratch three times this season. He
will return to the lineup against the New York Islanders on Friday.

"... I just don't think he was playing like he did at the end of the year. There was a lot of hesitation in his game, so we opted to work with him hard and he's been very receptive. He's looking like his old self, so let's see how this looks in game competition."

The Blues just want to get back to doing the right things after two impactful days of practice ahead of back-to-back games against the Islanders and back home against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday.

"Our job is to score more goals and help out the team more, especially after the last game against Florida," Tarasenko said. "We'll see tomorrow ... we need to play better."

* NOTES -- With the lineup changes in store for Friday, Hitchcock said everyone will get the chance to play on the weekend, so whoever sits out against the Islanders will more than likely play against the Maple Leafs.

"We've got back-to-back games this weekend; everybody's going to play, and then we'll read it from there," Hitchcock said. "The lineup you saw today might be the lineup we take into New York, but it could change and will change. We're not going to play everybody on back-to-back competition. We're going to include and use our depth as much as we can and hopefully have it dialed down to where we know who's going at what time and we're not guessing."

-- USA Hockey is holding a press conference for 2 p.m. (CT) in Buffalo, where it will announce that Buffalo has won the bid to host the 2018 World Junior Championship.

St. Louis and Pittsburgh were the other finalists, which would have been the city's first-ever bid for the WJC had St. Louis won it.

"On behalf of the St. Louis Blues and in conjunction with the St. Louis Sports Commission, I would like to personally thank everyone involved in our bid to host the 2018 World Junior Championship in St. Louis," Blues president and CEO of business operations Chris Zimmerman said in a statement. "Although we have fallen short in our goal to bring this world class event to the 'Heartland of Hockey,' we have succeeded in creating a lasting and profoundly positive impression with USA Hockey that will reap rewards in the future. We are immensely proud of the teamwork, talent and passion that was displayed in this effort by the staff of the St. Louis Blues, the staff of the St. Louis Sports Commission, our local hospitality and corporate partners as well as our civic leaders and friends."


  1. Do you think there will be any word on why they fell short of getting the bid??

    1. They don't normally discuss on why a city DOESN'T get a big, more so on why a city did. But it's pretty obvious: Buffalo has pumped a lot of money into revamping their downtown area; Harbor Center is extremely nice now. I was there last week. Plus, Canada right at their fingertips plays a factor. Hard to argue their selection.